TL521 Is Rocking it on Federated Wiki

TL 521 has had a lot of struggles as a class. It’s a hybrid class, with half of it at observations at far flung schools, many of them scheduled overlapping other student commitments. The wiki we are using has crashed multiple times, lost student work, and dropped authentication without warning.

All the same, the students are absolutely rocking this class. And I have to say, despite the flaws, a lot of it is the federated wiki. Its odd looking at a new technology at it’s birth, but what you see as the students use it it something that is a mix of blogging and wiki. An ability to do the personal that morphs into the communal seamlessly.

Just an hour ago I found this: One student team (named the “Kiwi Kitties”)  has started calling themselves the “Wikiwikans” and made their own mascot, a Connected Kiwi:


I comment on it this page by forking it, which is cool, but that’s not the really neat thing. What’s truly neat about this is that this is not a blog, this is a wiki. So I would bet you that within a day or two this mascot travels around to people’s Welcome Pages, bios, Team pages, whatever.

And that’s really the difference here. Getting students past the timidity they have editing others work is hard, but evolution is baked into the platform here. Things want to spread, intersect, converge, evolve. It’s your work to start, but it’s not (only) your work for long.

I initially thought I wanted a seperate talk page/comment space for comments. I’m not sure now, because I think the idea of writing on other people’s documents is a good thing to get used to. In this case I added a comment, but I also fixed an error or two. And why not?

comments on document

If the student wants those changes, they can fork it back and kill my comment. Killing my comment is fine, it shows they read it and it exists in the journal. In classic wiki, you remove the thread discussion when you feel you’ve integrated the thread comments into the main work. For assessment purposes I’ll always have that comment in my journal. I think some form of meta space might still be useful, but surprised how far you can go.

Here’s a good example of how comment could morph into document changes. This is towards the end of a student’s discussion of a local initiative that is not well documented.


About halfway down Sarah comes into the conversation — she doesn’t know enough syntax to set her comment off, but she clarifies that Common Core and 5D look like they are aligned.  She provides links and additional material.

One of the definitions of wiki used to be that it was the integration of ThreadMode into DocumentMode. That is, these sorts of discussions happen on a page, but eventually they get integrated into the document itself. We don’t just leave the conversation dangling there for others to shuffle through. We fix the document.

And you can see how that would happen here. You fork back the page and remove the “Sarah’s comment” bit then integrate the parts of the comment that look good right into the page.

Over time both our understanding and our documentation of that understanding improve.

These things are hard to grasp at first. Your inital reaction is “Where’s the comment button?” We live in a world where the blogging metaphor pervades everything — post + comments, all in a reverse-chronological format, with no iterative editing. That’s Facebook, WordPress, Instagram, Google+, Twitter (more or less), etc. We’ve swum in it so long we’ve forgotten what other models look like. People say blogging is dead, but they’ve got it backwards. EVERYTHING is blogging now, and that’s the problem.

Other models exist, and they work. The proof is in the community it generates, and whether cool stuff gets done. It may feel weird, but it’s wiki, and it’s got a heck of a track record.

The impact on this class is no exception. Here’s the page count at the bottom of the wiki with the neighborhood fully loaded.


Eight hundred and eighteen pages. Now a lot of those pages are students forking stuff back and forth, but even at a half of that  — where have you seen that with eighteen students in a one credit class?

But let me bring that home. There are 18 students in the class. The class portion of the experience is one credit.

Here are the articles they have written in the past three weeks. The number of squares indicate the forks by others.

three weeks

(The Harry Potter ones are a long story which I’ll explain later….)

I’ve never seen anything like this with a wiki. I’m not sure I’ve seen it with blogging for a course this size and frequency. The trick in the next couple of weeks is to start pulling all this effort together and refactor it. We’ll see if that’s possible. The students are starting to cross-link to each other’s articles etc., it’s just the question of whether in the three (really, two) classes left we’ll have time for things to converge. But man, is that Recent Changes a beautiful sight!

4 thoughts on “TL521 Is Rocking it on Federated Wiki

  1. I am really, really impressed with what you and the students have been able to accomplish. I am very interested in trying this with at least one of my courses. Where can I find good instructions for installing and using the wiki?

    • Actually, just looked you up, this shouldn’t be hard for you at all. I’ll try and assemble some links tomorrow at work. You’ll need a a server to run node on, and the rest is simple command line stuff.

  2. Yeah, about that. Seriously, though, how technical are you? There’s great documentation for a semi-technical audience but not for non-technical yet.

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