Monday, September 01, 2008

New Wiki Tool at Conn

We were getting tired of having to teach students MediaWiki's "wikitalk". Not because it's not a great language to replace HTML for beginners. However, we were looking for:
1. A visual editor. Some faculty did not want to learn the wiki tags, and most students did not want to allow the time to learn them.

In addition, we were also looking for:

2. A wiki with more powerful layout features. MediaWiki does not allow this "out of the can". Creative layouts are possible, but require a lot of experimentation with carriage returns.
3. More controls over fonts, font sizes and font colors, without getting into span tags and hexadecimal code.
4. A hosted solution, so we don't have to worry about server maintenance and security.

After considerable research, we narrowed the choices down to what I consider to be the "Big Three" that meet the above criteria: PBwiki, Wikispaces and Google Sites. We ended up choosing Sites. This can be used either within a single Google account, or as part of Google's Apps for Education

We chose the latter solution, as it allows integration with Google Docs, easily linking Sites wikis to "the cloud." The single account only allows a 100 MB limit on total capacity of a wiki's uploads, we anticipated this to be too limiting. The free Ed solution has an overall institution limit (10 GB I believe), with no limits on single wikis.

The other two wiki solutions, PBwiki and Wikispaces, are both excellent, and full of features, so it was a tough choice. I'll post more why we chose Sites for our own situation at a later time.

Student creation of media and web-based assets, as part of course assignments, is becoming more commonplace here, so I started a wiki of the landscape to serve as a guide: YouPub. This is obviously rough customized for our college's needs, and unfinished at this time. I think I got most of the headings right.

Don't get me wrong, MediaWiki is a fantastic tool. We will keep our server going and available to anyone that needs it. The 20 or so wikis on it will still be accessible and editable to its authors. MediaWiki served us well for two years, but was not the right fit for our current situation. One disadvantage of Sites is that single file uploads are limited to 10 MB. In these days of large video files, it is a challenge we will need to overcome. This will entail a combination of linking to hosted videos on other services and servers and more efficient compression of Sites videos.

Another challenge will be expandability. Once we reach our institutional file upload limit, how to expand? However, we needed to move on at the beginning of this semester, and decided Sites was the best solution to pilot.


Bryan's workshop blog said...

Thanks for that account of your wiki shift, Frank.

Question: given size limitations for Sites, would YouTube or Bliptv be a good alternative for hosting?

Frank Fulchiero said...

Yes, those would be two good choices. We also have our own QuickTime/MPEG4 server that could be used, but haven't developed a nice upload/compression tool. We would have to perform the uploads for the students, then give them the URL.

Google also has a new service, Google Video for Business, which is available for free in Google Apps for Education, but they will start charging $10/user/year starting Mar. 9, 2009. An indication of the end of free lunches?

Glad you posted, as I did not realize my "YouPub" link was private, now it's public. Thanks!