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Choosing Wiki Software for the Classroom

Chris Craft, on his weblog Open Source Classroom, wrote a length entry on choosing a wiki engine for his class.

A few days ago I got a pretty good idea for a collaborative learning "project"... We began with the question, "Should the United States let people in," just for the asking. Well the reason I am posting this here is I have been investigating ways to collaborate. I divided my class (rather, they divided themselves) into two sides, the Pros and the Cons. Some did not necessarily agree with their chosen side, but wanted to explore the reasoning behind it. So, how do I make this open source and web 2.0 tasty?

Here are my wiki-based thoughts...

1. Since I know teachers in Peru, I could easily have my kids post to a Wiki and then have the professors and students comment to it.

2. I could have other teachers from other classes around the world, from San Fernando, CA (maybe Marco Torres ?) to Shanghai (Jeff, you listening?) have their students read and comment.

In the end, he chose Wikispaces. But in the process, he ended up taking a look at MediaWiki, JotSpot, Drupal, phpNuke, DokuWiki, and a handful of other third-party hosted wikis; and he included his thoughts. I will quote heavily.

I began with Mediawiki, made famous by Wikipedia, of course. I found it to be feature-rich and enjoyed its full range of extensions. The trouble is simply that it requires too much knowledge of WikiText, and my kids are doing well if they can handle even basic WYSIWYG commands! Wikimedia is full and robust, but not a great choice for the type of Wiki I want for my class. I am aware that it is possible to integrate FCKEditor into Mediawiki, and I have done so for some of my other Content Management System installs, but the security risks were too much for me to handle. I need an easy solution for my kids.

I found [Jotspot] to be a little tough to use... given the lack of a quality WYSIWYG editor integrated. I just know my kids would get confused by exclamation points and the like. Remember, these students leave me on October 20, so that cancels the teach-them-and-it-will-be-ok argument. I have 9 classes left with them, I need a turnkey solution.

I like the Wikispaces idea, it was a really clean environment and I like the natural feel of the WYSIWYG editor for my kids. I think it would seem native to them and reduce the learning curve. I would prefer a little more ability to categorize the pages, but I can deal without it.

DokuWiki is mainly aimed at developers and small companies trying to create documentation on something... Troublingly, there was very little in the way of access control (outside of the standard .htaccess) and no commenting ability built it. There is a plugin manager, but I quickly hit roadblock after roadblock that I could not justify overcoming with Wikispaces luring me back with a siren's call. So Dokuwiki went out the window


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    I ended up using Jotspot after many trials with Wikispaces and my kids. Simply put, the kids preferred the look and feel of Jotspot (and I am dealing with 11 year-olds, so look and feel is crucial :)

    Also, Wikispaces requires a registration for commenting, and we wanted an absolutely open system. This may be changeable, but nonetheless the kids preferred Jotspot over my simple objections. Now I would definitely prefer a version hosted on my own server, but that's an expensive option. You can see the follow-up explanation here.

    Thanks for linking me!

    Chris Craft

    Open Source Classroom dot com