[Mediawiki-l] Namespace recommendations for using MW in university courses

Christopher Fuhrman christopher.fuhrman at etsmtl.ca
Thu Jan 25 00:53:22 UTC 2007


I'm very pleased to learn that my university department has put in place a
MediaWiki server for use in our courses, IT support, etc. However, I'm
writing to ask for advice about a good "pattern" for name spaces in such an
environment, as our technicians prefer to just let us "have at it." I have
seen a few live wikis at universities, and there doesn't seem to be a set
pattern, per se, on how to do this.

As an instructor, I've already set up a few wiki pages for use in the
context of one of my courses, using MediaWiki on a free web site. During
this trial, I realized a few problems. First, certain terms have definitions
that are relative to my course. For example, I teach an intro to software
design (LOG120 is its course code), and I expect my students to learn the
very basic concepts of "coupling" and "cohesion". If one looks up the global
(wikipedia) definitions for these terms, they may or may not be useful in
the context of my course (not to mention that software engineering is a
"young" field and we don't all agree on terms). So, this means I have to
prefix my pages with a context of my course (project). Second, I had to be
very careful while rapidly creating my pages on this site not to "steal" the
global definitions (which happens if I forget to prefix a link with my
namespace and I accidentally create it.)

So, the pages for Coupling and Cohesion I'd like to have for my course have
a particular context, which implies I need to have a name space that's
unique to my course, e.g., LOG120, so I'd have LOG120:Coupling and

Here are the problems I see with this approach, and I'd like to get some
feedback from this list before we spend too much energy in the wrong

1) From what I understand about MW software, there are only 16 name spaces
allowed, and my department has more than 30 courses. Assuming every
professor jumped on board with the wiki approach (which is unlikely), it
seems we'll run out of name spaces with this strategy of one per course. If
we don't use course-specific contexts, I can foresee disagreements about
content on pages for different contexts. It could be interesting perhaps to
have one context, but with course-specific information separated on that
page. Professors aren't going to be agreeing on definitions, because of the
principle of academic freedom.

2) On a given page, most of the links will have to be prefixed with the
course's name space. This seems to be a lot of redundant prefixing, and runs
the risk of an errant global page being created when done hastily. Is there
a way in MediaWiki pages to define a "default" name space prefix?

3) What about the basic concepts of "Talk:", etc. for MW layout? It seems
like if I use a name space convention as stated above, Talk:Cohesion would
not be about my course's version of Cohesion, but rather the general
meaning. This is ambiguous.

An obvious alternative configuration would be a wiki server for each course,
but that seems like overkill for the technicians to maintain. The opposite
is to not have any course-specific namespaces, and use prefixes with a "."
like LOG120.Coupling - again, this seems like less user-friendly from the
standpoint of editing of the links.

Looking forward to any feedback, advice or examples of well designed MW
sites used in a teaching context. Regards,

Cris Fuhrman
Christopher Fuhrman
Département de génie logiciel et des TI
École de technologie supérieure (ETS)
+1 (514) 396 8638

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