[Mediawiki-l] Namespace recommendations for using MW in universitycourses

Christopher Fuhrman christopher.fuhrman at etsmtl.ca
Sat Jan 27 20:40:59 UTC 2007

Hi Morten, and thanks for your feedback. I appreciate the point of view of
how Wikis were designed. I think the Wiki philosophy is not entirely
consistent with academic environments, and I'll try to elaborate below.

On 1/24/07, Morten Blaabjerg < morten at crewscut.com> wrote:
> Cris,
> Why strive for no ambiguity? If you don't want ambiguity, you could set up
> a
> straightforward HTML page or content management system with precisely the
> structure you need.

I see your point, and we do have this currently. The problem is, HTML pages
are tough for the staff to maintain. They have to use clunky HTML editors,
transfer with FTP, and backups are poorly managed. I have overwritten
changes done by my Teaching Assistants because of the lack of configuration
management. The look and feel is bad because nobody is imposing anything
(not really possible in an academic environment). There are other solutions
to all of these problems, but MediaWiki seems like a great one.

Content management software is expensive, and so far none of the open-source
products I've seen come with templates or structures for Academia. So, a CMS
needs someone to set up the structure correctly to be effective (this is
kind of the question I was asking about namespace choices). So far, none of
the CMS solutions have appealed to me in my courses. Moodle and Claroline
offer little support for transition between semesters on their sites. It
seems they favor support for the students and pedagogy more than the
maintenance of web content. They have individual strengths for setting up
online courses, quizzes, electronic submission of work, etc.

As for MediaWiki, I was thinking that I could put up my course syllabus in
its own namespace (for the course), and maybe give students assignments to
create the concept pages within the namespace, based on the book and course
notes, as well as their own interpretations. So often, a syllabus is read
the first week and forgotten after that (except maybe to see how much the
final exam is worth!). I want students to be able to contribute on certain
pages, for instance the examples that they liked or their own examples or
explanations of concepts, etc. One of the toughest things about teaching is
that an instructor's personal way of learning is possibly shared by only 10%
of the students. That means there need to be other viewpoints on how to
present material, and I think that is where the "free form" and contribution
strengths of a wiki come in to play.

I believe that ambiguity is bad when you want to do objective evaluations of
what the students have learned in a course, especially when it's in a
bachelor's program that has been accredited by the Canadian Engineering
Accreditation Board. I'm very sure the CEAB would not appreciate total
ambiguity in an engineering curriculum. ;-) Ambiguity in exam questions,
course content, etc., means less happy students. Our courses do have a
syllabus and we're expected to follow it. So I think this has to be dictated
within the Wiki structure, just as some courses are mandatory.

I find in wikis, the structure emerges, as users go
> along and, as content grows and discussion takes place, find ways to
> organize and make the structure. Without this "knowledge as process",
> wikis
> are nothing, IMHO. Albeit this often happens with a lot of guidance, with
> one or several users "taking charge" of doing things and setting examples,
> a
> wiki is first and most of everything a process.

I think this is clearly a good thing, but not for the university use that I
am thinking of for MediaWiki.

Thanks again for your thoughts, and to the others who have suggested
strategies for the namespace question I posed. For now, we're going to do
one namespace per course. I think if concepts are shared among courses, we
can simply reuse/link to pages.


<morten at crewscut.com>

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Christopher Fuhrman" < christopher.fuhrman at etsmtl.ca >
> To: <mediawiki-l at lists.wikimedia.org>
> Sent: Thursday, January 25, 2007 1:53 AM
> Subject: [Mediawiki-l] Namespace recommendations for using MW in
> universitycourses
> Hello,
> 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
> LOG120:Cohesion.
> 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
> direction:
> 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
> Professeur
> Département de génie logiciel et des TI
> École de technologie supérieure (ETS)
> http://profs.logti.etsmtl.ca/cfuhrman/
> +1 (514) 396 8638
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Christopher Fuhrman
Département de génie logiciel et des TI
École de technologie supérieure (ETS)
+1 (514) 396 8638

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