blogs, other, what's up, wikis

a glance back

Enej, Will and I have been presenting at the Vancouver WordCamp and then during UBC’s Open Access week and somehow in both presentations we were going back through the history of UBC’s Open Learning Platform (the pilot and non-approved name for UBC Blogs, Wiki, CMS and related apps).

I’ve realized that I don’t really have a documented overview on how we got here, and even worse – what is the current state of the platform and plans for the future.

So, I have quickly put together basic wiki page (see it embeded below) on some (definitely not all) milestones of historic development of our platform. Hopefully, we will work on this page and also add more granular pages on specific and important points and decisions.

2004-2008

  • MovableType based blogs, number of websites running on various technologies

2008

  • WordPress based, Campus Wide Login (CWL) enabled blogs.ubc.ca launched, over 700 users/blogs migrated from MovableType
  • Common Look and Feel (CLF) introduced by UBC Public Affairs
  • MediaWiki gets CWL and CLF treatment and becomes UBC Wiki - wiki.ubc.ca

2009

  • CWL enabled sites.olt.ubc.ca for hosting websites
  • Around 20 websites on the server by the end of 2009

2010

  • UBC blogs gets new social homepage and social (buddypress) network
  • CTLT and PA partner and sites.olt.ubc.ca becomes UBC CMS and inherits PA’s cms.ubc.ca
  • Minimal WordPress Hybrid theme becomes the parent theme for most of CMS websites
  • Wiki Embed Plug-In developing allowing for UBC Wiki (MediaWiki) content to be embeded into UBC Blogs, UBC CMS (WordPress)

2010-2012

  • over 10,000 blogs and over 500 active, domain-mapped websites. Over 15,000 users of which over 12,000 students.
  • Continual improvement of our platform - the main developments:
    • Solid back-end: partitioned mySQL to 256 databases; Both blogs and CMS have load balancer in front of 4 app servers and master/slave db servers.
    • Extending our UBC CLF theme - almost all sites run on this theme - see manual
    • Writing plugins to support UBC community, under CC license, over 200k downloads from Wordpress.org only!
    • Established great user community through monthly larger clients' meetings, end users' support through open web clinics twice a week, community based UBC wiki documentation

2018

  • MediaWiki upgraded to include Visual Editor
  • New WordPress Service -- UBC Course Spaces -- launched in beta.
source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Documentation:The_History_of_Open_Learning_Platform_at_UBC

 

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wikis

Wiki Books

Today, after thorough testing, we have enabled the wiki books extension on our UBC wiki server. In a nutshell, it compiles user-selected pages to user’s own collection that can be sorted, saved as a book, and printed to PDF.

It is by far the most complex extension we have enabled so far: it requires certain python, C++ and perl libraries in order to print to PDF and we have setup external server to handle resource-heavy PDF creation to keep main UBC wiki server fast and happy. It is based on Collection extension and you also need mwlib. Overview is here. Scott McMillan, that btw takes all the credit for installing this beast, will soon blog about important back-end steps that are left-out from this otherwise nice article.

For now, it is available only for logged-in users (you have to have CWL to see it and try it out). wikieducator.org and wikibooks.org both run it so in case you don’t have CWL, try it there.

Here is the case study:

Office of Learning Technology publishes annual Faculty Resource Guide (FRG), a nicely designed and printed handbook that is also available as a PDF.

Like with every printed publication, it takes time and effort (read money) to keep it current: we have annual design refreshing cycle, up-to date information edited and send back and forth to designer, the whole file sent to printer etc.

As a big step forward, we have established Faculty Resource Guide blog (http://blogs.ubc.ca/frg/) to make content authoring and keeping it up-to date a bit easier and available online to UBC faculty.

Faculty member could still not print the whole latest version of the book easily, as there is no easy way to send the content of the website to PDF or printer, one could do it only on page-by-page basis.

Wikibooks extension makes it easy:

Our FRG, just like every book should have a title page, so here it is in wiki flavour: it is nothing like a regular cover, we have instead: Short intro, links to contents (chapters), link to printable version (all pages manually aggregated – transcluded) of the whole book and link to PDF.

Very simple and still nothing special so far – now let’s see how wikibooks thingy kicks in: When you’re logged in with your CWL, you will see the link Create a book on the left hand side, just below navigation box. Once you click on it and start your new book,  every wiki page will have an option on the top to add that page to your book collection. So, I might choose to compile a few pages from our Faculty Resource Guide (let’s say eLearning Tools and Distance Learning) but also add a few other pages from UBC wiki, let’s say WordPress FAQ and Online Teaching pages.

Now, I’ve got my own new book and I will save it as eLearning Tools and Distance Learning at UBC. I can also create my own chapters and drag and drop pages appropriately. Finally, in addition to saving a book under my own user’s space (User:Nrogic/Books/ eLearning Tools and Distance Learning at UBC), I could also make it part of the overall Books space: (UBC Wiki:Books/eLearning Tools and Distance Learning at UBC).

Very cool, this could work well for all sorts of support and training and lab manuals as well as for course content. Try it yourself!

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blogs, wikis

one, to bind them all…

the constant gardenerConstant Gardener, from Flickr.

Being the most flexible and open of all web spaces, wiki can quickly become a messy hotchpotch of various pages written in variety of tones, driven by different needs and intended for miscellaneous audiences. And that’s not almost ok.  It is ok as long as it belongs to Namespace Notebook (or test or perhaps crap).

Growth of the wiki space, its usability and maintenance is often compared to gardening where wiki gardener or wiki gnome plays an important role in wiki’s overall health.

So what’s the deal with UBC wiki, who is it for and how is it going to be used?

New, MediaWiki-based, CWL-enabled (CWL is UBC’s single-sign-on implementation) UBC wiki has been up and running for almost a month, available to everyone with a valid CWL account (yes, we proudly display the CWL login link, meaning that this is NOT a pilot project). We are hoping that, as it is case with other successful large organization’s wikis (stretching this to a very larger organization called Earth, we could argue that its best information source is Wikipedia), this wiki will grow and become useful lexicon of UBC and a few things beyond that.

So far, we have recognized four major means of using UBC wiki (all four to be represented by corresponding Namespaces):

  • UBC dictionary (lexicon, glossary)
    This is the original, simple wiki idea – flat Wikipedia-like approach, for anything UBC related; it lives in the default MediaWiki NameSpace (no subpages allowed, here is why).
    For example, Genome page should inventory UBC resources about Genome – topics like people, groups and departments that research genome; papers, posters and thesis published about genome etc. In the ideal scenario, UBC faculty, students and staff would update topics of their professional (and wider) interests and so make resources more presentable and easier to find. Another example: By slightly modifying great google maps extension, that is already running on our server, we could build multi-layered maps of UBC where  community could contribute to a spatial representation of UBC; every conference visitor would appreciate a decent coffee at UBC Google Map layer.
    (here is a new Blenz coffeee, we need others; Google also has to update their maps as this is quite a new big neighborhood now.)

    View Wesbrook Place in a larger map

  • Course repository
    With UBC wiki course space, our main goal is to enable space for public and open-content licensed wikis.
    In previous years we have used both blogs and wikis to develop, host and deliver courses. Lately, we experimented with hosting course-content in wikis and republishing in other web spaces, such as blogs or LMS, using in-house-developed MediaWiki extensions to support embedding part of the page, the whole page and in the future, collections of pages (the whole course content).
    Before we decide to go with the Courses Namespace, we hoped that it will be possible to maintain the flat structure of the wiki while somehow keep things simple for instructor to build linear and hierarchical course content. It turned out to be quite a challenge – we opted for creating standalone Courses Namespace instead, space that allows subpages and that will have its own search and set of extensions to export, print or republish course material.
  • Documentation
    Documentation space is very similar in architecture to the course space. It will support subpages and allow users to build linear and hierarchical documentation, support and training materials.
  • Yet-to-be-named space (Notebook, Test or whatever?…)
    To keep things from going completely wide and in lack of proper gardener or policeman, we decided to create a Namepace where people could do pretty much anything without worrying that their page will be deleted because it doesn’t comply with wiki etiquette. Planning a party, developing a thesis, testing extensions or just showing what wiki can do – please use Notebook.

So where from here?

While it seems that we do have some valid ideas, technology seems pretty straight-forward, and it can only get better and easier to work with. On the other hand, we have yet to come with right strategies to get people interested in this, show potential and get the buy-in.
Only then we could really say that we have actually  accomplished something.

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blogs, tools, wikis

gimmie wiki!

Enej Bajgorić created the plugin for republishing MediaWiki (or any HTML) pages within WP.

For those who liked the idea, here are some good news: we are continuing development of this plugin for our culturepedia project.

Here is the functionality in the nutshell;

  • seamlessly integrate wiki pages, categories or searches into WP blogs.
  • works as both shortcode (more here and here) and widget.
  • content can be constantly refreshed (as wiki pages changes) or one-time brought in.
  • the wiki content will be searchable by google (not the case with WikiInc).
  • the wiki pages could be further shared by using embed functionality.

For example, if I want to publish all the pages from ubc wiki that are stored in both culturepedia AND idioms category, I should shortcode something like this:

[gimmiewiki -category URL:http://wiki.ubc.ca category:culturepedia,idioms refresh:yes popups:yes|embed|link]

Or if we end up developing a visual component, it could look like this:

Will get back with more!

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blogs, wikis

playing with pokémon

Yesterday, Scott McMillan and I met with Joanne Fox and David Ng to discuss potential support and ideas that OLT could contribute to their get-your-biodiversity-easy-as-Pokémon project, where they will try to use Pokemon principles that appeal to kids (cards collecting, memorization of skills, games) plus a bit of Web2.0 mashups to run it online.

I was always impressed with just how much information about various Pokémon kids can memorize. My then-7-years-old son knew pretty much all 150 plus Pokémon along with most of their types, skills and evolutions. Compare that with their ability to memorize stuff for school!

I was always impressed with just how much information about various Pokémon kids can memorize. My then-7-years-old son knew pretty much all 150 plus Pokémon along with most of their types, skills and evolutions. Compare that with their ability to memorize stuff for school!

she is smart
She is smart!

It seems that simple setup, few inter-connected blogs and wikis and a few web services (flickr and Big Huge Labs) could get them far in terms of having awesome site for kids (end users), while still supporting various other interested groups and communities around this project: graphic designers (to submit their designs), scientists (organizing material and writing cards and games contents), school teachers (case studies, ideas).

Overall great conversation, we are looking forward to be involved!It seems that simple setup, few inter-connected blogs and wikis and a few web services (flickr and Big Huge Labs) could get them far in terms of having awesome site for kids (end users), while still supporting various other interested groups and communities around this project: graphic designers (to submit their designs), scientists (organizing material and writing cards and games contents), school teachers (case studies, ideas).

Overall great conversation, we are looking forward to be involved!

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