UBC Wiki

Wayfinding on the Wiki

Wayfinding, as Wikipedia succinctly summarizes it, refers to the user experience of orientation and choosing a path within the built environment and to the set of architectural and/or design elements that aid in that orientation. While signage is an important aspect of wayfinding, wayfinding principles should also be part of the structure of an environment, whether that environment is informational or physical. A classic, if not somewhat simplified example of wayfinding in the real world, is when hospitals colour code their separate wards, so that pediatrics might have blue walls while neurology has green. A person visiting the pediatric ward who turns a corner and finds themselves in a green hall should intuitively understand that they have gone the wrong way.

One of the clear issues on the UBC Wiki is that users do not necessarily grasp that there are separate namespaces for different types of content and thus get “lost” when adding new pages. To try make this structural division more intuitive, wayfinding tools can be built into the site structure. One easy method is to follow the hospital example and do a slight bit of colour coding. To this end, on the main page of the wiki, I took the text description of the different namespaces and put them into coloured boxes:

I then repeated the colours on the homepages for the Course and Documentation spaces to reinforce the idea that, just like different wards in the hospital, these are different areas with slightly different purposes.  I don’t think too much colour is necessary, but a little might help users understand the site better.

I’ve also begun experimenting with how “signage” can be used on the wiki.  For example, I’ve begun putting book icons on pages related to Wiki Books.  Right now I two different versions – A small, relatively unobtrusive sign:

And a larger banner that stretches across the page (reduced in size here to make it fit on the blog):

I think that both signs call attention to the book creator and help users find it better than just a link would.  It is my hope that by including wayfinding elements into the UBC Wiki, users have a better understanding of both the structure of the wiki and some of its features.

UBC Wiki

General Thoughts on Correcting the Course: Conundrum

Here are some preliminary thoughts on correcting what I have begun calling the Course: Conundrum (the creation of course specific pages in the main space of the wiki instead of into the Course namespace).

In general, I really like the Course namespace. Organizing course pages via the namespace gives the wiki some structure while nicely incorporating the course information into the overall UBC Wiki knowledge base.  For example, a course such as Econ101 could be included into the category of Economics, thus allowing users to discover a broad range of information and partake in knowledge sharing about economics at UBC (and this type of organization ties in nicely with the concept of open education).  

The course namespace keeps the wiki “neater” by providing it with some organizational structure: a page entitled “Assignments” on the main space of the wiki would be assumed to be a general information article; in the course space, it would indicate assignments related to a specific course. 

However, as I might have mentioned, users are not using the Course namespace.

So far, I see three obvious solutions to organizing course material on the UBC Wiki:

  • Educate the users on how to organize their course pages on the Course namespace through better documentation, tutorials, and direct communication
  • Scrap the Course namespace and allow users to organize their course material on the main space of the Wiki as they see fit
  • Remove course work from the UBC Wiki altogether; provide independent installations of mediawiki for each class or instructor who requests it

Here are some quick thoughts on the above options.

Option #1 – Education

I do not believe the reluctance to use the Course namespace is due to users not wanting to use it. Instead, it’s because:

  1. They don’t know about the Course space
  2. They don’t know how to put things into the Course space
  3. It takes more effort

Education is the key to overcoming all three of these barriers.  Better documentation and tutorials would explain to users just what the space is for and how to use it (and that it really isn’t much more effort).

To date, I’ve been focusing on this option.  For example, I’ve better organized the Course space homepage and I’ve creating help pages such as How to Use the UBC Wiki for Course Work.  Another form of education that I’ve started doing is dropping people notes on their user talk pages about why we moved their page to the course space and pointing them to the new documentation.

In the near future, I hope to make some screencasts demonstrating things like how to move pages to the course space or how to use subpages. Clarifying the purposes of the separate namespaces on the wiki homepage is also something I hope to get done soon. I think time will quickly tell if this method is working.

Option #2 – Scrapping the Course Space

Could we get rid of the Course namespace altogether? Wikipedia, rather famously, doesn’t use many namespaces for their content. Instead, the try to keep their organizational hierarchy as flat as possible by having their main content organized only through the use of specific and precise article titles. The UBC Wiki could go this route as well. For example, instead of having a course organized into the course space (such as “Course:Econ101”), it could just go into the main space (such as “Econ101”). Additional course sub pages could just be added with specific titles (“Econ101 Assignments” instead of “Course:Econ101/Assignments”). The health librarianship wik is organized this way as well. Here’s an example of how they have organized a course page.  Notice that related course pages are not necessarily organized as subpages.

The advantages of this type of organization, I suspect, is that it is easier for users to grasp.  It makes more sense to create a course page called “Econ101” and “Econ101 Assignments” than it does to organize these pages into namespaces and subpages. The disadvantages, I suspect, is that the flat hierarchy has less structure and in a large multi-purpose, multi-user wiki, like the UBC Wiki may one day be, things could get messy fast.  For example, what is the current UBC Wiki page on the Report Card about?  What is the context of the information on that page? Namespaces and subpages force structure and organization on content and thus make information easier to understand and access.

I think a flat hierarchy could work.  However, at this time I think it would require as much educational efforts and the moving/renaming of pages as using a namespace.

Option #3 – Independent Wikis for Course

Rather than have course pages on the UBC Wiki, individual wikis could be created for each course (as requested by instructors).  This would give instructors much more control over their course pages but at the loss of greater knowledge sharing and open education. I don’t really have much to say on this topic other than to note that some places are doing it this way. For example, here’s Stanford University’s MediaWiki web service page and here’s the Simmon College library school’s MediaWiki request page.

UBC Wiki

Categorization Manipulation

One of the main tools to organize a wiki is categories. Mark Choate, in his book Professional Wikis, describes adding categories to a wiki article as a parallel to adding tags to a blog article or a photo: tags and categories are “both keywords that are used to describe or group a page into some conceptual category or topic”. The advantage of using categories as a type of folksonomy, Choate states, is that one user might categorize an article one way while a another chooses an entirely different approach. Thus, when many people add pages to a category, different points a view are represented by the links and someone reading the wiki may discover connections between topics that they might not have thought of themselves.

Unfortunately, the current state of the UBC Wiki is that users are not currently adding categories to their pages. The majority of pages in the UBC Wiki (before this Gardening Project began) had no categories or links to other pages in the wiki. Thus, each article was isolated, even if there were other articles on related topics.

I’ve begun adding some basic categories to articles that currently exist on the wiki. Some nice examples of how useful a categories might be can be found in the Economics and Physics categories. In each category, you can find specific topics as well as pages on some courses, student groups, and departments.

It is my hope that as key categories become more built out, users will become more familiar with the concept, recognize the usefulness of categories, and begin adding categories themselves.

UBC Wiki

More on the Wiki Gardening Project

I added a Wiki Gardening page to the UBC Wiki.   The new page has a detailed project overview and some of the specific tasks on which I will be focusing.

The purpose of creating this page is to provide some documentation to wiki users about any changes that might effect them.  For instance, I can see adding a link to the page as part of an explanation on why I might have moved a specific article.

UBC Wiki

The Course: Conundrum

The UBC Wiki is organized into a couple of different namespaces. Two of the major ones are the root space (found at wiki.ubc.ca) and the Course space (wiki.ubc.ca/Course). The purpose of these spaces is to help organize the wiki by differentiating between the purposes of pages at a high level. The root level space is an open area that can be used for any academic or UBC-related activities and is generally thought to be a good place for general knowledge articles about UBC (the wikipedia of UBC if you will). In contrast, the Course space is the area where pages regarding specific course based activity or content should go. If a faculty member wishes to have a class wiki and their students edit and create content based around that class, rather than having random and vaguely named pages in the main part of wiki, it would make to sense have them instead organized into a course structure.

And here is the conundrum: organizing course material into the Course space is slightly more complex than just adding content to the wiki and people are tending not to do it. Indeed, much of the content currently being added to the wiki is related to specific courses and this content does not make sense when viewed in isolation from the other course content.

One of the major tasks of this wiki gardening project is to understand how best to organize course content, but even more importantly, is how to best create processes, structures, or systems to have the wiki self organize. Rather than have a wiki administrator force top down organization (i.e. someone like me reviewing and moving/renaming pages so they follow prescribed wiki space nomenclature), a goal of the wiki gardening project is to figure out a way to create a framework so users can easily organize their own content and make the wiki more useful.

Specifically, over the next week or two, I’ll be looking at how to make it easy for people to add course material in a way that is organized and makes sense both to people in the class (for example, how do I create a student page that is related to an assignment page) and to general users (for example, why is the page on apples discussing a particular horticulture assignment).

Specific things I want to focus on include:

  • the current namespace / naming structure (i.e. does the naming protocol wiki.ubc.ca/Course:abcd123 make sense and will people use it?)
  • looking at how categories and templates can be used to better organize course work
  • creating more complete help pages
  • creating tutorials (i.e. Want to use the wiki for course work, here’s how to do it)
  • providing better guidelines
  • creating a discussion around wiki policies
  • moving pages, creating categories, cleaning up