Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Brick_wall.jpg

Have a seat with me on this bench, as we wait for the brick wall to in-house wiki solutions to crumble, be torn down, whatever. (hmm, this is starting to be a trend, isn’t it?)

What am I looking for in a wiki solution:

  • 3000+ users can be supported (this includes our teachers and district level support staff)
  • 55,000 student account users
  • Unlimited storage (or the equivalent)
  • Centralized Account management where a public school district can upload a comma-delimited file of all users and maintain that or LDAP authentication
  • No advertising on any wiki
  • Unlimited creation of wiki work areas
  • Unique domain name, if it’s an ASP solution
  • Reporting features (usage,etc)

Costs for the kind of wiki solution I’m looking for ranges from $1000 to $8000, which is a bargain when you consider account management issues alone. I was delighted to chat with other school districts that have invested in solutions like these for their districts with full admin support:

  • For a district blogging solution, get Edublogs.org for Campuses
  • For a district wiki solution, get PBWorks or Wikispaces (I’m partial to the latter but the former is very nice, too)

When considering wiki solutions, here are some opinions:

  • PBWorks WIki – This wiki came out on top with easiest to use, GUI-editor features. Consider that you could give every teacher a wiki and that would be a MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE price than what you are paying for a commercial web site solution that some districts pay for.
  • Wikispaces – A nice solution but if you dig deep, you may encounter less freedom with GUI-editor features. It’s an inexpensive alternative to PBWorks, though. If you want free, Wikispaces also offers free wikis to teachers. However, I’m not sure you’d want to do that with all your staff as an official district solution and approach. Of course, opinions are changing in regard to this.
  • ZohoWiki – This is a solution that I’m investigating for use in conjunction. You get access to many wordprocessing, spreadsheet, presentation–think GoogleDocs but from Zoho–but also, a very customizable wiki solution that rivals PBWorks in ease of use.

I see small school districts as being more nimble in their selection and use of these technologies than large districts. Even with free, open source solutions, some small districts and/or organizations have chosen to outsource the work to outside vendors, working actively to find web hosts that can handle the load for their District needs. This also includes content management systems (e.g. Joomla). As of right now, that isn’t an option for most larger districts.

In districts where large scale support is required, outsourcing that work–blogs, wikis, content management–is a bit of a challenge…not because it can’t be done but because of attitudes. The district approach is to keep as much of those systems in-house, to rely primarily on Microsoft-based systems rather than free open source (“these represent potential security threats since the ‘source code’ is out there for anyone, including hackers, to pick apart.” That’s an opinion that can be hard to change…the opposite is true, IMHO, regarding free open source software). Even as expensive outsourced, Read/Write web solutions are challenged, FOSS solutions are eschewed because they are…free.

The main reason for internal hosting–for the “walled garden”–is also the importance of controlling access to student and staff data. This particular perspective resonates with many information technology support staff, I’ve found. This attitude is represented in press releases like the one excerpted below:

IT departments continue to maintain control of their data while easing the burden of installing, patching, and deploying large desktop application suites…Organizations can easily and immediately begin to reduce their management headaches by starting the transition to private cloud computing today… At just dollars per user, you cannot afford not to start today (link for extra quotes).

As attractive as “private” cloud computing is, it can’t contain the rich ecology of cloud computing. Yet, I fear organizations (including districts) will spend precious funding pursuing the rainbow, only to hit a brick wall that blocks collaboration rather than enables it.

And, because of support issues (especially account management, the 800-pound gorilla in any implementation), I no longer believe it is possible to provide robust access and support of Read/Write Web tools if they are hosted in-house. Any one solution can occupy all your time, even when you have a team of Internet solution specialists (which is never that big anyways). That said, I still have a sense of urgency to provide a solution to meet the need I perceive in our schools.

Pending a delay in acquring a wiki solution with a GUI editor for my work, I may be back to square one with the whole process–finding a wiki solution that will enable non-techie users to edit content easily. The whole obstacle involves setting up a solution on internal servers that will be accessible to personnel without having to use an outside wiki solution (e.g. pbworks, wikispaces).

As a result, I’ve been considering solutions like…

  • MediaWiki with FCKeditor built-in. That’s a solution to install on a local server, provides a GUI editor, but is otherwise a mystery in how to use. Setup was fairly straightforward, I just recall my last experience with MediaWiki which involved porn spam.
  • PMwiki – I’m really frustrated by this solution. As much as I like it–and I’ve seen “non-techie” folks use it–there’s no way this solution would be widely adopted in a school district setting. How hard is it to get the community to develop FCKeditor support? Sigh.
  • Dokuwiki – Another non-MySQL solution, easy to use but relies on Wiki Syntax rather than a GUI editor (WYSIWYG). And, it doesn’t have as many features as PMWiki. Another sigh.

In short, each of these solutions fall short–mainly in ease of use for the end user. Since solutions that do meet needs exist in the wild, school districts will be forced to grow accustomed to teachers using wikis in the wild (e.g. PBWorks, Wikispaces) with students.

If any solution requires patience to implement in K-12 schools that continue to operate from a 20th century technology framework, that they have to house all content for command-n-control, “security” and support reasons, I believe it’s this one.


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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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