Programming, Software and Code

WiTTIE Wiki Project

This weekend I was down in Norfolk Virginia talking to some people from Old Dominion University about Wiki-related stuff. The group, named WiTTIE, is researching the use of wikis to facilitate education which, as a Wikibookian, is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. They're interested in setting up a wiki website with certain features, and recruiting classroom groups from around the world to use it and generate feedback. The group has been in touch with Erik Moller from Wikimedia fame, and Wayne Macintosh from Wikieducator, and we're simultaneously getting good feedback and good opportunities to give back to the greater open-education community.

My role in the project is primarily that of lead developer. I'm trying to put together a team of people to do some contract work for the next couple weeks, so if anybody reading this is interested, let me know ASAP because there is real $$ involved. We're going to be setting up and configuring a MediaWiki server with several existing extensions. We're also going to be creating some of our own extensions to support the use of MediaWiki in a classroom environment (reviewing and grading features, etc). Some of the extensions we are interested in deal strongly with usability: FCKEditor and the Uniwiki Extensions. We're also looking to use things like the Collections Extension, FlaggedRevs, and the Quiz Extension (with modifications).

This group is interesting in pursuing a particular mechanism for peer review. Each student writes their own page, and then is responsible for reviewing another page or pages. They review the page, leave criticisms, and give grades. Then students have the opportunity to respond to criticisms left for them and grade their reviewers. So it's an interesting two-way grading system that teaches the teachers not only to write teaching materials, but also to generate high-quality reviews.

The project that I'm planning in my head to address this issue is a commenting and reviewing tool. Here are some thoughts about how it might work:
  1. When a reviewer right-clicks a page (or something else) a comment box is opened where they can enter a comment, a grade, and maybe some other metadata about the page, as required by their class.
  2. The review may include a short quiz for material understanding, a rubrik about the page, etc. I'm not sure whether the quizzes and rubriks will be editable or not from the wiki interface, or if they are intended to be standardized and read-only.
  3. The review is saved somewhere, either onto a page somewhere in the wiki, or in a custom database table. Each review will include some information such as the page name and section where the review was left, the grade, the name of the reviewer, and the state of the review (open, rejected, resolved). In this sense, it becomes very similar to an issue tracker.
  4. Comments that are rejected or resolved do not appear on the page anymore (but will be visible in either a special "comments history" page, or through another interface). In this way, students can keep track of what issues are outstanding.
  5. Only unhandled comments appear on the page for the author to see, and he has the ability to interact with it. The author has the ability to leave a counter-statement, and a review of the reviewer before marking the issue as resolved or rejected.
This is a feature that I've been hoping for on Wikibooks for a long time: The ability to essentially create a TO-DO list on a page with comments that can be marked as such when they are completed. Such a feature would let us do content planning and reviewing directly on the page itself (not having to go to the talk page), and helps to create a very real progress indicator of page development. Obviously the ability to "review the reviewer" isn't really necessary, but an extension that allows those kinds of two-way discussions to take place is a superset of what I think WB really needs.

But, what WB needs isn't really an issue that this project is addressing directly. Once primary development on this project is over, we will be more able to focus some attention on getting these extensions and improvements folded back into the WB and WV projects as necessary.

I'm looking for people who have some prior knowledge of things like MySQL, PHP, JavaScript, and MediaWiki, but these are not firm requirements. Basically, I'm looking for interested developers who are willing to learn new things, create new projects, and earn a little bit of summer money. If you or somebody you know fits the bill, let me know ASAP.


Hi! I do freelance MediaWiki stuff; if all goes well, in about 2 weeks I expect to have some time which will need to be filled with income-generating activities. My services web site is still under development, but it at least has my contact info.

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