I was considering a number of wiki engines for my classroom. Having a strong bias as state in this article, I was looking for a self hosted wiki. I put a call out for suggestions on Classroom20.com. PmWiki and Docuwiki were suggested as well as MediaWiki. Ultimately I chose MediaWiki for a number of reasons.
First off, I am familiar with MediaWiki. I didn’t have to learn another wiki markup syntax. Wikis markup vary considerably. I decided that students were best off learning the same markup as used in the Wikipedia which also uses MediaWiki. In addition, MediaWiki is very extensible. While it barely has an administrative backend, it is easy modified by copying and pasting snippets of code from the MediaWiki site. There is also a large collection of extensions that can be used to customize the look and functionality of the site.
Installation of MediaWiki is straight forward, but it usually isn’t among the programs that can be installed automatically using a Control Panel. You need to download it from MediaWiki then upload it to your server, unpacking it at some point along the way. Alternatively, if you have shell access and a SVN client on your server, you can install it by logging into your account, amaking a directory, navigate to that directory and execute:
svn co http://svn.wikimedia.org/svnroot/mediawiki/branches/REL_12/phase3 .
(Don’t forget the space and period at the end!) In either case you will need to continue by setting up MySQL database, then running the floow the browser installer’s instructions.
MediaWiki is not ready for student use out of the box. Access to the wiki and ability to edit is open to the world as configured. You will need to go to MediaWiki User Rights section and paste in the code Under the “Default Rights” setting and paste it into the body of LocalSettings.php. Simple change the true/false statements to meet your needs. You can customize the configuration in a number of other ways. Look to MediaWiki’s Conguration Settings page. You can also find more customization options in the Extensions Matrix.
I configured the wiki to keep the public out:
// Implicit group for all visitors
$wgGroupPermissions['*' ]['createaccount'] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions['*' ]['read'] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions['*' ]['edit'] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions['*' ]['createpage'] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions['*' ]['createtalk'] = false;
I had create account configured as “true” until all the students registered themselves, then I changed it to false. Otherwise I left group permissions as default. This way only the students can read and edit the wiki. I also toggled upload to true in $wgEnableUploads in LocalSettings.php so they can upload images. The only thing I have not configured is an extension that helps prevent simultaneous editing called Edit Warning. I’ll give it a try when I need it, but it is fairly complex to install. I’d certainly make sure I had everything backed up before attempting to install it!
Now the students are beginning research on their topics. Soon they will be starting to organize their headings and subheadings, then filling in their content. I’m excited to see how the writing process takes place as the students work on their sections of the Wiki. I’m sure I will be learning as much as they as I observe the process.