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I browsed to the Elgg documentation wiki today and discovered that they have begun to let individuals other than the four core developers contribute. Names other than Ben, Dave, Marcus, and Pete are appearing on the recent changes page.

On the front page of the wiki, developers wrote:

If you are using Elgg and would like to help us with documentation, please get in touch info@elgg.org – as the docs build out to a decent level, we will open up editing to all.

This is a great development. Elgg will benefit from allowing the community to flesh out documentation like many other open source software projects. It is time for comprehensive Elgg documentation for users and administrators,  as well as developers. I look forward to being able to lend a hand.

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My plugins for controlling content access needed updating because Elgg 1.2 changed views/default/input/access.php; therefore, they no longer worked. I have made the appropriate changes to:

  • nopublic
  • nopublicwithfeeds
  • allpublic

In the near future I will also update higherwalls.

The real news here may be how the plugins will be housed and supported. I uploaded the plugins to a wiki that also gives information about the use, configuration, and installation of these and other plugins that I have created. There will also be a link to a discussion forum offering support for specific plugins.

The plugins are available here. Please be aware that both the wiki and the forum are in early stages of development.

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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.

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I teach in a remote Adirondack school in which elementary classes typically have 10-12 students. While this may seem ideal, there are benefits to having larger groups with which to collaborate. With such small groups relations can become static. The same students have the same classmates year after year. Hopefully on-line interaction will lead to face to face collaboration as well. I hope to broaden students’ community of learners.

I have contacted the fifth grade teacher in a neighboring school district with a similar situation and we plan to explore ways for our students to work together using Web 2.0 tools. I’m considering a variety of tools:

WordPress using the Prologue theme gives a quick, clean, easy-to-use, microblogging format that makes communication spontaneous and fast moving. Students can figure it out immediately and dive right in. I think that it may be particularly useful in quickly creating discussion–especially with small groups as it keeps all discussion in one place. I’m not sure that it has all the functions that one might want for extended collaboration, although the tagging helps. It would be great to find microblogging within more comprehensive packages.

I’ve have tinkered with Moodle for several months. Moodle provides a wide variety of tools: forums, wiki, blogs, quizzes–a wide variety of tools. I think it might be too confusing for beginners. Yet Moodle is a great LMS and has a lot of collaboration tools built in.

I just created a new Elgg installation using version 0.9.1 . I’m experimenting with the user interface. It is more like the traditional social networking software with friends, personal spaces, etc. While the interface may be more complex, I think it may be more familiar to users already familiar to social networking software. I’ll post more about elgg soon.

Wiki represent a degree of collaboration I hope to obtain. It could be free standing, within Mooddle, or Elgg. I am most familiar with MediaWiki.

To begin, I’ll probably stick with Prologue/WordPress. We have relatively few participants, so the microblog might be an easier way to keep a critical mass of comments flowing. Whether we progress to Elgg or Moodle depends much upon my experiments with Elgg in the near term.

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