October 01, 2007

Wiki reading lists

Writing about web page https://my.pbwiki.com/

We have been considering the use of wiki functionality for building reading lists between academics and librarians.

Something like PBwiki would do the job. I wonder which other wiki applications, ideally hosted and free, might be out there which could do the job as well.

Both the academic and the librarian should receive and instant email alert of any edits made by either of them, and the email alert should quote the text that has been added or deleted. The wiki should also allow switching of access permissions between public-view and editors-only.

A wiki page for each module can be used to which both the academic and the library have access permissions. The academic can paste references on this page as and when he or she identifies them, potentially throughout the year but perhaps most likely in the summer. Every such change generates an email alert containing the addition to the wiki page. The library can check these as and when posted. Once checked the library edits the wiki page to add either a link to an existent subscription or library holdings catalogue record, or to a digital scan, or to a free web version, or to a catalogue record for the order, or a note to advise it is out of print, or any other relevant comment. Updates on student numbers for the module could also be posted on the wiki page.

A reading list is primarily a printable document intended for students. There is no need to use it as an order form for library resources. The bottle-neck workflow by which academics finish their reading list documents by a date and forward them to the library for checking and ordering is a document centric approach presenting known problems.

It would be much preferable if reading lists could be built up in a tentative way as an iterative, incremental dialogue between each academic and the library. The communication process between academics and the library could be improved by using wiki functionality:
- Treating references singly as opposed to bundled in lists.
- Dealing with them as and when identified by academics without having to wait for a definitive list.
- Feeding back to the academic timely information about availability and alternatives.
- Giving academics the lead time to make a choice informed with the librarians’ knowledge of information resourcing.

Although wiki functionality seems most efficient, alternative technologies could also serve the same purpose, e.g. a common closed web page with notification. Unfortunately Google Docs does not appear to notify of edits, otherwise it would have been enough.

Nevertheless, there are various practical considerations to take into account for a scaleable implementation beyond a small pilot. Ideally the technology should make things easier for both the academics and the library, but in practice making it too easy to submit references may overwhelm the library with submissions.

We would probably have to try on a small scale and fine-tune the process first. It would be nice to hear about any reading list wikis elsewhere.

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  1. John Dale

    Although wiki functionality seems most efficient

    Really? This seems to me to be just stating without proof. Are you taking into account:-

    • The time taken to select a suitable platform?
    • The cost and effort involved with setting up and running a wiki (where would the server go? who would buy it? who would look after it? who would back up its content?)
    • The time it would take for academics and other users to learn to use this new application (and there are plenty of people who don’t want to learn more new things than they have to)
    • How easy would it be to make the content reusable? If I have a reading list inside a wiki which I also want to appear on my module pages, how would I make that work?

    A wiki might be ideal for the job, but there will inevitably be costs as well as benefits associated with it.

    01 Oct 2007, 14:27

  2. Thank you John. Indeed we would prefer to be able to use SiteBuilder for its single sign on and because we already know how to use and have to use it anyway for other things.

    We are hoping the Notify function in SiteBuilder will be developed so that the email alerts actually quote the text changes as PBwiki does, or better. In the mean time we may well start a pilot to test the procedure.

    I have found PBwiki has the required functionality, but if there are willing participants for the pilot, we can, of course, use whichever wiki application they feel comfortable with if it has equivalent functionality.

    Basically, we need an application that will send an email alert to each of the collaborating editors each time one of them adds or deletes text from their common web page. The email should say something like”The following text has been added:” and/or “The following text has been removed:”.

    You can just copy and paste from PBwiki to your module page – it’s straight forward. Would it take much development to get the SiteBuilder Notification feature to quote the text changed as PBwiki does, instead of just notifying that a change has happened?

    This wiki functionality does seem to me at the present time the most efficient way of achieving the stated collaborative objective, but it would be great if SiteBuilder could already be used instead. This feature would be useful for all who use the SiteBuilder Notification.

    01 Oct 2007, 15:18

  3. Mark Clowes

    Hi Alejandro

    I found this post very interesting and have referred to it in our blog

    Would be great to hear about your experiences implementing wikis for this purpose.

    Best wishes

    01 Oct 2007, 16:40

  4. Hi Mark. Thanks for the link.

    We are weighing the pros and the cons, the ifs and the hows, and most importantly the whos and the whens, but it is good to know at Sheffield Hallam University you are thinking of subject guide wikis. The more effective collaboration the better.

    01 Oct 2007, 17:01

  5. John Dale

    Alex, I’m agnostic as to whether you use SiteBuilder or not. I’m just pointing out that getting an instance of PBWiki (or whatever) working will involve non-trivial costs.

    In terms of including text updated or deleted, the problem is that not all changes are like that. What would the email say if:-

    • I go and fix a typo, replacing “textbokk” with “textbook”?
    • I insert the word “early” in front of the words “seventeenth century literature”?
    • I change every occurrence of the word “begin” with the word “commence”?
    • I do all those things in a single edit?

    Most changes to pages, unfortunately, don’t fall into the category of simple “text added” or “text deleted” alterations.

    01 Oct 2007, 18:08

  6. John, actually my posting is about really simple and obvious stuff from the user’s point of view, and nothing nearly as complex to develop as the software referred in the article linked from this comment.

    For our purpose, email alerts with text can be deleted straight away if they are trivial, i.e. if they do not need to be acted upon, but I do take your point about the volume of email alerts a fussy editor (I’m one such) could generate. PBwiki deals with this by allowing you to choose a maximum frequency of alerts: every second, every minute, every 5 min, every 15 min, every 30 min, every hour, every day, or every week, and so on. If a change is purely of text formatting, then the PWwiki alert says so. Perhaps it might be worth your time to explore what PBwiki does.

    The cost of staff time is not trivial, of course. That’s precisely why we are seeking to find ways of making workflows more efficient by use of suitable technology.

    Let us not forget the current situation involves trading finished lists of references as attachments, generating additional emails back and forth about changes or comments to such finished documents, which not always have a version control.

    02 Oct 2007, 09:49

  7. Angie Donoghue

    We currently use one of the reading list products that offers management functionality (eg you can see how many courses and students have a particular item on their reading list (and order accordingly), you can easily import catalogue records, you can upload a reading list into the VLE automatically. Given the number of library staff there are compared with the number of modules I am concerned about the scaleability issues of using wikis for each module reading list. But it’s an interesting project to pursue and I’ll be interested to hear how it develops.

    04 Oct 2007, 15:31

  8. Angie

    Yes, a reading list management system could be used to the same effect if
    1) Data can be queued in closed access while it is in draft status as a working document.
    2) Academics are inputting references through the year as and when, without waiting to have a finished list by a deadline.
    3) Both the librarian and the academic get an alert of references inputted and corrections made by either of them.
    4) The set-up allows for unstructured comments as part of the collaboration.

    04 Oct 2007, 16:38

  9. John Dale

    If a change is purely of text formatting, then the PWwiki alert says so. Perhaps it might be worth your time to explore what PBwiki does.

    Strangely, having taken a look at PBwiki, I don’t see the text of a change included in the emails it sends at all; no matter what kind of change to a page I make, I always get the relatively non-specific message:-

    mysite.pbwiki.com was just edited. Here’s what was changed:
    j.dale@warwick.ac.uk changed the page ‘FrontPage’.

    Am I missing something about making PBwiki send me a more detailed explanation of how the page was changed?

    08 Oct 2007, 15:33

  10. John

    I will forward you some test alerts I produced using PBwiki. You will see the weakness of PBwiki is you need to read your emails in html for them to make sense, since it uses colour coding and the textual explanation on the mail is otherwise not sufficient.

    Than you for looking into this.

    08 Oct 2007, 16:25

  11. John Dale

    Ah, you’re quite right. If I switch my email client to display HTML, I see the details of the change; if I read emails in plain text (which is my normal preference) then you just get a message that the page has been changed. That’s kind of disappointing; we wouldn’t want to have to send HTML emails just to make this work (though we are working on it, you’ll be pleased to hear).

    08 Oct 2007, 16:30

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