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Appendix A: The Wiki Text Editor

A wiki, in its most basic sense, is a website with pages editable by anyone at anytime. The main tool that facilitates user contributions is the text editor. Wiki text editors come in three main varieties: a plain-text editor, a text editor with shortcuts, and a rich-text editor, also known as a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editor, which is similar to the common word processor. When wikis were first conceived, many used a plain-text editor, which required users to modify page content in a similar way to how a programmer would create an HTML document. However, the “wiki markup” language was never standardized; users would need to learn different markup languages for different wiki software.

In order to make text editing easier, wiki software developers began to incorporate shortcut buttons that automatically inserted the wiki markup commands for selected text. For example, one button would inserts the markup command to make selected text boldface. The buttons were distinguish using common descriptive images, such as a boldface ‘B’ for boldface text. Although this method makes basic text editing easier, the content editor still appears as plain text regardless of the formatting applied, and the formatting commands are mixed in with the text, making it difficult to find content within the mix of content and markup commands. With the advancement of server technologies, web developers were able to extend to wikis features previously available only in word processors.

Recent advancements in dynamic server technologies, such as JavaScript (JS) and Java Server Pages (JSP), have allowed web applications to employ the WYSIWYG editors that most computer users are familiar with. However, many wiki software packages do not incorporate a visual editor by default. Some packages allow for visual editors to be added on, but this task can be a hassle for the administrator as well as the user. Adding on visual editors often creates inconsistencies between the software and the editor, sometimes even causing the software to fail, resulting in lost work. Although WYSIWYG editors simplify editing for most users, when selecting wiki software, it may be difficult to find packages that fit user needs as well as natively incorporating a visual editor.

Appendix B: Wikis in Higher Education

Obviously, wikis have been used elsewhere in higher education. Two noteworthy examples are the work of Dr. Joe Moxley at the University of South Florida (USF) and Texas A&M's First-Year Learning Community. TeachingWiki is one part of a two-part wiki community created by Moxley for USF's First-Year Composition courses. In 2006, 9500 students and 86 faculty members were part of the First-Year Composition program<ref> December 17, 2007.</ref>. TeachingWiki is mainly used by USF faculty; however, it is open to all college-level faculty for sharing teaching practices, lesson plans, and references. In addition to sharing information, users are able to gain new insights into teaching practices from the contributions of other users. In order to use the wiki, users must contact Moxley for an account; Moxley moderates the site, which creates a more controlled atmosphere so irrelevant information is kept to a minimum. The platform used for this wiki is an open-source software package called FlexWiki. The user interface lacks a standardized navigation system, which makes it difficult to use.

The second part of this system is called WritingWiki and is the portal intended to encourage student-faculty interaction. It uses the same platform as TeachingWiki, FlexWiki, and is just as difficult to navigate. Instructors use this wiki mainly as a means of posting information for students, such as example papers. The wiki is broken down into sections for classes and sections where professors can provide information for each section. Like TeachingWiki, WritingWiki also lacks standard navigation between its pages, creating confusion when browsing information located many “clicks” within the wiki.

Texas A&M’s award winning First-Year Learning Community program has a wiki containing information pertinent to both first-year students and course instructors. The software powering this wiki is called PmWiki, a minimalist wiki platform. It provides breadcrumbs as navigation aids, but there is no standard navigation bar. The wiki is mainly used to organize information about the various courses that participate in the Learning Communities program. The wiki enables students to find information about their learning communities while also providing instructors a way to inform students about their courses. Again, this wiki is mainly used to publish information that students retrieve, rather than allowing for student input. There is also a teacher section on the wiki with a variety of types of information, including downloadable documents (documents not created for the wiki).

Appendix C: Documents

Fall 2007 - Introduction to Air Quality Control

Spring 2008 - PDI Entrepreneurship and Business Planning

Spring 2008 - Introduction to Engineering Design


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