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W i K I S

I've been looking at wikis — lots of wikis — in order to find a few of the most interesting to present at a hands-off technology workshop next week. (Won't you please join us?) Of course interest is highly subjective, but I hope you find these projects intriguing, stimulating, and otherwise though-provoking.

First let me mention the elephant in the room. In my opinion, Wikipedia is one of the most interesting projects in the history of humanity. But we all know about Wikipedia. My goal here is to show that Wikipedia is not the only wiki on the planet. Onward!

  1. What if Hitler won World War II? That's one of the most common scenarios when imagining alternate histories. The Alternate History Wiki goes much further, with contributors speculating on thousands of other possible timelines that might have unfolded. What if Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated? What if a virus had devastated the Mayans in the 9th century? What if the earth was tilted 90º so the North Pole was off the coast of Africa? (In a similar speculative-imaginative vein, see also Galaxiki, which bills itself as a fictional galaxy anyone can edit.)
  2. As the name suggests, Appropedia is structured much like an encyclopedia. Because wikis can be sprawling in their scope, this is a common and sensible form. Appropedia is notable not merely for its admirable focus (on sustainability, appropriate technology and poverty reduction) but also for the quality of its engagement, which includes a substantial service learning component.
  3. There's a type of wiki known as a "city wiki," focusing on a single urban locality. Examples abound, but one of the weirdest and most wonderful is surely Davis Wiki, dedicated to the city of Davis, California. What makes this one stand out, besides its prodigious size, is that it's not as serious and straight-laced as many others. The wiki provides a wealth of serious content where appropriate, but also has room for a listing of the bathrooms at UC Davis — ranked by cleanliness or lack thereof.
  4. The Internet Movie Firearms Database is dedicated to figuring out just what guns were used in every scene of every movie ever made. As you can imagine, that's a lot of guns. I'm not a gun nut, but to me this is an intriguing proof-of-concept, demonstrating how a data-set can be developed with collaborative tools.
  5. The most interesting wiki I discovered was undoubtedly TV Tropes. A trope is a commonly recurring device or motif, not necessarily cliché, found in writing of all sorts. This site aims to catalog such tropes, initially stating with television (and apparently involving more than a few script writers) and eventually branching out to other forms such as film, radio, comics, theater, literature and more. Note that this analysis is very different from the encyclopedic approach. According to the site itself, you "can probably gain more info on the what of (for example) Star Trek from [Wikipedia] than you can from actually watching the show, and that's nice. Here? Here, you can get a glimmering of why the show is like that." Fascinating stuff — to me, anyhow. Your mileage may vary.

In recognition of the fact that interests vary, I've compiled a further listing of wikis that may be interesting to other people — perhaps one of them will be interesting to you.

  1. For those who are interested in the U.S. political process, OpenCongress Wiki, Ballotpedia & Judgepedia may be worth a look.
  2. SourceWatch, run by the Center for Media and Democracy, "aims to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interest groups." (See also CoalSwarm, a sub-project.)
  3. I hesitate to post a link to Metapedia. It's a multilingual white nationalist and white supremacist, extreme right-wing encyclopedia. The perspective represented here is morally repugnant to me personally, and I expect to the Xavier community as well. And yet, I think access to this site presents obvious educational possibilities for creative teachers interested in history, politics, race relations, ethics and morality — to say nothing of critical thinking.
  4. Given Xavier's stake in the life sciences, the following may be useful: MedPedia is an open access online medical wiki encyclopedia, and MetaBase is a user-contributed database of biological databases.
  5. NotePub is an online notepad. You can write private, public, and shared notes. Extremely simple, easy-to-use and possibly quite handy.
  6. OpenStreetMap is quite impressive. Compare to Google Maps, but note this is published under the Open Database License. I think this is more of a tool for web developers to build upon but the potential is inspiring.
  7. Scholarpedia is kind of like an open access online journal in a wiki format. The articles are written by invited expert authors and are subject to peer review.
  8. Uncyclopedia & Encyclopedia Dramatica are satirical. The former is a direct parody of Wikipedia and feels a bit safe, while the latter is focused more on net culture and is not for the faint of heart.
  9. Wikitravel is a travel guide. Nuff said.
  10. Sensei's Library is a wiki about the game Go. It may be the most extensive Go resource on the web.
  11. Wookieepedia is an example of a fannish wiki. It's all about Star Wars, not just the movie but every aspect of the franchise. Any popular culture phenomenon with a dedicated cult is likely fodder for a wiki. I cite Wookieepedia because it's one of the biggest and most popular of such wikis, and provides an excellent example of the form.
  12. If you don't find any of the above even vaguely interesting, then Meatball Wiki is surely not for you. It's a wiki about wikis. Not a mere list of extant wikis, it "contains technical analyses of indexing schemes, wiki architecture, and inter-wiki protocol design. Yet it also philosophizes about the nature of hypertext, government, and identity, not to mention detailing user interfaces, community building, and conflict resolution."

If you're interested in learning more about using wikis, let me know. I'm happy to work with you. And don't forget to come to our workshop.

Photo credit: Various letters by Chris / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0/


An English professor from NYU enrolls in an online course and reports her experiences in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

On Becoming a Phoenix: Encounters with the Digital Revolution

There is a new Turnitin GradeMark feature that lets instructors add a voice comment to a student’s paper. The ability for an instructor to leave a personal voice comment is a powerful tool for providing feedback to students. With just a few clicks, instructors can quickly record a detailed message of up to 3 minutes in length and attach it to the student’s paper. Instructors can use the orally recorded feedback as a supplement to written comments.

Want more information?
Step-by-step instructions are available [Video]
How to use Turnitin GradeMark [Video] [PDF]
Blackboard How-To documents [HTML]
Explore Blackboard's On Demand Learning Center [HTML]
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or email or call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418

If you setup a discussion forum with date and time restrictions, once the scheduled available time has passed the forum becomes unavailable and disappears from the student’s view. If you would like students to be able to read posts once the date restriction has past but not be able to submit new posts, you can “lock” the discussion thread to prevent new posts. Students may read the threads but not make any additions or modifications.

Follow these steps to do it.
In order to lock discussion board threads, you should:

  1. Open the Forum in the Discussion Board.
  2. Select the threads you want to lock (you can select all threads by checking the box to the left of “Date” in the header).
  3. Click the [Thread Actions] menu button and choose [Lock] from the list.
  4. Once you have successfully locked the thread, remember to go back and edit the forum to remove the date and time restrictions so that the students can see the threads.

Want more information?
Step-by-step instructions are available [PDF].
Explore Blackboard's On Demand Learning Center [HTML].
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or email or call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418

Faculty and students now have more options for staying connected with their Blackboard courses and organizations while on the go. Blackboard Mobile Learn is an app that allows you to access your Blackboard courses/organizations from a mobile device. The Mobile Learn app allows you to quickly and easily disseminate information to your students. Mobile Learn is primarily designed as a communication tool which will allow you to perform tasks such as post announcements, view discussions, create or reply to discussion threads, view journal entries and blog posts. You cannot use Mobile Learn to set up or organize your courses. Mobile Learn does not have Grade Center integration. New to Mobile Learn is Dropbox integration, which allows you to manage course documents with ease.

Depending on the particular mobile device, some features will not work correctly, but you can always access those features using a browser such as Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer on your computer.

Want more information?
Get Mobile Learn App [PDF]
Mobile Learn features [HTML]
Mobile Learn features summary by device [PDF]
Best practices for creating mobile-friendly courses [PDF]
Explore Blackboard's On Demand Learning Center [HTML]
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or email or call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418

Melted Clock

Following up on our workshop from last semester, Jeffrey Davis has an interesting take on time management in Psychology Today.

The more you shape time in ways that are flexible and artful instead of rigid and managerial, the more your mind actually looks forward to certain times of day, certain Mind Time Zones. Your experience of time shifts. Your experience of your mind shifts.

The application to academic types seems obvious. Read Tracking Wonder & Making More Time to Create.

Photo credit: Melted Clock / Tom Hickey / BY-NC-SA 2.0

In the event of an emergency that disrupts the University’s ability to have classes on campus for an extended period of time, you can be ready to continue your classes online. Here are some things you can do to be prepared should the need arise.

  • Understanding and Building Your Course
    • Getting Started with Course Environment (Video) (PDF)
    • Getting Started with Course Content (PDF)
  • Utilize Blackboard’s Communication Tools
  • Collecting Student Work
    • Getting Started with Assignments (PDF)
  • Utilize Blackboard’s Collaboration Tools
    • Blogs, Wikis, Journals, & Discussion Boards Explained (PDF)
  • Posting Grades
    • Getting Started with the Grade Center (PDF)

Want more information?
Step-by-step instructions are available [PDFs] as well as
on-demand videos.
Signup for Blackboard workshops or request one-on-one help.
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or email or call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418

Scalar is a new online publishing platform specifically designed for scholars and educators. It's still in development, with a public beta release not expected until early 2013. This video gives an intriguing overview.

Clearly this is something to keep an eye on. More information is available on the website of the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture.


Instructors can see their courses as a student would by turning edit mode off. However, instructors do not get the true experience of navigating the course like a student when edit mode is turned off.

Instructors can now add a test student to their course. The instructor can login to the course as the test student and navigate the course exactly as a student would. While logged in as the test student, the instructor is able to complete assignments, tests, surveys, etc. The instructor would also be able to see the “test student” in the Grade Center. The instructor has the option of removing the test student from the course when the test student is no longer needed.

Follow these steps to do it.
In order to add a test student to your course, you should:

  1. Goto the [Control Panel] for the course and click on the [Course Tools] link to expand it. Click on [Add Test Student].
  2. You should see the Create Test Student Account screen. Make a note of the Test Student Account’s username, and then enter a password for the test student account. The “enroll this test student on the current course” option should be checked.
  3. Click on the [Submit] button. You should see a message indicating the test student user was created.
  4. You can now login as the “test student” using the username and password created in step 2.

Want more information?
Step-by-step instructions are available [PDF].
Explore Blackboard's On Demand Learning Center [HTML].
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or email or call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418


During the break between summer and fall semesters Blackboard will be upgraded to version 9.1 service pack 9. Upgrading to SP9 gives us a number of exciting new features as well as a few bug fixes. New features include course-to-course navigation, course structures and course themes, quick setup guide, automatic regrading, negative marking, and updated rubrics.

Course-to-course navigation: You no longer need to navigate to the XU home page or courses tab to access your other courses. You are able to move from course to course by clicking the course-to-course navigation drop down menu in the upper left corner of the page to select the next course.
Course structures: Course structures help you to setup a course in a short amount of time. Pre-built course structures focus on specific aspects of a course including activity, communication, content, systems, and time. You can use the pre-built course structure’s course menu links, instructions, and content examples to jump-start your course organization and create a meaningful learning experience for your students.
Course themes: Course themes provide an easy way to create a visually engaging course environment. Faculty can apply one of the available themes to match their design preferences and teaching methods. Course themes add a background image to the course display and change the color of the interface, including the Course Menu, buttons, and controls. Course themes do not affect the course content and can be changed at any time.
Quick setup guide: The quick setup guide makes it easy for faculty to choose an appropriate theme and structure for their course so they spend less time setting up their courses.
Automatic regrading: This new feature will save time and make it easier to correct problem assessment questions. Instructors can now fix problematic questions by simply editing the invalid assessment question directly. After the question has been updated, the score of all submitted assessments will be recalculated and the updated score will be changed in the Grade Center. Notification will be sent to the instructor and optionally to the students who are impacted by the change.
Negative marking: Negative markings allow instructors to assign negative point values for incorrect answers on assessment questions. Negative points discourage (by penalty) guessing on assessments. Assigning negative points means a student would be penalized when guessing at an answer. Negative markings are available for multiple choice, multiple answer, matching, and hot spot assessment question types.
Rubrics update: The interactive rubrics now include a percentage range type rubric. You can now create a rubric to assess by a percent range.

Want more information?
New features in Blackboard Learn 9.1 [HTML]
Stop by one of the drop-in sessions for one-on-one help.
Explore Blackboard's On Demand Learning Center [HTML].
Visit the Blackboard FAQs for additional blackboard information
or email or call Janice Florent: (504) 520-7418