Columbia University

Wikispaces has been exceptional — always available and dedicated to supporting us.

— Maurice Matiz, Vice Executive Director
Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning

A University-Wide Wiki Solution

In the spring of 2007, the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching & Learning (CCNMTL) began using Wikispaces Campus. Prior to Wikispaces, CCNMTL experimented with using open source wiki software in a handful of courses. While those experiments were successful for the professors and students, it became clear that, with the growing demand, setting up each wiki manually was going to soon overwhelm the Center. CCNMTL needed a solution that would allow them to:

  • easily generate wikis for any course
  • integrate with other existing university authentication and web platforms,
  • build wiki templates and brand the site
  • and easily support and administer.

Wikispaces Campus appealed to them as it provided an unlimited number of wikis, all which could be centrally administered. But before buying, they wanted to make sure it was functionally rich enough for all of their needs.

We put a lot of effort into insuring that the system would work and would be accepted by the faculty. This includes writing custom documentation and offering faculty workshops.

CCNMTL took advantage of the free 30-day trial and began setting up their wiki environment.

Integration and Easy Administration

The first important feature for CCNMTL was integrating Wikispaces Campus into their existing infrastructure. They wanted students and faculty to seamlessly access their wikis without leaving Columbia's website and without needing a new username and password. First, they customized the look of their site and placed it on their own domain. Then the Center set up Single Sign-On (SSO) for their site. Any student or instructor at Columbia would now be able to log in to the Wikispaces Campus site with their existing username and password.

The Center also wanted a site that was easy to manage and scale. They used the Wikispaces API to build administrative applications that would make managing the site easy. Faculty, authenticated through Columbia's system, could automatically have wikis created for their class. Likewise, students affiliated with a course could automatically join that wiki. These applications eased the administration of the site for CCNMTL, turning Wikispaces into the self-service wiki solution they wanted.

Wikis Become Online Extensions of the Classrooms

Once the site was set up, CCNMTL introduced it to the university through their website, e-mails, and workshops. Initially, Columbia had expected only about 20 to 30 wikis to be created, but professors took to Wikispaces enthusiastically. The site now has hundreds of classroom wikis and thousands of users. Below are just a few examples of how Columbia has used their Wikispaces Campus:

  • In a freshmen literature seminar, the instructor used the wiki as a place for students to more deeply analyze course texts. Individual passages from the texts were posted on the wiki. The students would then highlight a word or phrase from those passages and interpret it. Students read their colleagues' interpretations and responded to them, creating a dialogue out of class that further enriched the in-class discussions.
  • The professor of a German language class used the wiki for composition projects. The students would practice the vocabulary and grammar of that unit as they collaboratively created and edited a larger text on the subject.
  • An English professor posted weekly assignments for students to answer on the wiki. The students created new pages for each assignment and, using Wikispaces' tagging feature, the professor was able to easily gather and list all the assignments based on that particular tag, making for easy organization of a large wiki.
  • A professor used her wiki to create a fluid curriculum for her course. After giving the students some background, she had them create the course syllabus, sign up to moderate particular sessions, and determine the plans for each class meeting. The collaboration at the beginning of the course and the moderation responsibilities throughout the course enriched the class discussions and increased her students' engagement.

Columbia has been very pleased with their Wikispaces experience:

The reaction to Wikispaces Campus has been very positive and Wikispaces has been an asset to the university classrooms, complementing our course management system nicely.

— Dan Beeby, Associate Director for Services
Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning

The CCNMTL and Columbia professors presented their wikis at the Center's New Media in Education 2008 Conference. If you want to learn more about how professors are using wikis at Columbia, you can find recordings of the sessions below.

Promoting Collaborative Learning Through Wikis

Wikis: A Platform for Innovation in the Classroom

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