Tag Archives: wikispaces

Lessons Learned in Dakar

Two weeks ago, I was getting on a plane to Dakar, Senegal and a week after that, I was helping to launch the first conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa. In that short time frame, I have learned an amazing amount about child protection and the unique issues its pioneers strive to overcome; the challenges of bringing new technologies to sub-Saharan Africa; the power of technology for global communication; and even a bit about the city of Dakar.

Working out of the UNICEF office in the days leading up to the conference.

Before I delve into some of the amazing experiences I had in Dakar, I’ll give you a little more background about what I was doing there in the first place. Working as a Technology and Education Consultant for Wellspring Advisors, LLC, I have been designing a social media campaign and building a wikispace to house the discussions and documents related to this conference over the past few months. Through numerous Skype meetings and emails, I worked with international agencies to organize what would ultimately be a conference of 350 people from 40 west African nations. It was exciting to see so many agencies, organizations, and funders come together around this topic. We had representatives from UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, The African Child Policy Forum, Terre des Hommes, REPSSI, RIATT, Oak Foundation, and other funders.

Conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa – Promising Practices, Lessons Learned and the Way Forward

During the conference, I introduced attendees to the new technologies associated with the conference and helped them to actively use the wikispace to share session notes, upload documents, and ask questions or make comments. I learned that there is no pre-existing repository of documents on child protection (e.g., child abuse, exploitation, welfare, justice, marriage) in sub-Saharan Africa so our wiki now serves as a space to collect these from each country.

Additionally, I had the privilege to help many attendees join Twitter and Facebook for the first time so that they could begin sharing their knowledge and thoughts on child protection issues with the larger world via social media. It was inspirational to be reminded of how empowering it can be to gain access to a platform that allows you, with the click of a button, to connect and dialogue so easily with other people around the world. It was also very powerful to see the energy people had as I worked with them to resolve tech glitches and help them access these new spaces for expression and sharing. For many, it was a new experience to learn how social media could be used for professional networking and they were surprised to see how many people and accounts were following the conference online via the tweets and posts I made during each session.

@JNdyeta sends her first tweet after joining Twitter and Facebook at the Conference

Working in Dakar, I was also reminded about the challenges that arise from working abroad. We had a minimum of three languages at the conference (i.e., French, English, and Portuguese) and at times only one router for 350 people. And while Google Translate widgets can be a life-saver they’re still more of a tool than a full-fledged solution – as we discovered when attendees clicked the “edit” button in our wiki and all of their translated text converted back to English. I also encountered issues with firewalls trying to block Internet access and conference websites, problems pasting text into our wiki from foreign computers, and some other minor things that you come to expect when working with technology.

Attendees responded to reflection questions on the conference wiki

Yet, amidst all of the tech troubles, I think for me, the key of the conference was adaptability: Transitioning from “Thank You” to “Merci” in a French speaking nation; re-wording the benefits of Twitter in ways that made sense in our child protection conference context; and re-defining a wiki to fit the needs of attendees. Buy-in is always one of the most important pieces when you introduce a new technology but to have buy-in and the resulting motivation and hopefully momentum to continue its use, you need to communicate things in a way that makes sense. You need to adapt your own understanding and way of explaining a tool to fit the linguistic, geographic, cultural, and technical context in which you are working. This can take time, reflection, and a bit of mental exertion, but I can promise you, it’s worth it.

To see some of the amazing dialogues that occurred at the conference and which were then shared through social media, I invite you to visit the slideshows on our wiki.

And finally, I leave you with one of the many photos I snapped from the most western tip of Africa, because for me, regardless of the continent, the ocean will always be home.

The Western Most Tip of Africa in Dakar, Senegal.

Digital Spaces Are Like Virtual Silly Putty

By slworking2

Digital spaces seem to me a bit like virtual silly putty. You can mold and shape them in almost any way you want, you can copy and recreate them in the same way I used to imprint newspaper clips on the putty, and you can take the same space and use it over and over in different ways. All of this flexibility make digital spaces exciting, fluid, and responsive. It can also make it challenging to decide which digital space is the right one for your project or goal.

I have been doing work with a variety of digital spaces recently and I wanted to write about the pros and cons I see in each and solicit feedback from others about ways they have used these spaces so that I can envision new ways to shape my silly putty. Given the vastness of the Internet and the digital spaces it houses, I’ll only discuss three main types of spaces in this post: wikis, blogs, and social media.

Wikis

It seems only fitting to use Wikipedia’s definition of a wiki, which is “a website whose users can add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor.” I feel like there was a big push to use wikis a few years ago which has faded a bit as other digital spaces have come onto the scene, such as social media platforms. Yet, I think wikis are an underutilized space because of their collaborative functionality. Although tools like Google Apps can allow for real-time collaboration, having an entire web space with widget functionality and custom formatting that you can find in platforms like wikispaces or PBworks, provides a richer space for group work. As an educator, there are additional advantages, since you can create a free, “plus” account on sites like wikispaces so that you can keep your site private to protect student data and work. Wikis also allow multiple parties, across multiple time zones and continents, to be able to contribute to site. They can create pages, add resources, and share projects in a way that can be challenging in other digital spaces due to the various permissions needed to have multiple editors or authors. The ability to review and compare  your history on a wiki and revert back to an older version is also something that is not available in other digital spaces such as social media platforms.

The downside of a wiki is that it takes a lot of maintenance to keep it updated and relevant, which can get confusing when you have multiple authors/editors and it can be time-consuming to construct the initial frame and organization of the space. The lack of real-time collaboration functionality can also be a challenge if you are using the space for a conference or specific class session(s). Finally, there are limited social commenting options with a wiki. To provide feedback or comment on a page, most wikis require you to first join and that extra step does not foster the same type of social sharing and dialogue that is facilitated by social media spaces or blogs.

Blogs

Blogging platforms are a great digital space for publicizing your ideas, sharing your work, and documenting your (class) activities. Blogs also facilitate discussion through the comments functionality, where frequent and first-time visitors can review a post and add their own perspectives or ask follow-up questions. Platforms like WordPress add more flexibility to blogging spaces, allowing them to be used as entire websites with static pages in addition to revolving blog posts. This option can allow you to share resources and present information that does not need to be updated as frequently as a blog while still having the commenting functionality to interact with visitors. The ability to add widgets or plugins to blogs make them interactive and engaging, allowing you to do things like interweave your social media spaces into your blogging space.

Although you can have multiple editors of a blog or guest posts, blogging spaces are usually less collaborative and more one-way in terms of creation and distribution. Similar to wikis, blogs require a lot of maintenance and as I discussed previously, “fresh” content if you are looking to increase your SEO. Blog spaces seem more ideal for single or small groups of people as compared to large groups who are coming together to work on a project or share resources. Blogging platforms also do not allow for real-time updates or collaboration.

Social Media

Social media spaces are growing quickly. They include spaces like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, and more recently, Pinterest. These digital spaces allow for a variety of publication options, including sharing personal stories and updates, new articles, professional opportunities, and work-related news. There is an interesting intermixing of professional and personal stories within and across these spaces that I have not typically seen within one wiki or blog. Social media spaces allow for real-time updates, networking, and professional development twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. There is constant change occurring in these spaces as new people join, posts are updated, and people share new content. The focus is often tied to specific chats, topical discussions, current events, and at times, marketing and promotion. Within the education community, these spaces are an amazing demonstration of the collaboration and exchange that can occur among educators around the world. Social media accounts also are usually singular, meaning that they are owned and managed by one person, unless they are for a business, in which case there might be multiple administrators of one account. This decreases the collaboration within an account but does not affect the sharing that can occur within the larger social media space (e.g., on Twitter).

Unfortunately, the speed of change within social media spaces can at times be a challenge, as it can be difficult to keep up with the barrage of new stories and updates. Additionally, most of these spaces are shared in some way with various audiences, and some, like Twitter, are often completely private or public, without much of an in-between. This can raise more privacy concerns that other digital spaces where you might be able to make some pages pubic and others private. The rate of change also makes it difficult to create and publish static content, either alone or in a group, that you want to remain in one space on the Internet.

I’m sure there are many more details about the functionality of these sites that I haven’t covered but this at least serves as a general outline of how the silly putty often works when it is shaped as a wiki, blog, or social media space. I would love to hear when other people have used these spaces and why they chose them for their specific projects or goals. How do you decide which shape you want your silly putty to take? Is there a right and wrong way, depending on the goals you want to achieve?