Monday, April 28, 2008

....pedias, knols, and endium's - oh my!

Today, I learned about some new and interesting web resources from an Inside Higher Education article, Making Wikis Work for Scholars. The article comments on faculty use of Wikipedia and summarizes additional resource sites. A common theme among the developing resource sites is the emphasis on content accuracy and identifying authors which is a stated concern of Wikipedia. I'll provide summaries from each website and a link to help you digest the nuances between the sites.

1. The "Knol" project by Google is currently in development. "Earlier this week, we started inviting a selected group of people to try a new, free tool that we are calling "knol", which stands for a unit of knowledge. Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it. The tool is still in development and this is just the first phase of testing. For now, using it is by invitation only. But we wanted to share with everyone the basic premises and goals behind this project." Please click on "Knol" above to read the entire article.

2. And, then there are the "...pedia" and "...endium" resources.
    • Each article is written by an expert (invited or elected by the public).
    • Each article is anonymously peer reviewed to ensure accurate and reliable information.
    • Each article has a curator - typically its author -- who is responsible for its content.
    • Any modification of the article needs to be approved by the curator before it appears in the final, approved version.
    • Herein also lies the greatest difference between Scholarpedia and traditional print media: while the initial authorship and review processes are similar to a print journal so that Scholarpedia articles could be cited, they are not frozen and outdated, but dynamic, subject to an ongoing process of improvement moderated by their curators. This allows Scholarpedia to be up-to-date, yet maintain the highest quality of content.
  • Veropedia
    • Veropedia is a collaborative effort by a group of Wikipedians to collect the best of Wikipedia's content, clean it up, vet it, and save it for all time. These articles are stable and cannot be edited. The result is a quality stable version that can be trusted by students, teachers, and anyone else who is looking for top-notch, reliable information.
  • Citizendium
    • We aim at reliability and quality, not just quantity.
    • We welcome public participation—gently guided by experts.
    • We write under our real names—and are both collegial and congenial.
    • We're now 6,200 articles plus and gathering speed.
    • Eduzendium participants write articles for academic credit.
  • Eduzendium
    • Eduzendium is a program in which the Citizendium partners with university programs throughout the world to create high-quality, English language entries for the Citizendium

Thursday, April 17, 2008


There are some very basic usability tenets in life. One tenet that I use to evaluate tools and products is KISS, or, "keep it simple stupid"! Why? I believe that simplicity relates to usability, usefulness, and ultimately adoption of a tool/innovation. It is especially important for tasks that we repeat over and over again. In evaluating the tool or product, it should be intuitive and require few steps to accomplish the user's goal. In other words, it should be perceived as easy to use.

Another usability tenet which is probably even more important than KISS is "does this tool/product make my life easier or make me more effective? Are there perceived benefits? Is it worth the effort to learn how to use it?" These fundamental questions must be answered in the affirmative for a new technology to be adopted, one individual at a time. Too often we think of adoption in terms of defined groups: early adopters, late majority, etc. The reality is that the decision to adopt something new is made by an individual. That decision is affected by many inputs, among which may be the opinion of others.

Now, consider repository software. From within a repository, try contributing content, searching for, locating, and using content. Imagine that you are teaching a course online or teaching face to face. You are using a repository to build course content or making specific digital resources available to a hybrid or face to face students from within a repository. Would you choose to have a separate login and password to the repository? Or, would you like the repository to be available from within the content or authoring tab of a learning management system where the login and password would be automatically passed from the student information system to the repository behind the scenes. Ah-ha!, we now have integration which leads to simplicity for the faculty member and student. I would choose the latter option.

How do I make the resources available to my students? Is it as easy as < click here > to add a link to my online course? Or, do I need to locate the resource, right click, click on properties, copy and paste the URL into my course? In other words, how complicated is it? Can I figure it out on my own or do I need to attend training?

What are the benefit to me or my students? Do students learn? A professor at Florida State University felt that his graduate students were far more successful when they interacted with a digital content module that he created for statistical analysis. It was so successful that he expended a great deal of energy to digitally create it with a developer. As retirement approaches, he wants to make this content available to a wider audience and place it in The Orange Grove. I believe that the amount of effort that he is willing to provide this project is related to its perceived benefits.

What are your thoughts regarding usability in general and repositories?