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So what did we say? Our talk notes from GROUP 2007

Ask and you shall receive. Here is the text from which Jude and I spoke during our talk at GROUP this year. We said more than is here, but you get the gist. Thanks to everyone who stayed off the beach long enough to see our presentation!

Slide 1: Title
Welcome to Twiki and WetPaint: 2 wikis in academic environments. If you’ve read the paper, you’ll know some of what we’ll talk about today, but most of our discussion will center around analysis we’ve done since the Note deadline. We’ll describe the process through which Twiki became KNOW SI and then tell you a bit about what happens (or happened) on each wiki, and we’ll end with a group of questions we’re planning to explore. What we’re presenting today is some history about those two wikis and some information about our theoretical work.

Slide 2: diagram of projects
TWiki and KNOW SI are part of a larger research project on organizational knowledge and the use of wikis. We’re not building just theory or just building wikis.

Slide 3: screenshots of lots of wikis
We chose to study these wikis because they’re likely places for users to find and share information about and relevant to their communities.

Slide 4: Meet the Twiki
Started in June of 2005 and first used by a single research group and a few master’s level classes, meet the Twiki. Twiki is still operational, but it’s only remaining active users are the research group that who adopted it. Not surprisingly, the sysadmin is in that research group. Libby got to know Twiki as a GSI (Michigan’s fancy term for TAs) for a course that used the Twiki.

Slide 5: 504 Twiki
That class kept discussion section notes and shared links and extra information on the Twiki. The most common complaint about the class as a whole was that the Twiki was “impossible to use” and “too confusing to be helpful.” That so many students felt strongly about something peripheral to their class clued us in more acutely to the twiki’s usability issues.

Slide 6: Special markup
required by the Twiki was at worst an insurmountable barrier and at best a mild nuisance for users. That class was during fall semester 2005.

Slide 7: Foosball (sept 2005)
Doctoral students, in general, were the most frequent editors of both wikis, and their wiki use started with the Twiki in September 2005 with the all-important Foosball Ladder information. We have a foosball table in our building, and we started tracking foosball competitions the same summer the Twiki was born. Other pages on the Twiki that started early include

Slide 8: Doctoral Resources (sept 2005)
Doctoral resources; a long page of resources for writing, getting funding, analyzing data, other stuff important to doctoral students’ work.

Slide 9: Conferences (nov 2005)
Another long page, this one about conferences that people from SI have attended. Each paragraph contains information about the conference including when it was last held, who’s gone, and what it’s about.

Slide 10: Field prelims (summer 2006)
A small group of students working on their prelims used the Twiki to keep each other up to date on progress, to share time lines.

Slide 11: Fishing for info
Doctoral students were frequent Twiki editors; most Master’s students disappeared after their classes ended. PhD students used the Twiki to tell each other about their work, to share info about conferences, and to archive community information like foosball prowess. A little over a year later, some students

Slide 12: Eating food
were eating food and talking about wikis. Discussions for a new, more usable, easier to find wiki began. Isn’t that the way many interesting projects start? Anyway, it was time for a new wiki platform.

Slide 13: WetPaint
we chose WetPaint as the 2.0 platform because it promised to be ridiculously easy to use and sported a WYSIWYG editor reminiscent of our favorite (or not so favorite) word processor. The WetPaint wiki also got a new nick name – KNOW SI – Knowledge Networked on a Wiki for SI.

Slide 14: KNOW SI
KNOW SI started with seeds – content grabbed from the TWiki’s active, public, whole community pages such as

Slide 15: Conferences (KNOW SI)
Conferences, and

Slide 16: Doctoral Resources (KNOW SI)
Doctoral resources. This page has grown

Slide 17: Doctoral resources navigation
into a large section that now has 14 pages including

Slide 18: What I Learned
What I learned – a page started by a doctoral student who had defended and accepted a tenure-track job. He enlisted other recent grads to make an interesting page of advice.

Slide 19: Papers by SI Students
Papers by SI Doctoral Students – a one-stop shop for finding papers we’ve written; skimming it gives you a sense of the breadth of work we do at SI. The papers page is an example of a kind of behavior that’s been used a few times to generate wiki content – a student sent out

Slide 20: Emilee’s email
an email letting people know the page existed and offered to post others’ papers.

Slide 21: Papers original version
That email generated this first version – 1486 words.

Slide 22: papers history
Then, the page grew as more students added their own papers. Other KNOW SI pages such as a blog list and auto mechanic recommendations started similarly; one person got a bunch of information from many people, created a page, and then let it lose for the community to update. We’d seen the same thing with the original doctoral resources page on the Twiki; this one just gets a lot more action.

Slide 23: question marks
So that whirlwind tour shows you some of what we see on both wikis. What does any of this tell us? People are using the wiki, or at least trying, to do a number of things including

Slide 24: What I learned; Conferences for SI Types
Give advice

Slide 25: Foosball, basketball, grilling
Store, or point to, information about activities in the community

Slide 26: Good Mechanics
Aggregate and store information

Slide 27: making sense of wiki use
A couple theories help us analyze those behaviors – one of them is transactive memory.

Slide 28: Transactive memory
In this project we look at transactive memory as part of organizational knowledge

transactive memory – a theory of organizational memory, by Wegner (1986) that suggests knowledge within an organization/group is distributed among the group and that individual members can serve as memory aids to each other. One key to transactive memory is being able to build a shared understanding of “who knows what”. For instance, if I wanted to get baseball tickets in Michigan, chances are likely that I will turn to Libby for help because I know that she is a major baseball fan.

Slide 29: Newcomers and knowledge sharing
Such anecdotes and informal knowledge sharing are essential for newcomers to academic communities. Academic communities are highly dynamic environments with a high turnover of members every year or even semester. By knowing “who knows what”, newcomers know who to approach for particular pieces of needed information.

Slide 30: Who knows what
One example of how the wiki supports this kind of “who knows what” investigation is that it keeps track of the authors of its content. For newcomers looking to learn about student organizations, the history of that particular page can tell them something about who might know about a particular organization.

Slide 31: Takeaways
We have two important findings from this first part of our study – people will use a wiki to share information relevant to transactive memory; they’re more likely to use it if it’s easy to use and you give them time.

Slide 31: What’s next?
We’ve been careful to this point not to generalize from the use within SI, a bounded academic environment, to organizations in general or public wikis broadly. At this point, we’re not prepared to make broad claims about wiki use in organizations. Rather, we’re using the data we and theory we’ve generated and used thus far to move us along to another iteration and more chances to study organizations.

Slide 32: Questions?

So, what do you think ?

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