Wiki: great tool for coordinating large projects, group activites

Okay, I apologize–I was offline longer than anticipated (will be off a little while until summer, getting my cyber properties moved around), but I have a great excuse for April.  We just bid “adieu” to a great group of French middle school-age students, part of an exchange with my daughter’s middle school. We hadn’t been part of the group previously (a 14-year program), just stepped in this year to offer a host home.

“Reply All” Headaches

After two weeks of involvement, it became clear the group needed a wiki.  The teacher –a fabulous woman who gives much time for the kids–was accustomed to hitting the “reply all” button to communicate with the parents and their kids (hey, after doing this for 14 years, she was just thankful everyone now had email).  With 20 families, weeks of activities/trips run by volunteers, coordination regarding scheduling etc. — we had a LOT of email.  Families who had been involved in past years commented to me about how they often miss or ignore email for this program.

Screen Shot -- School Exchange WikiSharing Documents

Email overload wasn’t the only problem.  We began to pass around a Word document, intended to gather emergency contact info, parents’ various cell numbers, kids’ bus numbers.  I was perplexed….how would we know where the “latest” version was? 

Wiki Solutions

A wiki offered the solution to our email and document-sharing challenges, as well as the challenge of changing direction and information.  (See “When Wikis Trump Email”).   I took ten minutes to set up a free wiki on www.pbwiki.com.  Since it is educational, we had no ads.  I was fortunate the “mom-in-charge” took to it like a duck to water. 

How it was used

We used the “Sidebar” (automatically at the top right of page) as a navigation page for documents.  We posted Word documents that contained necessary forms, contact information (such as our phone chain) that we could print out and carry with us.  We had a calendar (in the screen shot above) that was a simple table, with links to individual pages for each date. (For others projects I’ve worked on, the Sidebar would have been the navigation to access these pages, but this made more sense given the nature of our project).  The coordinator initially put all this info up on the wiki, to ensure we had a unified format.  But after that, individuals in charge of particular day trips or events would update their page details.  The group was instructed to check the night before each event for changes.  Of course, I subscribed to “changes” so I automatically received an email when any information was changed.

We had some formatting challenges (such as our blank space next to our French/East Coast U.S. time clock—PBwiki makes it easy to drop Google gadgets into your wiki.  You don’t need to be a programmer).  Formatting issues would have been surmountable but it wasn’t worth fussing over.  After all, this was a productivity improvement tool.  We’re now using Shutterfly to share photos (via a free group “collection” album) of the trip confidentially (we don’t like photos of the girls on the web, unprotected). 

Thanks to the wiki, the only tears that were shed were on the departure of the students back to France. 

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