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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Wikis, Skype and Webinars, oh my–Staff Development Solutions Part One

http://www.freefoto.com/images/04/31/04_31_1_prev.jpgTo many of those I network with online (either by reading & posting to blogs or via Twitter) –the three words in the title are routine: 

Wikis, Skype and Webinars

But for you nonprofit execs trying to manage agencies on a shoestring, one or more of these may be meaningless.  After all, these terms didn’t even exist a few years ago, and you don’t have time to spare to learn something new. If this describes you, I implore you to sit back for 5 minutes and take a deep breath. 

Challenges to Nonprofit Staff Development

Do these sound familiar?

  • You have minimal resources budgeted to improve skills, yet you know your organizational effectiveness could benefit from training.
  •  You are understaffed, so you have difficulty in letting staff have too much time out of the office to attend conferences that might let them network with peers or gain additional perspective.
  • The specialized training you need is not available online anyway.  You participated in a webinar or two as part of a national association or group, but it’s not always what you require.

Web 2. 0 (all this new-fangled technology on the web) offers some solutions to your challenges.  And the solutions aren’t as hard to construct as you think.

Wiki Wow

Wikis are my favorite tool for working collaboratively with staff.  Think of a wiki as a website where you don’t need to know how to program to make changes.  Where you can post documents, outline thoughts, post links to websites with relevant information.

Collaboration on Training Needs–Let’s say your supervisors have some ideas about what staff needs are for training and development.  Imagine being able to have your key staff collaborate AS they think of ideas, rather than wait for a staff meeting (which may not be conducive to free thinking anyway).  You can set up a free password-protected private wiki in 5 minutes that will allow them to collaborate on ideas.  They have the ability to create any structure they want,  post comments, additions and the most current version is always available. Best yet, the old versions are available as “history” so the group can decide to go back to previous versions.  And, users can automatically get email notices with updates (if they choose) whenever someone edits content.  Cool.

Continuing Education–Pass It On

Ever have staff come back from a conference or training day with materials, powerpoints and ideas?  Wish there was an easy way to pass it on to other staff?  There is.

  • Here’s one school district’s attempt at putting staff development materials online.  They have it as a publicly viewed site, but you can’t edit it if you don’t have their password.  Be sure to click on their right January 14 link to go deeper.  I hope they keep this updated, as it’s a great best practice.  They’ve used pbwiki.
  • Here’s a wiki that promotes best practices for staff training (not all in themselves wikis) in library science.  (Note: this site is laid out like wikipedia)
  • Here’s yet another progressive library group with a wiki with links for staff development (this is in the format I’m used to….from www.pbwiki.com.)  They have mostly text but I have used pbwiki’s WYSIWYG interface to add graphics, video, etc. 
  • And, here’s a great one:  a wiki dedicated to getting staff up-to-speed on and using web2.0 Social Media (including social media guidelines).  This is more from this site, called EduBuzz from East Lothian.  Kudos to them.

My thanks to the organizations that have kept these wikis publicly-viewable. 

Next up:  Staff Development and Skype, Webinars

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When Wikis Trump Email

j0404960.jpgGlad I discovered Stewart Mader yesterday.  What drew me was a discussion of wiki versus email on Day 2 of his series, “21 Days of Wiki Adoption.”

Last month, I wrote how email might not be going away anytime soon, and I stick with that.  But having held jobs where I’d leave my desk for a meeting, returning to find 100 emails, I know there must be a better way.  My email-from-hell experience was during the implementation of a rather large project–welfare reform–in one of the largest state agencies in existence.  I was top assistant to the Deputy Secretary overseeing this sea change. 

Everyone would “CYA” themselves by copying me on every email…it was how they “collaborated.”  Sound familiar?

Oh, if we only had wikis then.  Development of regulations, retraining of staff, outreach to constituencies, new policy manuals, IT apps–all under deadline with thousands of people involved.  How many days we broke our momentum to attend front-office meetings to explain where we were on the project(s) and “collaborate.”  Some staff had to come from across town or across the state. 

Collaboration and a Smaller Inbox

Fortunately, wikis are now idiot-proof and easy to set up.  I’ve used them (from PBWiki) for my college teaching, in both traditional and online classes.  In all cases, I’ve been the only person involved who knew what a wiki was at the outset, but most participants adapted quickly. 

 duqprojectmanagementwiki2.jpg

The screenshot here was for a Project Management class I ran of adult (mostly National Guard) students enrolled in a Masters of Leadership program run by Duquesne U. 

We were spread all over central PA during the week at our jobs, but had 8 weeks (and 8 evening classes) to run a fundraiser from scratch to finish to benefit The American Legion Legacy Scholarship.  We used the wiki to get our ducks in a row for a mission statement, then used subsequent pages to share word documents, timelines, tick lists, etc.  In projects, a wiki lets you:

  • Avoid the barrage of email
  • Have one source for the most current version of documents
  • Get input from multiple sources in an orderly manner
  • See the most recent updates, comments and postings by your colleagues
  • Let participants view parallel activities that might affect their portion of the project
  • Be more nimble, reacting to new input and altering direction, if needed.
  • Cut down on meeting time (if you need meetings at all).

If you need an easy-to-understand resource on what a wiki is, check out this video by Lee Lefever of CommonCraft.com

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