What is The Scene?

by Amy Collier

You may have noticed a link on our website to a place called The Scene. When you click the link, you see a page of what looks like index cards:


So what is this? What’s going on?

Let me start with what The Scene is for Middlebury. In short, it’s an experimentation space. We are playing with a new-ish technology called wikity and The Scene is the name of the space where you can see that experimentation in action. A few of us in APDL, a few folks from the Digital Learning Commons in Monterey, and a few folks from Academic Technology at the College are testing out the technology and see how it might be able to help us share good ideas and keep each other informed about projects.

The Scene page aggregates the little white cards from individuals’ sites. So, if you click on one of the cards, you will be taken to the site where that card is hosted. So, for example, if you click the title of the card Blockchain for Education Explained by Audrey Watters, you will be directed to my personal wikity site, called Notes from Amy, where the card was written and hosted.

Why the wikity technology?

Always a good question. Wikity has some functionality that I find very interesting. I will name some of that functionality here and go into detail on why it’s important later:

  1. Wikity allows each individual to host his/her own content in their own personal “library,” if you will. So, if I read an interesting article or paper, if I come across a good resource, or if I want to keep track of my projects, I can quickly write a card and save it to my wikity site (for reference, here is my personal wikity site which, as I said earlier, feeds up into The Scene wikity site).
  2. Wikity allows each individual to copy a card from another person’s wikity site. The person from whom I copied keeps their copy, but now I have a copy that I can edit, add to, etc. Mike Caulfield, the guy who started wikity (and a dear friend), calls these “connected copies” because my copy is now my own, but it still references where I got it from. If someone copied the card I copied from someone else, the new copied would reference both copies. This may seem confusing at first, but it’s simple and powerful once you start playing with it.

The wikity model came out of Caulfield’s explorations of federation as a way to merge the strengths of open technologies like wikis and blogs. In his article, Can Blogs and Wikis Be Merged?, he traces the ancestry of blogs to mailing lists, where individual voice is maximized, an individual has control over the conversation on their blog, and process/narrative over time is the dominant paradigm. Wikis’ ancestry comes out of hypertext models of the web, where personal voice is minimized in favor of collaboration and community voice and ongoing iteration helps to create timeless resources. A wiki, as opposed a blog, “values reuse over reply, and links are not pointers to related conversations but to related ideas.” Though Mike is still struggling with how to merge the seemingly oppositional values of wikis and blogs, he sees federation as having the potential to help. Here, I am just going to block quote a whole lot of what Mike says:

…for your class you’re going to want to customize your treatment to the issue at hand, or to a local perspective or concern. You can’t do that in a general resource, because by it’s nature it has to be general.

I’ve struggled with this tension — we want to build on the work of others and have others build on our work, but at the same time, local concerns make it too hard to release control of our own work. For a while I thought the answer might be large cross-institutional wikis, but even those suffer from the same problems — at some point, someone must control the wiki, own the wiki, maintain the wiki.

Wikity, inspired by recent work of Ward Cunningham, sees the answer to the problem as federation. Individual groups create, maintain, and extend wiki pages (or “cards’), but these cards are, through the magic of an API, forkable to other sites. If people fork your stuff and improve it in ways that support your local aim, you can fork it back. If they fork it and take it in an unrelated direction, well that’s OK too.

This allows people to build on and contribute to the work of others while still preserving their local aims and unique insights.

This is why I think federated wiki I think is one of the most exciting and interesting projects in higher education right now and why we’re experimenting with it at Middlebury. And we need it. Middlebury has three distinct groups of people who work in the digital learning space: 1) my group, the office of the Associate Provost for Digital Learning; 2) Academic Technology for the College; and 3) the Digital Learning Commons for Monterey. There is a lot of brainpower and good ideas in those three spaces; lots of voices that can and should be heard as well as many opportunities for those voices to sing in concert.

We are hoping that wikity can help to make sweet harmonies with our voices.

Are you interested in experimenting with wikity? All you need is a MiddCreate space and we will get you set up. Email Amy Collier to discuss!

Amy Collier

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