Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I kissed WetPaint and I liked it

WetPaint I've made a decision. For my final year virology module last year I decided assess student contributions to a group blog. The hard part was what software to use. I set up a site for the project but prevaricated until 24 hours before the module was due to start when I finally decided to "play safe" and use the Learning Objects blog tool in Blackboard.

Choosing the feature-poor "safe" option over a full-featured product like WordPress was the wrong decision, and I regretted it almost immediately. I was very careful how I presented the assessment to students, never using the "b-word", but inevitably, they hated the unfamiliarity of the format and started to complain. (They eventually formally complained to the Staff-Student Council, but since that happens to me every year, I'm now used to it - hey, if your students don't challenge you, you're doing it wrong.)

For the first week of the module I agonized over whether to jump ship to WordPress, but in the end decided that it would be better to stay with things as they were rather than disrupt the entire assessment and start again, even though I knew by then that I had made the wrong software choice. I consoled myself by planning to use WordPress on this year's module. That is, until I heard a presentation at the HEA Conference in July about using the Learning Objects wiki tool within Blackboard for student assessment.

For two years, I used student contributions to Wikipedia for assessment on this module. The students hated the unfamiliarity of the format and formally complained to the Staff-Student Council (both times), at which point I gave up on Wikipedia and tried the blog-based assessment. The main complaint was the fact that the assessment was conducted publicly, which is the primary reason I opted for the LO blog tool over WordPress the following year.

In the presentation I heard in July, each student constructed an individual wiki within WordPress which was visible to the other students but not editable by them. To get students to turn facts into knowledge, I decided to use a group wiki since individuals could not be expected to cover the entire module content on their own. The difference from the Wikipedia assessment was that this would be conducted privately within Blackboard. And so it stood, until a couple of weeks ago when I put together an LO wiki in Blackboard for a course in the University of Leicester Medical School. And that experience sealed it, I would be dumb to make the wrong software choice again.

Over the last year, I've put together half a dozen WetPaint sites for various projects. When we start a new project these days, one of the first decisions we make is whether to use WetPaint or WordPress as the management/reporting tool. So far, it's running about 50:50, but the choice depends on the nature of the project. So WetPaint is the best choice for my virology module. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good. I'll avoid using the "w-word" to students which would set them off again, so I'll just refer to it as "the WetPaint site".
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed WetPaint and I liked it
I liked it
To avoid the Wikipedia complaints (I wonder what they'll report me for this year?), the site will be private and linked out from Blackboard. The wiki will be seeded with core topics and basic information such as my PowerPoint presentations, Google custom search engine, etc, and the students will work collaboratively to construct the final site. Assessment will be based on achievement of weekly content contribution targets, and as previously, these will mostly be based on volume to avoid endless arguments over quality. As usual, plagiarism will be dealt with by threatening the students with Turnitin.

What could possibly go wrong? ;-)