Discussion Wiki?

The Learning Circuits folks have a new space which they are calling the “Learning Circuits Blog Discussion Wiki.”

They introduce it by observing “Here the community can take on topics of interest to the elearning and learning fields. The wiki can afford a longer, more involved dialogue than the somewhat here today, gone tomorrow approach the typical blog allows.”

Um, possibly.  The platform they are using is pbwiki, which I like a lot and have used for a number of projects.  But wikis are essentially collections of documents.  And documents, though they can be terrific catalysts for conversation,  are in themselves not really well structured to encourage dialogue.  Most folks are sort of timid about editing a document someone else has started.

Some wiki platforms, pbwiki included, have space for comments below each document, sort of the way blogs have comment spaces. This affordance does get us a bit closer to a space which feels comfortable for dialogue.

But in our experience, if dialogue is what is sought, there are certain essential affordances which need to be embedded within the software to facilitate discussion.

I really like wikis. I use them each and every day in my professional life, and pretty often for my personal life, too. But not for dialogue!  For dialogue, I want robust discussion software, not a half-baked comments feature.

Ok, so I’m spoiled. Our platform features wikis for which the comments feature *is* backed by a robust discussion engine. The document we’re editing goes at the top of the thread, and the discussion about it takes place below.  I can generate a read all new material path by clicking a single link from the first page. I can upload attachments to my comment, link to other comments elsewhere in the site. And, perhaps most importantly, we have people who are paid to go there every day and attend to what’s happening there. You can’t have dialogue where there isn’t anyone to talk to.

As of today, the last action on the Learning Circuits Blog Discussion Wiki was 5 days ago, and the one page I could find which had  comments enabled I haven’t been able to re-locate. There’s no clue, anywhere, that I can find as to what the “site-wide password” which enables the editing function might be on this “totally open” wiki.  Some of these issues are likely just growing pains, as the folks behind this project figure out the software and what kind of investment of time is necessary to get this new initiative off the ground.  But I’m concerned that these folks, who are some of the most knowledgeable in the field about Web 2.0 and its potential for learning, have picked the wrong tool for the job.  And I’m sort of impatient for the fascination with the new shiny stuff to wear off to the point that folks recognize the strengths of well-developed older tools, like, say, discussion fora, for things like, well, discussions!