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Published February 2, 2015 | Multidisciplinary

MediaWiki

This article will help you to get acquainted with MediaWiki. We have included some pedagogical uses for the tool as a potential source of inspiration for teachers. At the end of this article you will find a list of resources, some of which come from IT Partners in the college network (mostly in French).

Logo de MediaWiki

What is MediaWiki?

MediaWiki is a wiki engine for the web. It is used by projects such as the Wikimedia Foundation. It’s open source and distributed under the terms of the GPL (GNU Public Licence). It is therefore used by hundreds of sites, including Wikia, a well-known web site that is dedicated to pop culture. It’s also used by businesses as a software solution for knowledge management and as a content management system (CMS).

Common terms

For new users, sometimes it is difficult to understand the differences between the various Wikimedia projects. Here is a list of the main terms and names used with regards to wikis, according to Wikipedia:

Wiki
A generic term used to describe a certain type of collaborative website. It uses a markup language and its content can be modified from within a web browser. It is a content management tool whose basic structure is simplistic, but which can evolve and become more complex based on the needs of its users. When speaking of a wiki site or describing the community philosophy, the word wiki is written with a lower case ‘w’. The word wiki is of Hawaiian origin and means ‘quick’ or ‘informal’.
Wikipedia
Multilingual open encyclopaedia, developed collectively on a wiki platform.
Wikimedia
This is the collective name of a group of inter-related projects that includes Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Wikisource, Wikibooks and many others. Each of these aims to use the collaborative power of the Internet and the wiki concept to create and share open knowledge in all of its forms.
Wiki engine
This is content management software that allows for the production of wikis. These wiki engines allow users, among others to modify each page by logging in (or anonymously) and manages versions of the content pages (including its creation and deletion). There are many types of wikis that exist that were created in several programming languages (MediaWiki uses PHP).

What can you do with MediaWiki?

MediaWiki is the ideal tool to create a collaborative website where multiple users can create content.

Pedagogical uses of MediaWiki

Here are some examples of how wikis can be used, some of which are excerpted from Alain Farmer’s report on wikis:

  • Use the ‘Discussion’ tab of a wiki to have your students react to the content, documents or problems that are covered in class, and interact with them.
  • Create an encyclopedia that presents certain important concepts for a course to which the students can refer. One example of this is a wiki created for the course English for Tourism presented in a Real Life Story by Angie Stevens, a Teacher at Champlain College - Saint Lawrence, In Search of a Successful Second Act. You can also create a textbook using the content of your wiki thanks to the MediaWiki Extension:Collection (ex. : book on The Great Depression).
  • Present content to gauge a student’s existing knowledge of a given topic and modify the content of your course as required.
  • To follow a project team or long assignment while taking advantage of the ‘revision history’ of a page to verify the contribution of each team member.
  • Create an electronic portfolio according to the needs of your course or program and ask students to record information related to their learning.
  • It can also be used as a tool to maintain motivation in students.

For more use cases, have a look at the French version of this article.

What do you need to start using MediaWiki?

To install and use MediaWiki, you need four things:

  1. A hosting service
  2. A web server (such as the Apache web server)
  3. PHP needs to be installed on the server
  4. A database server (such as MySQL) must be installed on the server computer. You may also want to install a database management system (such as phpMyAdmin) to make things easier.

If you use Profweb’s Web Space, you don’t have to worry about all that, since you can get MediaWiki up and running in one simple step. For those that want to use a different hosting service, follow the instructions on the MediaWiki site. Some web hosting services offer simplified MediaWiki installation.

How to manage your wiki

You can refer to the Help page on MediaWiki, where you will find a list of the available functions and how to use them, for example:

Navigation

The navigation controls can be found in two places, on the left-hand side and at the top of the page

The navigation controls can be found in two places. The main navigation menu is on the left-hand side, as well as the toolbox and other options (if you have installed extensions). These elements are linked to the general functioning of the site. At the top of the page, you will find options that are specific to the page you are currently viewing, such as:

  • The “Page” and “Discussion” tabs – To consult the content of the page or the comments.
  • The “Read” tab to review the content of the page, “Edit”, to modify the content and layout of the page you are on, and the “View History” tab, to view the versions and changes that have been logged, to revert to a previous version, etc. If you are logged in, a drop-down menu will also be available to allow you to delete, move (rename), protect or follow the page.
  • The user links and additional options “Talk”, “Preferences”, “Watchlist”, “Contributions” and “Log out” appear if you are logged in to the site. These options allow you to modify your profile as well as your wiki contributions.

Create a new page

There are many ways to create a new page. The simplest way is to do a search with the name of the page you want to create. If no page exists, MediaWiki will offer the possibility for you to create one (if you are logged in). Refer to MediaWiki’s Help pages to discover other ways to create pages.

Edit a page

If you are logged into the wiki you have the opportunity to edit the page you are currently viewing by clicking on the “Edit tab in the upper right corner of your screen.

Page layout

MediaWiki uses a custom syntax that allows contributors to markup the text without having to program and offers some very interesting features. For example, you do not have to number your citations within the text since it is automated by the wiki. Use the job aid for MediaWiki to get a quick overview.

Editing rights

When you are logged in, each page provides you with additional options such as “Delete”, “Move” (rename), “Protect” and “Watch”.

When you are logged in, each page provides you with additional options such as “Delete”, “Move” (rename), “Protect” and “Watch”.

The Protect option allows you to manage who can edit or move (rename) this page. You can restrict the rights for a given period or indefinitely. You can also protect or follow a discussion.

It is also possible to modify the rights for the entire site by modifying the “LocalSettings.php” configuration file or by adding an extension. See the MediaWiki Help page for more information to guide you through the process.

Advanced options

If you have to update the version of your MediaWiki website or if you want to add extra features, it is recommended to make a backup of your database and website folder.

Updates

Mediawiki official documentation.

It is important to keep the software that you use up to date, primarily for security reasons. When it comes to MediaWiki, the process can be rather complex if you have done a lot of customization on the default template (the visual aspects of the wiki). The process is rather straightforward though if you apply the updates from the time you begin to use MediaWiki. If you use Profweb’s Web Space, follow these four steps.

  • If you do not yet have a wiki, use the “Add a site” option to create a wiki. Otherwise, proceed to the next step.
  • Download the latest version of MediaWiki on the official site. It will be a zipped file with a “.tar.gz” file extension. If you have Windows, you can use the 7-zip utility software to decompress the .tar.gz file.
  • Copy/replace the unzipped files using FTP software such as Filezilla in the folder that was created for the wiki, then use the web interface to update MediaWiki (ex. : mywiki.lastnamefirstname.profweb.ca/mw-config). Note: The folder will be “mywiki” if the URL of your site is mywiki.lastnamefirstname.profweb.ca.
  • During the installation process you will have to copy the value of “$wgUpgradeKey”. You’ll find this in the file "LocalSettings.php", a file that can be found in the wiki folder. Note that the value will look something like this 7d8594b68fe14ec9.

Adding extensions

An extension allows you to add features to the basic installation of MediaWiki. There a numerous extensions available and it is important to verify the compatibility of an extension with the version of MediaWiki that you are using. To add an extension, you can generally follow the steps below, but see the MediaWiki page for all the details:

  • Download a compatible version of the extension.
  • Use FTP software to copy the folder into the extensions. Note: The folder will be “mywiki/extensions/name_of_the_extension” if the URL of your site is mywiki.lastnamefirstname.profweb.ca.
  • Add a line of code in the LocalSettings.php file. This code will be identified in the help file for the extension you are adding.  Note: The line of code will look something like this:
    require_once "$IP/extensions/name_of_the_extension/name_of_the_extension.php";

We hope you enjoy exploring MediaWiki! If you have any questions or bump into any obstacles when piloting your wiki, feel free to get in touch with us.

Resources suggested by the author

There are numerous resources available on the web, including:

Some of the IT Partners from the Quebec college network offer MediaWiki training and activities, such as APOP and the VTÉ. Here are series of resources that are available for your viewing (in French):

The IT Partners also organize activities in English from time to time. To request an event on wikis in English, contact the VTÉ or APOP.

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