09 Dec

Working with wiki templates

Working with software developers has a lot of advantages. One is that I always learn something new technology-wise because there is always someone who knows a little trick or has explored something new.

A few days ago, Liz, one of my new co-workers, started using MediaWiki templates to display client system information more elegantly in our internal wiki. I knew we used some shortcuts in our wiki to pull in information from other systems, but I hadn’t associated that with templates and didn’t think I’d be able to create some of these myself.

Now that Liz created this new template for our Koha clients, I looked at her template page and decided to adapt it to our Mahara clients. Taking something existing and adapting it is not as scary as trying to come up with everything yourself. 🙂

Fortunately, I could use most of the items she had in her template, and I only read the MediaWiki templates page trying to understand a bit more. To be honest though, it was easier trying to work out what Liz had done than following the page. Besides, the template that she had created produced a table.

The current template that can still be tweaked over time is:

{{TemplateDoc}}[[Category: Templates]]

{| style="border: thin solid #a0a0d0;"
{{ #if: {{{SystemName|}}} |
      {{!}} colspan="3" {{!}} '''{{{SystemName|}}}'''
      {{!}}-
}}
| Client name
| colspan="2" | {{{Client|TBA}}}
|-
| Production URL
| colspan="2" | {{{ProductionURL|TBA}}}
|-
| Staging URL
| colspan="2" | {{{StagingURL|TBA}}}
|-
| Testing URL
| colspan="2" | {{{TestingURL|TBA}}}
|-
| Design URL
| colspan="2" | {{{DesignURL|TBA}}}
|-
| Connection information
| colspan="2" | {{{ConnectionInfo|TBA}}}
|-
| System classification
| colspan="2" | {{{Classification|TBA}}}
|-
| Mahara version
| colspan="2" | {{{MaharaVersion|TBA}}}
|-
| Git branch
| colspan="2" | [{{{url|http://URLtotheGitRepository{{{GitBranch|TBA}}}}}} {{{GitBranch|TBA}}}]
|-
{{ #if: {{{Author}}} |
      {{!}} Last edited by
      {{!}} colspan="2" {{!}} {{{Author|}}}
      {{!}}-
}}
| Added date
| colspan="2" | {{{Date|TBA}}}
|-
| Client status
| colspan="2" | {{ #if: {{{Status|}}} | {{{Status}}} | DRAFT }}
|-
  {{ #if: {{{Multitenanted}}} |
      {{!}}
      {{!}} Multitenanted Mahara?
      {{!}} {{{Multitenanted|}}}
      {{!}}-
  }}
  {{ #if: {{{Theme}}} |
      {{!}}
      {{!}} Custom theme?
      {{!}} {{{Theme|}}}
      {{!}}-
  }}
  {{ #if: {{{Customization}}} |
      {{!}}
      {{!}} Are there any customizations?
      {{!}} {{{Customization|}}}
      {{!}}-
  }}
  |
  | Is there anything else worth mentioning?
  | {{{TodoOptional|TBA}}}
  |-
|}

When using it in a page, all I need to copy now is:

{{ MaharaSystem |
     SystemName=Client Mahara |
     Client=Client name |
     ProductionURL=http://|
     StagingURL=http://|
     TestingURL=http://|
     DesignURL=http://|
     ConnectionInfo= VPN, Internet, Local, Other |
     Classification=Hosted, Self Hosted |
     MaharaVersion=version number |
     GitBranch=|
     Author=~~~ |
     Date=~~~~~ |
     Status=Setup, Live |
     Multitenanted=Yes, No |
     Theme=Yes, No |
     Customization=Short name for customization|
     TodoOptional= |
}}

That produces the following tabe:

Wiki template result
Et voilà. Done.

It would even be better if I could collect all the information I put onto individual wiki pages using that template on one combined one so I see everything on an overview page. I think Semantic MediaWiki might be able to help there because what I want to do is aggregate information found on one wiki page on another without having to enter the information twice. I’ll check with a colleague who is more knowledgable about that if that were the case or if there is another way of doing that in our current MediaWiki implementation.

30 May

I am a PRINCE2 Practitioner

Thursday, 27 May 2010, also brought another good news along besides my visa having been issued. I am officially a PRINCE2 Practitioner (the certificate still takes a bit to be issued).

During my search for a new job, I had come across the PRINCE2 certification, a project management method, a couple of times in UK postings. I had already done project management at the University of Munich for the EU-funded project “imMEDIAte TEACHing” (and I should find out basically ever since), but had learned everything “on the job” and not methodically. Thus, I thought it would be a good thing to prepare for my new job by refreshing my PM knowledge and do so by using a specific method.

PRINCE2 (Projects in Controlled Environments) is a PM method developed by the UK government, but is recognized around the world. As it is generic, it can be applied to any project in any field no matter how small or big the project is.

The certification for PRINCE2 is split up into two exams: Foundation and Practitioner.

The Foundation exam is for everybody involved in a project. Thus, it can be made sure that everybody understands the terminology, the basic themes and processes of PRINCE2 and knows the responsibilities of the individual roles. This exam tests definitions, the relations between processes etc. It is a multiple-choice exam with questions that are not related to each other.

The Practitioner exam is a further step for the project managers themselves. In this multiple-choice exam, the testee receives a project scenario and all questions relate to it. In this exam, PRINCE2 needs to be applied to the scenario.

The preparation for these exams can be done individually by reading the 327-page manual “Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2” and answering exam prep questions in books that can be bought. However, many training companies also offer preparation courses either face-to-face or online. As the exams are rather expensive (£585 for both), I decided to take a course.

After some shopping around, I opted for the ILX Group‘s PRINCE2 Gold Pack which includes (taken from the web site):

  • The interactive PRINCE2 CD-ROM course
  • Exercises at Foundation and Practitioner Level
  • Simulated Foundation Exam
  • Cost of PRINCE2 Foundation Exam
  • Cost of PRINCE2 Practitioner Exam
  • Managing Successful Projects in PRINCE2 (The Official PRINCE2 manual)
  • Laminated A3 PRINCE2 Process Model
  • Access to a PRINCE2 Trainer via email or phone
  • 2 Day UK Based Classroom Revision Workshop (cost of overnight stay is not included)

This blended learning course consisting of the self-study preparation and a classroom workshop as preparation for the Practitioner exam suited me well. The e-learning content on the CD (is the same as online) is very well organized and guides the learner step-by-step through the method. The exercises and the exam simulators that are included give an impression of what to expect in the exams though it seemed that the actual exam questions were more difficult despite the fact that original questions were included in the training pack.

The process model designed by the ILX Group is even better than the model found in the official manual. It makes things very clear and gives an excellent overview of all the processes in a PRINCE2 project.

The admin staff of the ILX Group were very supportive in the preparation of getting the materials to me and scheduling a workshop. Due to the ash cloud of the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull and thus delays in mail services, my training material took a while to make it over from the UK and I did not have much time for the preparation. Thankfully, I could study throughout the day and did not have to do that besides work. Thus, the time frame of 1.5 weeks turned out to be fine. I was happy to learn that I could also take a workshop in Amsterdam instead of travelling to London thus cutting down a bit on the travel expenses.

My workshop took place in Amsterdam from 10-12 May 2010. We were a small group of 6 people taking this prep course and that was a fantastic size. 4 out of 6 lived in the Netherlands, but only one was Dutch. We were an international group of one each: American, British, Chinese, Dutch, German from Luxembourg, and Turkish from Germany. Our trainer was British with a very extensive PM background and could talk like a waterfall. If he hadn’t done so, we would have needed an additional day. 😉

Our course schedule looked like that:

  • Monday: 1-hour Foundation exam and organizational issues
  • Tuesday and Wednesday morning and a bit of the afternoon: revision of the PRINCE2 themes and processes with time for questions, elaborations and going through another prep exam
  • Wednesday afternoon: 2.5-hour Practitioner exam

Lots of paper on the tables during the workshop

cc licensed flickr photo shared by 4nitsirk

PRINCE2 and universities

Although I had not worked in a company and had been involved in university projects only, I could relate to the topics that are covered by PRINCE2 very well. That is also supposed to be that way because PRINCE2 is not designed to be industry specific but universal. Of course, the company metaphor is in the foreground, but it can be applied to a university background or any other one as well.

Thus, I wish I had known about PRINCE2 earlier in my career because then I could have avoided some pitfalls in my project management and sometimes done things in a more structured way. Although I must also say that we already did many things “correctly” in “imMEDIAte TEACHing” because PRINCE2 was not developed out of the air, but from real-world examples. Hence, common sense, previous project experience, and obligations from the funding body lead you to a number of the same conclusions that can be found in the method.

However, I think that learning about a project management method should be high on the agenda of professional development for anybody at universities involved in projects. And here I do not just mean big national or EU projects, but also small ones. Everything that is not “business as usual” is a project. During my exam preparations I realized that I had participated in a number of projects over the last 2.5 years at the University of Luxembourg though they had not been labeled as such. Had a PM method been applied, some aspects of the work could have been improved.

At universities, researchers are increasingly involved in projects, but they do not always get appropriate support or know about project management. Learning about a PM method can boost their confidence and make the management part of the projects easier so that they can focus more on the content delivery as that is the main objective of their project work.

As an aside: We also learned that strawberries can make it onto bread in the Netherlands. We have not yet found out whether that is a specialty of Amsterdam or not, but Sia Vogel, one of my former #CCK08 contacts, knows about it.

Sia Vogel about strawberry bread on Twitter

cc licensed flickr photo shared by 4nitsirk

06 Sep

YAP for the MOOC CCK08

I love abbreviations. They allow to say a very long title etc. in just a few seconds. The heading in full reads as follows:

Yet Another Participant for the Massive Open Online Course “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008

Fellow participants of the course know what will follow in the next lines: my introduction. As there are over 1,000 people registered for this course, which George Siemens and Stephen Downes humbly call “a rather large open online course…”, I will try to keep it short because we have read and will read a lot of intros until Monday when the course will start officially.

Currently, I live in Luxembourg and work as an assistant at the University of Luxembourg in the Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education. I have put myself of the CCK08 map in case you want to know where our campus is located in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

I am interested in this course because I want to broaden my knowledge about connectivism, educational technology research and usage scenarios and gain more insight as well as connect with people who are active in this field.

This course has already started to be a success because it brought together people from many different backgrounds and countries who are all interested in the topics of the coming weeks. Even though we may not always be there and contribute to all discussions, we will be able to hear other voices that we might not have come across otherwise and learn from them and with them.

As of now I do not know if I can cope with the “massive” in this online course because even if everybody writes only 1 contribution a day that will be more than 1,000 close to 2,000 if more people than the 1,800 already registered participants sign up. I still have to develop an appropriate reading strategy to stay on top of my game. Do you have any suggestions?

Now on to the last point: random information. I have not yet participated in a course taught entirely online because I am more inclined to blended learning. Thus, this will be a big challenge.

Although I am not in the official Second Life cohort of this course, I guess, there will be opportunities to meet in that virtual world. Then I will be able to practice speaking, walking, teleporting etc. which is much more fun if there is a purpose behind it than simply testing.

I’m looking forward to the official start of the course and the things we will discover together.

Opening the windows for new experiences

Opening the windows for new experiences