Case Study: Johns Hopkins University

A Conversation with Geoffrey Corb, IT Director, Student Information Systems
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Founded in 1876, Johns Hopkins University became the first research university in the United States. Its aim was two-fold — to advance students’ knowledge and to advance the general human knowledge through discovery and scholarship. Today, more than a century later, the University spans across nine academic and research divisions, each of which are grouped among the finest schools of the country. With its emphasis on learning and research, Johns Hopkins University has revolutionized higher education within the United States.

Why did you choose a wiki?

In the midst of implementing a sophisticated new student information system for the university, we found ourselves plagued with a number of problems not all that uncommon to large system implementation projects. First and foremost, we had and were continuing to develop significant knowledge about the product and system that we were implementing and needed someplace to store and organize it. In addition, document management was a challenge, with documents being stored in a number of places on the network and being constantly circulated via e-mail. Finally, with constant activity on a project of this nature, project participants were becoming numb to the volume of e-mails being distributed by the project staff; we needed a better way to communicate with project participants and stakeholders. Though our project implementation was nearly half completed by the time we initially implemented our wiki, the wiki helped address these challenges and markedly improved performance and understanding of project participants.

What type of wiki are you using?

We have implemented an enterprise wiki product. Due to the nature of the purpose of our wiki – to support the implementation of a mission-critical university system – it is not open to the general public, but it is open to all who have a legitimate need. Its use is expanding to include other initiatives, however it is still not publicly accessible.

How are you using the wiki?

We are using the wiki for just about everything we do – it has become an extensive knowledge base for us. With very few exceptions, all of our project and department-related meetings are documented in our wiki, first by posting an agenda and later updated with the notes from the meeting. Staff members are blogging instead of completing weekly status reports. Key project documentation exists only in the wiki and now only as wiki content, not attached files. Specifications and artifacts generated through the development process are also created as wiki content and are progressively elaborated by a wide audience of contributors. We have recently started to migrate the online, context-sensitive help system from a static, generated website into the wiki to allow our users to help us maintain the documentation, document hints, tips, and workaround, and use the commenting feature to have conversations with one another about system functionality. My department has created a departmental intranet in their own space; my management team has a space for managing our department’s operations. Special projects or university-wide task forces use the wiki for collaboration among geographically-dispersed participants. There is truly little that we do that doesn’t find its way into the wiki in some way, shape, or form.

Which wikipatterns are in use on your wiki?

These patterns were not defined when we first implemented our wiki, starting in late 2004. Retrospectively, it appears that we have employed the following patterns in our wiki: *Champion, Invitation, Maintainer, MySpace, StartingPoint, Viral, WikiGnome, WikiZenMaster, Agenda, ContentAlert, Magnet, Scaffold, Wiki Not Email*.

What changes have you seen as a result of using a wiki?

We have found that people involved in our projects are more well informed than ever before. Trust has strengthened between project participants and stakeholders since our operations are more transparent than ever before. We have dramatically reduced the number of e-mails that circulate with attachments; at the same time, dramatically increased the number of e-mails that circulate with links to wiki content. There is more collaboration between team members than ever before: people will quickly post an idea and others will promptly comment on the idea, elaborate the idea, sometimes invalidate the idea, and so on.