This is my fifth year teaching AP Computer Science A. More than most high school teachers, CS teachers are sometimes seen as loners: often, they are the sole teacher in their subject area at their school. The College Board has an online discussion community that displays some signs of life, fortunately, and there is a Facebook group that a number of teachers use as a resource as well.
Facebook? I know. I don’t understand that either.
This is my 20th year teaching AP Physics C. The College Board’s discussion community for that subject sees quite a bit more action than the Comp Sci one, but the real resource for that class is the Pretty Good Physics site hosted at Wikispaces. The venerable Gardner Friedlander manages that site, a section of which is password-protected so that only teachers with appropriate credentials have access. It’s a fantastic resource, perhaps unique in the College Board’s collection of communities, and the vast majority of requests for resources on the AP Physics Discussion Board conclude with a reference to Pretty Good Physics.
I’ll have to convert the paragraph above to past tense soon. Pretty Good Physics has a goodbye screen posted on their website now:
This isn’t due to any neglect or mismanagement on the part of Friedlander or anyone else. No, the entire Wikispaces platform is being shut down.
To be fair, Wikispaces is shutting down for perfectly good reasons, and in the best possible way. From the webpage:
Unfortunately, the time has come where we have had to make the difficult business decision to end the Wikispaces service.
Why is Wikispaces closing?
Over the last twelve months we have been carrying out a complete technical review of the infrastructure and software we use to serve Wikispaces users. As part of the review, it has become apparent that the required investment to bring the infrastructure and code in line with modern standards is very substantial. We have explored all possible options for keeping Wikispaces running but have had to conclude that it is no longer viable to continue to run the service in the long term. So, it is with no small degree of nostalgia, that we will begin to close down later this year.
When is Wikispaces closing?
To enable us to offer maximum support to customers off-boarding from Wikispaces we will be undertaking a phased shutdown approach. This will help us regulate the system load on the export tool as users depart from Wikispaces
Scheduled Closure dates:
Classroom and Free Wikis end of service, 31st July 2018
Plus and Super Wikis end of service, 30th September 2018
Private Label Wikis end of service, 31st January 2019
There was an initial panic from people in the AP Physics community, but the site has been archived, mirrored, downloaded, and backed up by a large number of people who know very well the value of the site. I’m pretty sure that the site will arise again someday soon. There is a strong support community, and it’s too good a resource to lose.
But the loss of PGP specifically and Wikispaces in general does bring to mind a couple of questions:
- Was Wikispaces a poor choice for building the PGP resource? Are there better choices for building and maintaining an online academic community such as this?
- Does AP Computer Science have a similar, off-College Board community maintained by someone?
I’d suggest that Wikispaces turned out to be a perfectly reasonable choice for an online community given its 13-year history, a surprisingly long run in technology time. The only thing that would have been more robust would be hosting it on a private site, and that has issues associated with it as well.
And if AP Computer Science has a similar community, I’m unaware of it. Gary and Maria Litvin have built a nice following around the work that they do at Skylight Publishing, and they regularly reply to questions on the College Board Discussion board. The Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/APComputerScienceTeachers/ (login required) is… hosted at Facebook, a decision that I reject for a whole set of Facebook-related reasons.
I’ve seen other non-AP Comp Sci efforts to gather materials and references for people, including Awesome Python in Education, hosted at github—perhaps that Open Source platform is the new, best choice for something like this. For the moment, however, Computer Science in general doesn’t seem to have settled in on a focal point that is clearly identifiable.
Is this due to the nature of our subject? Is it because we tend toward the Lone Wolf end of the spectrum?
While we’re figuring this all out, perhaps the best strategy for providing ongoing access to content is to Own Your Own Domain.
DIY for the win!