Grand Forks Public Schools Develops, Distributes, and Archives Institutional Knowledge with Hosted Collaboration

The Grand Forks and Grand Forks Air Force Base School Districts work together as Grand Forks Public Schools to serve 7,200 students who attend schools across the two communities. The district includes 12 elementary schools, four middle schools, two high schools, an alternative high school, the Head Start Program, and one adult education center. To serve these students and schools, the district employs over a thousand people, including 700 teachers and 400 support and administrative staff. Thanks to the dedication of the staff, students, and community, Grand Forks Public Schools has achieved academic results that exceed averages for both the state of North Dakota, and the United States as a whole.

Grand Forks Public Schools has long been a technology leader, with an online presence that includes an extensive Web site, online access to documents and other resources, district- and school-wide event calendars, and PDF versions of school handbooks. Therefore it was natural for them to seek an advanced collaboration solution.

Grand Forks Public Schools had been using a number of different collaboration tools for years, including different Intranet solutions, traditional secure web pages, shared networks, and a communications system from FirstClass. It made sense for the organization to begin looking at solutions to cost-effectively collaborate and manage its far-flung documentation. That’s when they turned to a hosted collaboration suite from PBwiki.

According to Director of Technology Darin King, “All organizations should be looking for better ways to develop, organize and retain information. We began looking at the wiki concept about two years ago and decided it met our needs for developing, distributing and archiving our institutional knowledge.”

Wikis are specialized collaborative websites that make it easy for many different people to view and edit information. While the most widely known wiki is the Wikipedia online encyclopedia, most wikis are actually used as internal communications tools. PBwiki, for example, hosts over 10 million pages and files, which means it serves over twice the amount of material as the Wikipedia.

Grand Forks Public Schools had been using a variety of wiki products, including open-source software as well as hosted wikis from another provider, Wikispaces. The district made the decision to focus on increasing wiki usage and standardize on a single platform.

Grand Forks Public Schools evaluated a large number of wiki solutions, including products that had already been installed as a part of various pilot projects. After reviewing all of the possibilities, the district decided to go with PBwiki. “We have been using Application Service Providers (Software-as-a-Service) since 2001,” said King. “Thus, we decided that using a hosted wiki service was the best solution for us. We see the hosted model as a very cost-effective way to provide resources to our stakeholders.”

Grand Forks Public Schools uses its wiki to allow teachers and administrators to better collaborate on key projects and initiatives. For example, the district recently coordinated the exchange of 580 teacher laptop computers during the school year via the wiki. “Coordinating the process between our technology staff, teachers, administrators, a local warranty center, a national used computer buyer and the new computer company was a perfect use for PBwiki,” said King.

Grand Forks Public Schools set up a special wiki to facilitate the exchange process: The wiki included key pages that acted as management tools, including a Daily Migration Schedule and Daily Swapout Statistics, as well as process documentation such as an updatable Migration Checklist.

Grand Forks Public Schools rolled the swap-out wiki to approximately 20 key stakeholders involved in the project, including the four swap-out teams (each of which had four members). Using the PBwiki-powered wiki allowed everybody involved to have real-time data regarding the process, progress and outcome of the laptop exchange. This allowed stakeholders to log into the wiki for real-time status updates about the laptop computer program anytime of the day or night.

“Using PBwiki in that specific situation saved us time by not having to directly communicate to the stakeholders every day,” said King. “The information was out there for all to see. PBwiki, along with a custom PHP application that I wrote, helped us efficiently manage the swap-out process.”

Grand Forks Public Schools has already seen a significant impact on productivity from using its wiki to manage projects such as the laptop swap-out, and is continuing to roll out new PBwikis for new groups and projects.

In addition to project collaboration, Grand Forks Public Schools also plans to us wikis for knowledge management. Indeed, using PBwiki to organize and track projects creates a largely self-documenting process. Future project managers and participants can always turn to the archived wikis to see what worked in the past.