What are Collaborative Environments?


Collaborative environments are online spaces — often cloud-based — where the focus is making it easy to collaborate and working in groups, no matter where the participants may be. As the typical educator’s network of contacts has grown to include colleagues who might live and work across the country, or indeed anywhere on the globe, it has become common for people who are not physically located near each other to collaborate on projects. In classrooms as well, joint projects with students at other schools or in other countries are more and more commonplace as strategies to expose learners to a variety of perspectives.

Wikis, which allow many authors to add content to a web site, were one of the first technologies in this category, and it is increasingly rare to find a collaboration that does not use a wiki in one form or another. The largest example is Wikipedia, which through the efforts of thousands of contributors, has become the world’s de facto encyclopedia. One of the largest examples of an online environment built expressly to enable collaboration is Google Apps, which includes a set of commonly used productivity tools, but configured in a way to make it easy to work in teams.

The essential attribute of the technologies in this set is that they make it easy for people to share interests and ideas, work on joint projects, and easily monitor collective progress. All of these are needs common to student work, research, collaborative teaching, writing and authoring, development of grant proposals, and more. The bar for widespread participation is very low, since the software to support virtual collaboration is low cost or free, and available via a web browser.

INSTRUCTIONS: Enter your responses to the questions below. This is most easily done by moving your cursor to the end of the last item and pressing RETURN to create a new bullet point. Please include URLs whenever you can (full URLs will automatically be turned into hyperlinks; please type them out rather than using the linking tools in the toolbar).

Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - alan alan Jan 27, 2010

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • Similar to my entry in Online Communications" I consider Collaboration as a skill and the technologies as merely enabling. Replace simple collaboration with Action Learning/Reserach and we have a much richer learning environment. Then we would look for the best tools to enable this. However it will take a generation or two to develop the core skills of collaboration since we are still conditioned by a singular competitive educational landscape where SAT scores and test rankings kill any form of collaboration. We have to unlearn this. When we see the sharing of information as not cheating but collaborating we will have succeeded. BTW the corporate world is demanding this skill now. They are not interested in the narrow-minded competitive games that education plays around rankings. They need people who can work together. - paul.mckey paul.mckey Aug 29, 2010
  • Collaborative environments are particularly needed to support the need for students and staff to collaborate across institutional boundaries. This is because institutions continue to design systems and collaborative spaces which focus inward to members of their own community rather than outwood - nick.tate nick.tate Sep 2, 2010.
  • another response here

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • This is easy to set up and a relatively small step to make from a classroom discussion and team activity. My sense is that collaborative environments are the most widely used technology at the moment. However, most examples of which I am aware are in a closed LMS rather than in the cloud. I believe this is because of more similarity to a classroom approach, privacy concerns for student and teacher and organizations' preference to maintain control of their learning spaces. - terry.neal terry.neal Aug 28, 2010
  • Action Learning/Research which is really just a process for applying purpose and discovery to collaboration. - paul.mckey paul.mckey Aug 29, 2010
  • This is interesting with the recent closure of Google Wave, and what that says about the success and failure criteria for collaborative technologies. - ralf.muhlberger ralf.muhlberger Sep 1, 2010
  • Collaborative environments require effective identity management and in the higher education and research sector, this means using some form of federated identity - nick.tate nick.tate Sep 2, 2010.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • As above if we utilised more action learning/research we would be discovering/developing more new knowledge than rehashing old knowledge. - paul.mckey paul.mckey Aug 29, 2010
  • I'm using it with student projects, e.g. myself and my tutors have access to google docs based folders for final year projects of students so we can see and comment on their work along the way. - ralf.muhlberger ralf.muhlberger Sep 1, 2010
  • another response here

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.