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: - Sam Sam Nov 1, 2011

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

  • - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Nov 15, 2011Let's not miss the obvious here: the experience of serving on the Horizon Project Advisory Board and contributing to the creation of the report through the tremendously well organized and facilitated wiki is one of the best, most creative, and intellectually inspiring experiences any of us can have if we want to viscerally understand the power of learning through collaborative environments. My own involvement in this particular collaborative environment feeds back into much of what I do with colleagues, clients, and friends throughout the year: working virtually to educate ourselves in ways that help us meet the particular learning and working goals we have; being engaged with people we might otherwise not encounter at such an intense intellectual level; and producing tangible results such as the book on learning and leadership that a colleague and I wrote entirely through the use of Google Docs and Dropbox as we drew from online interviews conducted in Google Chat, Yahoo Messenger, and other tools at our fingertips. thanks for this vital point - helga helga Nov 18, 2011
    • Totally agree with you Paul - the Horizon Report gives us a hands on experience to many of the topics under discussion: collaboration, crowdsourcing, collective intelligence - bdieu bdieu Nov 20, 2011
    • Yes, absolutely! As I'm the only person at my institution doing my job, I frequently collaborate with people doing what I do at other places. This wouldn't be possible without these tools. - lauren.pressley lauren.pressley Nov 19, 2011
  • - tom.haymes tom.haymes Nov 18, 2011Hear, hear, Paul. The real problem is how few people in education actually realize the potential of these tools. At this point the adoption curve is largely a product of knowledge and a cultural shift in thinking from the constraints of the solo learning environment that has become the norm in academia.
  • Collaborative writing has been heavily explored in the educational technology literature as a 'Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning' (CSCL) strategy. Software to support CSCL interactions have been around for 30 years. Although Google docs may have popularized the concept, new technologies like "Etherpad"-based software such as Primary Pad , offer zero-hassle tools for collaborative writing. Moreover, the nature of how we collaboratively write is now becoming more social. Neovella is a socially-constructed collaborative writing tool. However, Neovella represents more than just a new tool; rather, it represents a new approach to writing. Likewise, Storybird, a collaborative storytelling tool targeted at kids and families offers simple, shared creation of ideas. Writing, usually a solitary endeavor, is by definition a social endeavor in Neovella and Storybird - jasonr jasonr Nov 16, 2011
  • Working as an Instructional Designer and Online Course Specialist at the University or Oregon, one of our chief aims is in creating the 'independent learner' as we design online foreign language instruction. If the teacher becomes now a 'learning coach', students can now step up working together in collaborative, virtual environments which each to pursue their path of passion, contribute and build knowledge content together and learn from each other. This is especially helpful in language instruction where students must often locate a language partner and collaborate on a project that eventually becomes a podcast or video and uploaded to a collaborative sharing environment. I truly see this as a model for the 21st Century workplace. At my workplace, we currently use Google Docs, Google+, DropBox and BaseCamp in the course of project management. It is efficient, transparent and allows each member of a work (or student) team to add to the picture without any hindrance. I see this technology to be highly valuable in the near future. - deborah.heal deborah.heal Nov 19, 2011
  • Using Wikispaces to write a collaborative book on OERs, Voicethread with my stds who can upload material and then comment on each other, Google Docs for planning projects with others, Dropbox to share files - bdieu bdieu Nov 20, 2011
  • Teamwork, information and digital literacy, reflection are skills we all consider essential collaborative environments provide the enviroment for these to flourish, importantly to for us to assess and feedback.- DaveP DaveP Nov 20, 2011

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

  • Collaborative environments can promote the maintenance of documents that show the current state of things instead of a snapshot at a particular time. - allan.gyorke allan.gyorke Nov 14, 2011 - helga helga Nov 18, 2011 - bdieu bdieu Nov 20, 2011
  • The description seems to be largely focused on collaborative document writing. Are we considering group blogs and discussion forums as collaborative environments as well? What about knowledge bases? I'm asking because I have several examples of good group blogs (e.g. Science in our World), but not many exciting things to say about academic wiki spaces. - allan.gyorke allan.gyorke Nov 14, 2011 Allan, although I, too, focused on wikis in my response to question number one on this page, I've found collaborative environments to be useful for a variety of exchanges that have enriched my professional and personal life far beyond the act of writing--live discussions through podcasts and typed chats provide wonderful forums for the exchange of ideas; exchanges of ideas and reading material via Twitter and Google+ is adding substantial depth to the resources I find through collaboration; and even Twitter chats that produce magnificent learning opportunities. I think the broader the view we take of what a collaborative environment is, the more chance we have to facilitate magnificent results in training-teaching-learning and other creative endeavors.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Nov 15, 2011
  • I think this category should be characterized with a much broader array of tools than just google docs or wikipedia. I think we need to extend the reach of this to any topic to include any tool that enables collaborative content creation. The silos created by labels such as "social media" and "collaborative environments" are dated, as tools such as Neovella and Storybird bridge these labels.- jasonr jasonr Nov 16, 2011
    • This makes sense to me as well. I know on my campus we're using some Cisco tools to help create a more collaborative environment. I'd argue the laptop program my institution has is also part of creating this collaborative environment. It goes beyond text to include other methods of collaboration. (For example, the online class I'm teaching makes heavy use of videos from all participants. This makes for a very collaborative online class!) - lauren.pressley lauren.pressley Nov 19, 2011
  • - tom.haymes tom.haymes Nov 18, 2011I think that we need to consider the extent to which this bleeds into the PLE/PLN area. The problem is not the tools themselves, which, as others have pointed, are fairly robust at this stage, the problem is putting them into an easily accessible format. The integration of Google docs into Moodle is a step in the right direction but this is still very much on a tool-by-tool basis. Different kinds of classes will require different kinds of collaborative tools (and some may require multiple kinds within the context of an individual class). How do we organize this? Last semester my government class existed in three different environments (LMS, CMS, and WordPress). It was very confusing to the students.
    • Same for me and same reaction from stds and interoperability is key - bdieu bdieu Nov 20, 2011
    • I was thinking about this, too. That there is a difference, but it's subtle. - lauren.pressley lauren.pressley Nov 19, 2011

  • I agree that the collaborative environment can also become a rich content repository that becomes part of teach contributor's personal learning network. - deborah.heal deborah.heal Nov 19, 2011
  • All learning environments should be collaborative - whether thats between the student and tutor, the students themselves- DaveP DaveP Nov 20, 2011
  • Collaborative environments work when active curious and intrinsecally motivated people use them. I think it would be worthwhile to look into ways in which collaborative environments can themselves foster engagement and motivation, by designing such in a way that inspire people/learners and not be just tools to dialogue. Collaborative tools, like the ingredients of a recipe, can be powerful when the right mix is put together, by the right chef, so I would add design elements and "collaboration chefs" into this category. - EvadeLera EvadeLera Nov 20, 2011

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

  • A "textbook" in a collaborative environment would not need to have distinct editions. As errors are discovered, evidence is discovered, and theories are tested, the information can be updated. - allan.gyorke allan.gyorke Nov 14, 2011
  • - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Nov 15, 2011I see so many that I could spend the rest of the time I have for the 2012 report just trying to list them and provide links to first-rate examples. A few that quickly come to mind in addition to the books/textbooks already mentioned in this discussion include intellectual exchanges with colleagues regardless of the limitations of where we live and work, the ability to collaborate on virtually any project one can imagine (creating online art forms, podcasts and other learning objects that can be widely disseminated, communities of learning that outlast the formal period of learning provided through most traditional coursework), and chances to experiment with the ever-growing number of social media tools that we use in learning, business, and other aspecs of our daily lives. - helga helga Nov 18, 2011
  • - tom.haymes tom.haymes Nov 18, 2011As the previous posts indicate the potential for this area is vast. It is clear that collaboration, most importantly, the collaboration enabled by the technologies of the internet is a key component in our future selves. The "hive mind" is only going to grow in size and complexity. Academia's natural impulses in this area mean that we should take a leadership role in developing what this environment looks like and how the society of the collective operates. (You will be assimilated.)
  • The greatest potential impact I see with this technology is the push toward independant learning and group content development. It develops critical thinking abilities to a level that traditional face to face instruction doesn't. It allows each participant to creatively and individually contribute and feel valued. It also helps to enforce the ability to see things from multiple viewpoints. - deborah.heal deborah.heal Nov 19, 2011
  • The biggest potential impact I see is from the courses offered in a few places that will take students from anywhere. Manitoba offered a course like this on Connectivism a year or so ago. They had something like 30 students from the institution, but then something like 900 participants from the rest of the world. This made for an environment totally unlike anything the students would have experienced otherwise. - lauren.pressley lauren.pressley Nov 19, 2011
  • The AI class from Stanford is an incredible experiment here http://cs.stanford.edu/Courses/ - DaveP DaveP Nov 20, 2011
  • These environments offer greater reach, impact, interdisciplinary, removal of physical and time boundaries and allow for smaller groups to collaborate (proven to work better than large group discussions), these can allow us to return to the joy of learning and leave behind the industrialization-born system, that gave everyone an optio to be educated, yet "killed" the joy and individual processes - EvadeLera EvadeLera Nov 20, 2011
  • More heads may come with more ideas than just one - bdieu bdieu Nov 20, 2011

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

  • Yes. I created a collaborative, project based math learning module for a rural school in Nepal. It was the first time the students worked together as a 'math family'. While they couldn't upload anything to a cloud based environment due to a lack of bandwidth in the area, the instructor and students all felt it became a highly enriched learning environment as the students each had a specific role to play within a small group of four students each and each had to share content for the group to succeed with the project. In addition, at the Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon, we are developing online Mandarin courses for a virtual high school. Our presentation activities require students to collaborate with language partners and create podcasts or videos and upload to a wiki where their work is both showcased and discussed by all the other classmates. They can also share content they've discovered on the same wiki space which is all built into an LMS. - deborah.heal deborah.heal Nov 19, 2011


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