Collaborative Environments

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less
The definition of a collaborative environment has not changed significantly since it first appeared two years ago. The technologies that support collaborative work range from small tools for jointly creating a single product, such as Voicethread, to shared document editors like Adobe Buzzword, Google Docs, Prezi, and Etherpad, to wikis and group blogging systems, all the way up to self-contained environments for collaboration, like Moodle, Ning, or PageFlakes. Other tools, like Kaltura, allow people to collaborate around the creation of rich media, including audio and video, and make it easy for members of a community to share, comment on, and remix content. The free, single-purpose tools at one end of the spectrum can be assembled by teachers with a technological bent into a collaborative experience that includes live video, synchronous and asynchronous chat and discussion, media creation tools, and so forth. For those who are less technically-minded, the comprehensive platforms at the other end of the range offer a suite of tools that already work together and that can be easily integrated into day-to-day work. In recent years, the use of collaborative environments to support teaching and learning has become much more common.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning & Creative Inquiry

Collaborative environments are an efficient way for students to work together, whether the groups are composed of students in the same physical class or not.
A class or project group can assemble a collaborative workspace very quickly using widgets that pull information from a range of sources.
Large-scale collaborative environments can facilitate an almost spontaneous development of communities of people who share similar interests.

Collaborative Environments in Practice

  • The international eLanguages project facilitates collaboration between teachers and classrooms around the world. Teachers can select or propose projects for their classes to take part in, exchange ideas with other teachers, and share resources:
  • An ongoing collaborative social studies project connects students in the United States with their peers in other countries to explore a variety of musical selections from their respective cultures:

For Further Reading

Digital Access, Collaboration a Must for Students
(Laura Devaney, eSchool News, 16 March 2010.) This article describes the results of an educational technology survey undertaken by Project Tomorrow. The survey identifies a new type of student, the “free agent learner,” who creates personal learning experiences.

Howard Rheingold on Collaboration
(Howard Rheingold, TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, February 2005.) In this talk from 2005, Howard Rheingold discusses the emerging world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action. His insights then are still pertinent today.

Jazz as an Extended Metaphor for Social Computing
(Aaron McLeran, UC-Santa Barbara Transliteracies Project, 17 May 2009.) This unusual study looks at social computing and jazz and finds some striking — and surprising — similarities.