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.

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

  • all sectors: ease of participation collaboration through online accessibility; shy or less verbal students may find it easier to participate in coursework this way (rather than speaking out in front of a classroom); the quality of results is most likely to be better when reviewed and refined by the work and comments of many - helga helga Sep 29, 2010 - laurenpressley laurenpressley Oct 5, 2010
  • Less structured than LMSs or CMSs, these environments are well suited to instructors looking outside of traditional class organization or for student groups looking for a system that is flexible for the type of project and group work they're doing. - laurenpressley laurenpressley Oct 5, 2010
  • Again, this is one of those technologies which is so easy to use and so prevalent that it already feels mainstream. Working with fellow students in Canada a couple of years ago (I'm in San Francisco), we completed an entire semester-long project using a combination of Skype, online chat and Google docs. I'm currently working with a colleague on the opposite side of the country to co-write a book; we've used Google docs and just switched over to Dropbox. The age of online collaboration is here, and students are gaining invaluable experience by using these online collaboration tools to complete school projects that will prepare them for workplace projects. Other collaborative tools that we're looking at via this year's Horizon report (including that wonderful holographic two-way communication tool) hint that we're a long way from finished with this, and I believe we're also going to see this level of online collaboration become increasingly prevalent in workplace learning and performance. (Some award-winning companies appear to be already using online collaborative environments very creatively.) - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 5, 2010
  • Fo me dropbox and similar technologies is very exciting - Olufemi.Olubodun Olufemi.Olubodun Oct 19, 2010

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

  • The description strikes me as being very good. - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 5, 2010
  • another response here

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

  • overall quality of outcome and output may improve; students will feel and hopefully get more involved; risk: individual achievements and progress may be difficult to measure (for the invidiuals themselves as well as for the professor) - helga helga Sep 29, 2010
  • This extends the reach of classroom learning beyond what we have seen as the traditional reach of learning. It broadens our ability to work with others and heightens the opportunities for exchanges that will lead to lifelong collaboration and innovation involving people who might otherwise not have had a chance to so easily find each other. (And let's not make the mistake of thinking that this replaces face to face conferences; we need to see this as complementary to, not as an alternative to, the opportunities we have traditionally had to foster collaboration. OK, I'm done with my rant--for now! - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 5, 2010
  • Educational collaborations will take on additional dimensions as new immersive and interactive technologies are developed. For instance, data sets streaming from multiple sources will become the problem-solving content used to feed collaborative analysis and discussion. This will allow students to work on relevant, real-world problems. - wshapiro wshapiro Oct 14, 2010

(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.