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.

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.

Collaborative environments tap into a deep social instinct. What makes this phenomenon interesting, and what is likely to make it long-lasting, is the way it facilitates an almost spontaneous development of communities of people who share similar interests. The environments that support such communities range from shared document editors to social networking sites that include profiles and communication tools to add a sense of connectedness and community along with tools for shared work. 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.

In the physical world, university and corporate campuses alike are adding carefully designed spaces intended to promote collaboration by providing comfortable, group-friendly areas equipped with the creature comforts and basic necessities of working in today’s world: clustered seating, coffee, electricity, and wireless Internet connectivity. Collaborative environments are even appearing in public spaces in downtown locations, airports, parks, and community centers – anywhere people might gather. Collaborative work in both online and physical environments is supported by technologies like cloud computing, ubiquitous wireless, mobile devices, virtual worlds, and social networking tools.

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

  • Since teaching is an inherently social activity, collaborative environments are a natural and indeed we are seeing many teachers take them up, for examplelin Nings, etc. This technology has great potential as a professional learning tool for teachers. Additionally, students working at project based learning can collaborate with one another across schools and borders.- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • Having partners who are scattered across the globe, collaborative working environments are essential to the work that we, as well as other IGOs, engage in. In the era prior to programs such as google docs, bootcamp, dropbox, etc. it took international organizations a much longer period of time to successfully collaborate with partners.
    - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 22, 2011
  • Check out CoSN's participatory website http://www.cosn.org/web20/ Of particular use is and administrators guide to web 2.0 which explains educational value of collaboration http://www.cosn.org/Initiatives/Web2/GettingtoknowWeb20/UnderstandtheEducationalPotential/tabid/6461/Default.aspx - keith.krueger keith.krueger Feb 22, 2011- limad limad Feb 26, 2011
  • In my experience, students thrive when learning incorporates social interactions. Incorporating collaborative environments in education allows teachers to tap into a medium students enjoy. Teachers are often charged with incorporating group activities and collaborative learning in everyday instruction, but few find the time when dealing with an overloaded curriculum and testing. As collaborative environments can exists outside the classroom, students can benefit from group collaboration without taking up class time. - marisa.hartling marisa.hartling Feb 27, 2011
  • If/when we shift the locus of control to learners then collaborative environments will be the place learners meet to exchange ideas, have deep, messy conversations, meet subject matter experts, sandbox and play with ideas and get community feedback, and co-construct knowledge together. As the structure of learning shifts from classroom to community these spaces will be critical for personal and professional learning to occur. All great societies have had social gathering places as central to their culture. Ancient Rome= forum, World War II = taverns and pubs, Today= collaborative spaces - sheryl.nusbaum-beach sheryl.nusbaum-beach Feb 28, 2011

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

  • Time is always an enemy to teacher uptake of new technology. We need school policies that encourage online collaborative activity. Additionally, IT policies in schools need to find a way to clamp down less in the name of safety, security and appropriate use and allow and encourage connection to useful and productive online communities. This means IT must work with the curriculum side to identify and facilitate participation in these environments- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • More concrete examples of collaborative environments and how they can be utilized differently. Some are just collaborative storage areas whereas other programs allow people to share ideas and make suggestions.
- virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 22, 2011
  • Productivity to teachers & administrators. http://www.cosn.org/Initiatives/Web20PolicyLeadershipHome/Web20AdministratorGuide/PersonalProductivity/tabid/6466/Default.aspx- keith.krueger keith.krueger Feb 22, 2011
  • Ability for isolated educational professionals (teachers, principals, CTOs, superintendents, curriculum leaders to collaborate 24x7 with their peers in online communities of practices - keith.krueger keith.krueger Feb 22, 2011
  • My sense is that the idea of collaboration is being watered down...too many people equate simple sharing as collaboration. To me, we collaborate to create things, it's a messy sometimes sweaty process. Real collaboration, both in physical space or virtual, is hard. And I would also suggest that we might aspire to something greater even in that we create opportunities not just add to the knowledge base, but to act collectively to change the world. Still comparatively little of that going on. - will.richardson will.richardson Feb 26, 2011 I agree with Will. We tend to see either sharing or taking to remix, but much more could be done for true collaboration. - bwatwood bwatwood Feb 27, 2011
  • Include the notion of self-organised communities somewhere, at least as a marker. - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 27, 2011
  • Collaborative competencies are required to make the collaborative technologies function well - these cannot be taken for granted in K-12 (or among adults for that matter!) - an extensive research literature indicates the important of such activities as active listening, cumulative knowledge building, and reflective and regulatory metacognition to monitor progress on collaboration. CSCL (Computer supported collaborative technologies) is a major subfield of the learning sciences (http://isls.org) and the iJCSCL is a high-impact Springer Journal reporting research developments in this field [- roy.pea roy.pea Feb 27, 2011]
  • What's missing is the collaborative environments themselves. If we want the shift and depth people above have described then we need spaces that provide the ease of knowledge construction, co-creation of content, ability to play and share ideas easily, places that provide the seedbed of crowdsourced or collective action around social justice issues. The spaces we have now are either social networking spaces that were designed for sociability or spaces for individuals to share ideas and get feedback. At best they allow for development of individuals through individuals. We need collaborative environments that have unique knowledge creation and management tools that promote deep exploration, playful ideation, and collaborative writing, connection, and building spaces. Places that promote collective identity building and trust making. Rather than just spaces we enter virtually and share through embedded video and text - what if we could easily create and edit video, code, and build within that space or if we could simulate, then build models, test and try out ideas safely in alternative reality means and then finish products. What if we had places that we could meet with folks from around the world to network (have a virtual beverage and talk), then out of those networks would fall great ideas and connections and we would walk our avatars over to the labs or studios in these collaborative environments and start to sandbox our ideas. As the ideas developed we would have tools with which to easily co-write and publish in scholarly journals with instant (or 48 hour) peer review and publication. There would be areas to get feedback from other collaborative environments instantly as some tool would allow for cross publishing immediately in spaces with others who have common interests. The group would continue to develop the idea in this space while attending presentations being streamed in by others who are speaking on this idea from around the world. Access to subject matter and subject matter experts would be painless. Action research on the idea or invention would be almost instant as well (1-2 week turnaround) as the seamless cross sharing between spaces would provide ready volunteers who would try out the ideas in their own contexts and bring feedback for needed revisions to the thinking or model. Allowing for scaling to happen organically as the ideas or prototypes evolved based on user feedback would make collaboration around learning as easy as how ideas evolve on Wikipedia. It is the creation of the collaborative spaces themselves- that support learning that are missing. - sheryl.nusbaum-beach sheryl.nusbaum-beach Feb 28, 2011

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

  • Teachers need spaces to collaborate and break the isolation of the classroom. Today's students have grown up in a wired and highly connected environment and seem to prefer collaborative learning opportunities. Technology has now made collaboration more possible in the classroom. alice.owen- alice.owen alice.owen Feb 19, 2011
  • Collaborative environments have enormous potential to contribute to the kind of learning we have been trying to facilitate for learners for years. Collaborative problem solving, as a "workforce" skill, a practical skill, and an element of disciplinary knowledge is essential and until recently, we have only been able to simulate such environments. Now, the success of this potential resource for teaching and learning and the creation of new knowledge and product depends on us - how willing and able we are to share and collaborate with strangers, how creative we can be in understanding the elements of an on-line collaborative environment, and what it will take to shift those of us who fear such environments to them; and create productive environments for those how are ready to jump in. - jeanne.century jeanne.century Feb 19, 2011
  • Teachers learning from one another in virtual teams, students in similar fashion. As noted above, this is a key workforce skill - a 21st Century skill.- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • Wonderful tools out there for paper writing and project creation. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any collaborative programs that are targeted at a younger audience. Nevertheless, there are a great many tools out there that could be utilized by high school students and teachers for creating collaborative projects. - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 22, 2011- limad limad Feb 26, 2011
  • Again...it depends. Certainly, the potential of collaboration and collective action is huge. But not so much if we see sharing links on a wiki as collaboration. That's more co-operating than collaborating. - will.richardson will.richardson Feb 26, 2011
  • Powerful collaborative teams exceed the individual intelligence of their members - this is huge if we can promote well functioning collaboration - see important new paper on measuring collective intelligence of groups in Science Magazine 2010 [- roy.pea roy.pea Feb 27, 2011]
  • If we had collaborative spaces that could serve to support studio or lab type learning experiences I believe the impact would be huge. The flexibility to think, dream, create, share, collaborate, and act collectively would be 24/7 and promote the exact type of diversity that research has shown supports innovation. Schools (as they are implemented now in their physical form) would cease to exists in terms of need. They would be replaced by physical locations that housed equipment and knowledge creation and scientific tools. Learners would come to work with their local community and networks and use the physical tools that provided the next step in the collective process. Schools would become places people brought ideas and prototypes for the next step of implementation or for action research. Schools would be labs and studio spaces where local learners connected and shared what they learned in online collaboration spaces. - sheryl.nusbaum-beach sheryl.nusbaum-beach Feb 28, 2011

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

  • Texas has a new state-wide system called Project Share (based on the Epsilen platform). http://projectsharetexas.org/ Teachers from all over Texas can set up groups, discuss and share content. It is a place where courses can be created and can be used by teachers throughout the state. Students are to be added soon. The vision is for students to create an academic portfolio that can follow them no matter which district they attend. alice.owen- alice.owen alice.owen Feb 19, 2011
  • The MacArthur Foundation has a project going that includes CoSN on "Online Professional Learning Communities".- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • (see National Education Technology Plan) and funded by USED with AIR, SETDA, CoSN, Friday Institute and Grunwald Associates. - keith.krueger keith.krueger Feb 22, 2011
  • eTwinning (www.etwinning.net) now has over 100 000 schools working together across borders in Europe on pedagogical projects for K-12 students. The iTEC project (http://itec.eun.org) and the Acer 1:1 computing projects (http://www.netbooks.eun.org) in Europe both emphasise the role of educators working collaboratively to create the 'classroom' of the future - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 21, 2011
  • This is an area to which I have paid a lot of attention. I have worked with Intel some on a project they are doing that will create a hub approach to community collaboration. I also have worked with Microsoft in thinking about collaborative spaces. In fact Groove (Dede's space he created with MS $) was first created to address this collaborative space issue. But fell short in terms of what is really needed and described above. The work Chris Gareis and I did with ENDAPT http://bigthink.com/ideas/29808 around electronic mentoring started to look at this issue of space. And the work CLTNet http://cltnet.org/cltnet/index.jsp and NSF did with SRI International at Tapped IN http://tappedin.org was also beginning exploration around this idea of creating collaborative spaces. All of those experiences have resulted in the creation of Powerful Learning Practice http://plpnetwork.com and what Will and I do there. But these are more about using the function of collaboration for learning and creation rather than the spaces themselves. We (CTQ and consultants) did think about space specifically in what we created with drupal in designing the space for the Teacher Leaders Network http://www.teacherleaders.org but it fell miserably short. We are now looking closely at designing a hub driven space that will meet the needs of the 4000 plus educators we are working with (currently in a piece meal of collaborative spaces- i.e. NING, wikis, Twitter, Facebook) to support community building from a 3-pronged approach- PLCs in the local context, Global CoPs of deep inquiry and systems thinking, and network creation. - sheryl.nusbaum-beach sheryl.nusbaum-beach Feb 28, 2011

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