Collaboration, wikis, open source and more

A lot of the conversation at todays “cafe” was centred around wikis. Rachel from the Grad Centre attended for a while and we hopefully gave her some ideas as to why and how it might be a good idea to investigate using a wiki as the repository for their operational procedures. She’s looking to rewrite them all and it would appear a good project for collaborative authoring.

She particularly liked this diagram from NASA, which circulated again today in a post

… I think as a diagram it so graphically shows why email is NOT a collaboration tool (as if any of us ever did); but the post quite thoughtfully suggests that the problem in getting wikis established in the enterprise might more be to do with the perception that a wiki is a website (with all that carries with it in terms of governance). If it could be positioned as a service that augments an email system it might appeal more to corporates because that would place it nearer their comfort zone. Of course as many at the “cafe” said, the diagram to the left is a simplification of reality, and if you add cc’d and even bcc’d users, and users the document might be forwarded to, then the possibility of a cohesive and meanigful collaboration is distant indeed.

Anyway, it caused some mirth, some consideration and hopefully provided some assistance for Rachel.

Prior to that we’d been discussing software that allowed collaborative authoring in meetings, or learning sessions. Joe Nicholls had been experimenting with sync.in whilst Mike Johnson had been doing likewise with typewith.me. They appear to be identical and appear to be a product of Google wave activity. Worth a look and full revision history is provided through URLs.

Mike was also keen to talk about dialogue; how you engage with students, encourage them to participate and he spoke to me about a number of themes which I’d be hugely grateful if he’d expand as a comment to this post … please Mike! He also introduced discussion on motivation and reward for encouraging participation in group activity. He’d considered chocolate; he’d heard about virtual stars added to avatars; what can you do to recognise “good behaviour”?

The next issue was how you handle the disappearance of an externally hosted service (such as drop.io) that you might have “recommended” to staff or students. Can you wash your hands once you’ve given an introductory task – hopefully making them aware of what they should be doing at the same time as using the service to protect their information, or do you have a responsibility to be pro-active once you’ve given some advice. We didn’t achieve consensus on that one but agreed that education and training was vital – new literacies indeed; and that we did have a responsibility to alert when we became aware of a failed service – beyond that some disagreement. Should we indeed be pro-active at all, offering to find solutions and alternatives, for instance?

Finally, there was some discussion on the emergence of open source as a more plausible alternative to commercial offerings. Yes, we do use a lot of open source, but mainly in the back office and not visible to users. Would we want to replace our VLE software, or our collaboration suite with open source offerings? What would the issues be in moving in that direction? What is the support model that would be required? We ran out of time and agreed that it would be a good topic for a chat at a later “event”.

Topics for discussion on Friday the 5th November

Just to give you a flavour of things zinging round my mind at the moment that I want to chat about with others coming to the Grad Centre on Friday are …

1) What do we feel about open source software; is this something we should be embracing, encouraging, supporting, developing?

2) What about services that we encourage users to adopt, ie drop.io – it’s been taken over by Facebook and the service closed down. Is this an argument for not using such services? How do we provide “support” for such “services”? What should be our reaction when such a “service” disappears?

3) Video services – I’ve come across VLC which is an open-source multimedia framework, player and server – it looks rather interesting. I think we ought to have a debate whether it should be something we would want to investigate.

Those are just three conversations I’d be interested in having with anyone joining me and having a cup of coffee – I won’t be paying for it though 🙂