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 whilst Mike Johnson had been doing likewise with 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 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”.

4 Replies to “Collaboration, wikis, open source and more”

  1. I missed the open source debate today so I’ll leave my 2 cents here as the open source Vs proprietary argument is something of a bugbear for me.

    They’re not mutually exclusive. Software can be both open source and proprietary if it doesn’t conform to open standards.

    The example that always comes to mind for me is Plone (sorry Joe). It’s open source, but it only runs on the Zope application server. To me that makes it proprietary as I have no choice as to what application server I may want to run it on and Plone’s proprietary schema for data storage made it impossible for us to export content from Plone on a CMS migration project.

    To me the question is more about open standards, as if you can get your data in and out in an open standard format and you can run the software on the open standard platform you choose it doesn’t matter if it’s an open source or commercial product. It then just becomes a question of cost.

    1. Can’t argue with that Andrew. I’ve always been for open standards. That’s why I thought Websphere was a good route to go down. That can also be the problem however. A lot of suppliers make great play of their adherence to open standards – Microsoft with .docx for instance – but there’s always something that they add which makes them non-compliant with the standard. Often they want to “lead” the standard too (“improvements on …”), to give them an “edge” (in marketing terms) and that’s the nature of the beast.

      Oracle and OpenOffice; in fact Oracle and everything that they took over from Sun. Is the purity of the open source or open standard maintained when the proprietary supplier gets their hands on it. I don’t think so, and that will always be the danger of a standard that’s associated with a commercial supplier.

  2. I’ve been reading a book on Educational Dialogues. I’ve been learning that ‘dialogue’ as a concept priviledges a ‘rose-tinted’ view of it, in a similar way to the word ‘community’. In fact, dialogue and community can go very wrong very quickly, and both have their darker sides. In spite of this we can blithely push away from a ‘traditional’ didactic approach to doing learning and teaching, without laying out a foundation in terms of ways and means of participation. I like etherpad-like services (e.g. ) because they allow a space, a simple chat tool, where collaborators can have ‘exploratory talk’ about the document they are editing in real-time.
    I’m not sure if this answers the question David. I just wanted to add two points re. Andrew’s comment: I think CMAP is another case where the software may be free but it is not strictly open source. Also, electronic portfolios is a classic example of something that is supposed to be transportable but which rarely is.

  3. Re. collaborative writing and wikis… It is clearly not enough to baldly say ‘let’s do it in a wiki’ without any consideration to the writing process…
    There needs to be an agreed collaboration process, E.g. Everyone in the team can edit but they must add a comment to explain what they did and which version number of the page their edit happened in (a good wiki will make reading the revision history easy).
    I wonder if anyone else has potted versions of ways of doing collaborative writing?

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