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?

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

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

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

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