Social Media and Learning: Part 3

Inside Learning Technologies Magazine, Conference edition, January 2009

Part 3: Collaborative Working & Learning

Jane Hart is a Social Media & Learning Consultant who works with organisations to help them understand how new social media tools can be used for learning and performance support. Jane is also the founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, where she keeps abreast of current and emerging technologies. Here she looks at how new social media tools can be used within learning and development.

This is the third of a three part article that looks at how key social media tools can be used for learning, development and performance support. Social media tools, support social interactions and connections with people, collaboration and sharing and the creation of user-generated content, and are helping to build a new phase of (e-)learning – often referred to as E-Learning 2.0 or Social Learning.

In the first part of this article I discussed three types of social media tools: social bookmarking, social file sharing and social networking services. In part two I considered micro-blogging services, like Twitter, and their use for personal and informal learning, professional networking and as an alternative learning channel. In this final part I am going to take a broad look at collaborative working and learning.

The term “collaboration” means many things to many people, and there are a number of ways that people can “collaborate” to work and learn together, so it is important to decide what type of collaboration you want before you select a tool.

Here are 12 types of collaborative activities/scenarios and some suggestions of tools to support them.

1 – Collaborative brainstorming and mindmapping

Scenario: A number of individuals want to work together for group problem solving, requirements gathering, action planning, note-taking, idea visualization or perhaps to structure a collaborative document.

Tools: Mindmapping tools let you create a visual representation of a collection of ideas in a tree-like structure. The different contributions are often colour-coded so that you can see who added what. Mind maps can then be stored and shared online. Mindmapping tools include: Mind42, MindMeister and Comapping.com.

2 – Collaborative diagramming

Scenario: A group of individuals want to build collaborative diagrams like flowcharts, organisation charts, SWOT diagrams, wireframes, and so on.

Tools: Collaborative diagramming and graphic tools include: Gliffy, LucidChart and Dabbleboard

3 – Collaborative authoring

Scenario: A number of individuals want to work on a common document and have an equal ability to add, edit, or delete items in it. They also want to be able to keep track of everyone’s individual contributions.

Tools: Collaborative authoring tools ensure there is only one version of the document rather than multiple copies showing different edits. Co-authoring might, however, take place in real-time (i.e. a number can work on the document simultaneously) or where contributors are “locked out” until a contributor has completed his input and the document has been updated. There are a couple of different types of tools that can be used for collaborative authoring.

Wiki tools are essentially editable web pages. The most well-known example of a wiki is of course, Wikipedia, the collaborative encyclopaedia, and wiki tools that support the creation of group wikisites are now becoming serious business and educational tools, and being employed for many different purposes. Although a wiki site can be public or private, editing a wiki generally requires a contributor to log in, so that all changes to the page are tracked. A log of activity is maintained, and contributors can be notified of changes via email or RSS. There are now a huge number of wiki tools available both free and commercial, and these include:

  • Wetpaint is a free platform that alsoincludes social networking functionality so that individuals can connect with one another.
  • Google Sites is Google’s web authoring tool for both personal and group websites.
  • Confluence is a popular enterprise system that offers MS Office and SharePoint integration.

Online office suites have a combination of productivity and collaboration functionality which support collaborative content authoring, but may also include other tools. Suites include

  • Google Docs includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation elements.  You can create documents from scratch or upload from MS Office or Open Office. You can choose who can view or edit the documents as a web page. Documents can also be saved on your computer in a number of formats including PDF
  • Zoho Suite includes Writer (word processing), Sheet (spreadsheet) and Show (presentation) tools as well as other tools including a wiki. There is compatibility with MS Office tools, and you even use your Google account to sign into Zoho.
  • Microsoft Office Live Workspace -  – allows users to save Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents online, and control who views and edits them. (Online MS Office is due shortly)

There are also a number of otherstand alone tools that focus on specific types of documentation collaboration, e.g.

  • Etherpad for real-time document collaboration
  • Editgrid an online collaborative spreadsheet service
  • Sliderocket work in sync with others on presentations

4 – Collaborative reviewing

Scenario: An individual has created a document and now seeks feedback on it from others in order to revise. In this case the individual wants to be able to make the final decision as to whether any suggested changes are incorporated in the document.

Tools: Most people would probably use Word’s “track changes” or “comments” functionality to edit and comment on a document, but this means that the author has to review a number of versions of the document with different changes. On the other hand, if a wiki-type solution were to be used, then all the reviewers would have the ability to change the original documentation, and this is what is not wanted here. In this case, a co-reviewing tool is required, for example:

  • PleaseReview provides a secure, browser-based review environment. Reviewers can see each other’s comments and changes and can reply, and authors can decide which comments and changes to accept. Authors get a single document with consolidated comments and changes.

5 – Collaborative reflection

Scenario: A group of individuals wants to share their ongoing thoughts, ideas and reflections with the public or a private group of colleagues, and encourage commenting.

Tools: The best way to do this would be to set up a group (i.e. multi-author) blog and ensure that the commenting functionality is enabled. Commenting can be set to “open” or subject to moderation by the blog owners, as required. There are now many blogging tools in the marketplace, but here are just a few that support multi authors.

  • Blogger isGoogle’s free blogging tool
  • WordPress is another popular free blogging tool
  • TypePad is a commercial, hosted blogging platform (Multi-authoring available in Pro account only)

6 –  Collaborative commenting

Scenario: An individual has produced a resource, e.g. a document, presentation or video and wants to share it with others and encourage feedback on it.

Tools: There are many websites that allow users to host and share their content in different formats either publically or privately, and for registered users to rate or comment on that content, for example

7 – Collaborative annotation

Scenario: An individual wants to not only share a web page they have found with their colleagues or other team members but also to annotate it.

Tools: There are a number of tools that allow users to do this, by adding, for instance, “sticky”-like memos to bookmarks, or by bookmarking articles with relevant text highlighted. Examples of tools include:

  • Diigo lets you add notes and in-page highlights
  • iLighter lets you highlight, collect and share the web
  • Trailfire lets you add notes (aka trail marks) and save annotated webpages

8 – Collaborative productivity

Scenario: A group of individuals want to improve their collective productivity in a variety of different ways.

Tools: There are a multitude of tools for a supporting a group’s productivity, these include: .

  • GoogleCalendaris suitable for collaborative meeting scheduling
  • Remember the Milk is task management tool that you can sharewith others
  • skrblis afree online whiteboard

9 – Collaborative working (spaces)

Scenario: A team of employees want to have access to a shared workspace where they can work together by uploading files (documents, spreadsheets, etc) and share them with one another, either as reference material or perhaps to work on a collaborative task or document.

Tools: Collaborative workspace tools are sometimes also referred to as groupware. Some have quite basic functionality, others, particularly those intended for enterprise use often include a variety of other tools like blogs, wikis, as real-time communication tools. Here are three examples

  • Google Groups is a free, hosted service that lets members have discussions aswell share files.
  • Central Desktop is tool for team, group or enterprise collaborationin a wiki-enabled
  • Microsoft SharePoint is an enterprise workspace a platform for sharing information and working together in teams, communities and people-driven processes.

10 – Collaborative project management

Scenario: A project manager wants to manage the internal or external projects of a team of people.

Tools: Some of the collaborative workspace tools (mentioned above) focus on supporting project management activities like task management, time tracking, reporting, etc, as well as project team communications. Tools include: 5pm, Basecamp and Easyprojects.

11 – Collaborative course design and development

Scenario: A group of learning designers and Subject Matter Experts want to work together on creating an e-learning course.

Tools: Collaborative course design and development tools let users collaboratively capture, storyboard, develop, review, test, and publish courses quickly and easily. Tools include Atlantic Link’s Content Point, Unison and Mohive’s E-Learning Publishing Suite.

12 – Collaborative learning (spaces)

Scenario: A group of individuals want to have access to a shared space where they can learn together – either formally or informally – e.g. to work on a collaborative learning project or to improve the performance of the whole group by sharing experiences, ideas as well as resources.

Tools: Most corporate learning management systems have limited, if any, collaboration functionality and only focus on the delivery and management of formal course content. Educational course management systems (aka virtual learning environments in the UK) on the other hand, generally have much more communication and collaboration features like wikis and blogging tools, e.g.

  • Moodle is an open source VLE that has a number of collaborative tools thatcan be incorporated into a formal course learning space. Thisrich learning platform is now making its way into the businessworld.

There are also a number of other open source systems that can be installed and configured to create collaborative, informal work/learn spaces for organisations, that also include a range of other social activities like user profiling, social bookmarking as well as blogging and file sharing. Tools in this category include: Drupal and Elgg.  There are also a few commercial vendors offering enterprise social learning solutions, e.g. Mzinga and emojo.

This article has provided examples of only a very small number of tools that support collaboration and sharing in the workplace. For over 2,600 tools that can be used for learning and performance support, take a look at the Directory of Learning Tools I maintain at the Centre’s website.

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