What are Collaborative Environments?

Collaborative environments are online spaces — often cloud-based — where the focus is on making it easy to collaborate and work 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 nonetheless collaborate on projects. Joint classroom-based projects with students at other schools or in other countries are more and more common strategies used 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, to easily monitor their collective progress, and to see how ideas have evolved throughout the process. These tools are compelling and widely adopted because they are not only easy to use, but they are also either very low cost or free, and often accessible with a simple web browser.

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

  • Collaborative environments are essential for facilitating active participation in courses through different collaborative activities for 'off-campus' students, Such collaborative environments allow for 'off-campus' students to engage in valuable asynchronous communication, building social/study networks, engaging in peer learning. This may be informal or involve formal elements such as credit-bearing online group activities. In this way 'off-campus' students engage in a full range of teaching and learning activities and can be given a full range of assessment types. - james.brunton james.brunton Feb 11, 2015
  • Collaborative environments are also essential for 'on-campus' students. Not only do they allow students to collectively engage in a variety of learning activities, both in and out of class, but they also give them opportunities to develop telecollaborative skills that they are likely to need in their professional life. They also allow students to work on group projects both synchronously and asynchronously, face-to-face and remotely, on and off campus.- francoise.blin francoise.blin Feb 14, 2015
  • - Larry.McNutt Larry.McNutt Feb 15, 2015Collaborative technologies are an essential component in the IT Infrastructure of a HEI. The current transformative project underway in Irish Higher Education will see the creation of a number of multi-campus Technological Universities. In addition the emphasis on Regional Clusters of HEIs will provide an opportunity to exploit the functionality of these systems. The role of collaborative technologies will underpin several key elements in an evolving multi-campus architecture (i) supporting the communications and networking requirements of cross-campus teams (ii) underpinning opportunities to avail of opportunities available on other physical campus locations.
  • Taking an institutional enterprise-level view of collaborative learning environments, these are more commonly known as Virtual Learning Environments in Irish HEIs and are the the key backbone infrastructure in the higher education landscape in Ireland. - paul.gormley paul.gormley Feb 22, 2015

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

  • There are links between this technology and: social networks; online learning; mobile learning; and telepresence. - james.brunton james.brunton Feb 11, 2015
  • The design of collaborative learning environments needs to be rooted in robust learning theories and appropriate pedagogies need to be developed. The focus need to change from a view of learning that sees it happening in the head of individual learners to one that embraces the complex relationship between the collective and the individual (see for example the work done by activity theorists such as Engeström and his colleagues: http://www.edu.helsinki.fi/activity/people/engestro/). Learning activities need to be designed in such a way that they provide learners with real opportunities for learning how to 'telecollaborate' successfully across multiple timescales and spaces. More research is also needed to unpack the telecollaborative processes so that we can a better understanding of collective and individual trajectories throughout a collaborative task, including the constant move between the individual and the collective, the face-to-face and the remote.- francoise.blin francoise.blin Feb 14, 2015

  • - Larry.McNutt Larry.McNutt Feb 15, 2015This technology has the potential to have the most significant social and community impact - it can address both social exclusion and physical distance. Provided it is embedded as a key component in the learning environment - to complement other VL tools. However, there still remains in many instances a reluctance/resistance amongst educators to embrace tools that have a "public" broadcast feature. For me there is a direct parallel with this technology and enabling the growth of distance learning offerings - which still remain a modest fare in an Irish context. This inhibition needs to be understood and addressed.
  • Collaborative learning environments are often used as a proxy for student learning portals in Irish HEIs and can offer learning, community and repository services though one consistent interface. - paul.gormley paul.gormley Feb 22, 2015
  • The move towards open APIs allow for customisation for local institutional learning requirements - paul.gormley paul.gormley
  • Interoperability between the native collaborative learning environment and 3rd party providers (w.g. video hosting and/or plagiarism-detection services) allows HEIs to centralise a range of learning services to students and staff - paul.gormley paul.gormley Feb 22, 2015
  • The links between this technology and wider institutional services such as student registration and human resource databases; and email (at enterprise-levels) - paul.gormley paul.gormley Feb 22, 2015

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on third-level education in Ireland?

  • As the technology behind collaborative environments improves, for example allowing for greater ease of access (link to mobile learning technology) and/or facilitating a greater sense of the online presence of those with whom one is collaborating (link to telepresence technology), this technology can potentially impact positively on the 'off-campus' Irish student experience by reducing the perceived 'distance' between them and their fellow learners. This potential postive impact would be on both credit-bearing activities and more informal activities. - james.brunton james.brunton Feb 12, 2015
  • One of the key impact in my view would be to facilitate students' development of key skills not only for their learning but also for their future social, academic, and professional life. Another important benefit of well designed collaborative environments is to facilitate and support learners, both on and off campus, as they engage in complex collective projects.- francoise.blin francoise.blin Feb 14, 2015
  • - Larry.McNutt Larry.McNutt Feb 15, 2015Collaboration is at the heart of learning - it provides the framework to nurture a democratic encounter between learners, learners and educators and learners and other communities. The greatest opportunity it provides is to address the needs of currently under-represented groups by providing greater flexibility in delivery and choice of programmes.
  • Enabling 24/7 access to learning resources for students in geographically and time-distributed locations allows a sense of learning community despite being physically separated from peers and mentors. This is particularly important for students partaking in workplace learning environments off-campus.

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

  • There are so many projects in this area that it is difficult to know where to start. The Computer Supported Collaborative Learning community (and the International Society for the Learning Sciences:http://www.isls.org/index.html?CFID=92667393&CFTOKEN=51423115) is very active and this area. There are also a number of very interesting projects in the Nordic countries (see for example the work of Lund, Rasmussen, etc.). The EU funded project INTENT (http://intent-project.eu/intent-project.eu/index.htm) is also very interesting and provides many resources for telecollaboration projects, with a focus on virtual intercultural exchanges. Closer to home, the combination of collaborative technologies provided by DCU, such as Google Apps, and other platforms such as Voicethread (https://voicethread.com/) and Wordpress has allowed me to design (language) learning environments that attempt to foster both individual, small group and collective interactions, in-class and out-of-class.- francoise.blin francoise.blin Feb 14, 2015
  • - Larry.McNutt Larry.McNutt Feb 15, 2015
    It is a mult-layered scenario - (i) communications with online communities e.g. ILTA, ICEP, ACMHE, addressing the needs of educators (ii) component of online programme offerings e.g. MSc in Data Mining - http://www.dataminingmasters.com/ (iii) local functionality provided on desktops to encourage virtual meetings e.g. ITB Lync project, TU4Dublin Sharepoint portal.
  • Risquez, A., McAvinia, C., Raftery, D., O’Riordan, F., Harding, N., Cosgrave, R., Logan-Phelan, T., & Farrelly, T. (2013) An Investigation of Students’ Experiences Using Virtual Learning Environments: Implications for academic professional development. In O’Farrell, C. and Farrell, A. (Eds.) Emerging Issues in Higher Education III: From capacity building to sustainability. Athlone: EDIN. - paul.gormley paul.gormley Feb 22, 2015
    Cosgrave, R.J., Risquez, A., Logan-Phelan, T., Farrelly, T., Costello, E., Palmer, M., McAvinia, C., Cooper, R., Harding, N., Vaughan, N. (2011) Usage and uptake of Virtual Learning Environments and Technology Assisted Learning Tools: Findings from a multi institutional, multi-year comparative study. AISHE-J Special Issue: papers from EdTech 2009. - paul.gormley paul.gormley Feb 22, 2015

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