Collaboration Tools

Everyone’s clamoring for collaboration tools – it’s a wild, wild west with collaboration happening across boundaries, across institutions. Tools and boundary-crossing will only increase.  So, the moderator posed 2 questions:

  • How can IT support all the diversity teachers want and students need?
  • What should students and faculty expect – are tools simple enough that they don’t need support?


  • Jim Davis, Chief Academic Tech Officer at UCLA (Institute for Digital Research and Education, also Informatics)
  • Sally Jackson, Urbana-Champaign
  • Michael Wesch, Kansas

This was a long conversation with many good ideas, here’s a few….

Davis described a program called FacTech (faculty technology) which sounded similar to our gadget day.  It was compared to “IT speed dating for faculty.”  Faculty move from table to table to spend 5 minutes with each technology, usually about 6 technologies.  Turn it in, Drop Box, Evernote,, and so on.

He also described something they do for emeritus faculty — if I understood the game plan correctly,  he described IT people taking part in these instructional technology activities as a way to help regular IT folks understand end users better and feel more hooked into the overall mission. Bringing IT staff together in a community setting.  IT staff have been hunkered down and isolated.  Education in a community setting happens both ways.

Another program they call Pizza and Complaints – students get to talk to administrative IT folks.  IT folks are not allowed to talk.  They can only listen.  They cannot defend what they are doing. It’s been a brilliant way to help IT folks understand users better and get closer to them.


We should be exposing students to many different collaboration environments.  Common wisdom is that students want standardizations (every online course set up the same way) and she spoke against that.  The skill to be developed is to adapt and scope out new online environments, not rotely get to know one pattern, especially an environment (like an LMS) that’s only used in school.  Let’s get students using tools they can and will be using after they leave school.

Getting people over-standardized on their own collaboration platform – builds inflexible people.  People without any practice in ad hoc organization of new teams and using new collaboration environments are lacking essential skills.

We need to be giving students the oppty to reflect on tech design and how it informs social practice — what about this course design did or did not foster various goals of the course? What are the tasks you need your collaborative space to accomplish, interactions it needs to promote?

When students only know one way of doing things, they believe it’s the natural way, and they don’t then understand a technological tool or interface as part of the built/designed world, not the natural world.

We need to help students develop judgment and expertise in collaborative environments – not just choosing the team, but also choosing the appropriate environment.

Standardized tools, standardizing on a platform is a hindrance to the development of digital literacies.  Students should be practicing by choosing their own tools – not assigned to work in a tool.  The world needs people who are collaboration-ready and digitally literate.

Give up on campus scale technologies – not local enough (customized), not global enough (allow for open, porous collaboration and work like real world tools rather than just something to be used in school.)

Consciously adopt a tool approach called meta management.  How to handle technologies when we don’t control them.  User education is key. Allow faculty to thoughtfully execute licenses on their own authority.

Michael Wesch

In a big lecture course he asks his students if they can describe to the person sitting next to them concepts like Fair Use, DMCA, Net neutrality, etc.  These are establishing the framework for collaboration but students are unaware of them.  Hardly any of the students could describe these concepts to the person next to them.

Students don’t understand what’s under the hood; for example the  57 signals that Google monitors about you while you are on the web in order to deliver context specific content.

He works collaboratively with his students on course building.  Instead of a syllabus – a research schedule.  On a wiki – anyone can edit.

They use and share a lot of tools but he doesn’t tell students what to use.  Netvibes, Yahoo pipes, Diigo, etherpad.

Some media exercises are pretty simple, with the idea that creating community creates the conditions for more sophisticated collaborations  down the road.

He gave an example of a collaborative exercise in his course.  They pick a topic, such as  anonymity online.  Everyone goes to the library and reads what they want on that topic.  They each summarize online what they’ve read.  All the students become co-knowers with the instructor.   By the end of the week – the class had read 96 articles collectively, and all students had read each others’ summaries.

With another class, they co-wrote a paper together – took 2 years.


How can we afford to support students as they are beginning to experiment with all these new collaboration tools?  Where does the funding come from?  Well, we are already spending a whole lot on LMS’s.  The sum total of all the LMS’s on campus is an enormous amount of money.  We might decide instead to support faculty use of natural tools rather than these weird school-based technologies.

Wesch – faculty need IT people to create community among faculty innovators.

Move to a model where technical staff are supporting people instead of supporting services.  Make the faculty member and student the center of what support is all about—figure out what they need, and help them get it.  This is backwards from running a service around the support of a few tools, and then trying to entice the customers into the mold.  So, the hard thing, how do we do this?  How do we do this very different thing well?  What does it look like?

Wesch –  why aren’t faculty and students given high quality web space so they can install their own wordpress, create their own collaboration spaces and systems.  IT people respond “that would be chaos; anarchy.”  Faculty do it anyway, paying outsiders.  Why not get this development web space thru central IT.  Want one click installation for wordpress, for ??

What about middleware options so everyone isn’t totally in the cloud – when faculty want a space in their course site for enrolled-students only, but they also want other space that is porous and allows students to go out more openly in the world.


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