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 museums you know best?

  • By inking curators and other subject/object specialists, museum and school educators, and even avid amateurs/volunteers together to work collaboratively on exhibition interpretation, educational projects, and research.- david.dean david.dean May 1, 2010
  • By giving educators and curators a tool to share information and create a social community around that topic or idea.
  • I also think it could be more relevant for business planning and idea sharing within the museum.

  • another response here

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

  • Using collaborative environments to open up the museum, create acountability, more participation, and transparency. Example is the Smithsonian's web policy project.- christina.depaolo christina.depaolo May 2, 2010
  • Using collaborative environments to encourage collaboration among museums. Instead of replicating projects, implementing projects with shared resources and expertise. I am very excited by the Balboa Park online initiative, and would like to see more of our funders pursuing this model. I think when it comes to implementing technology this is emperitive. The old funding models aren't working- christina.depaolo christina.depaolo

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

Creating collaborative environments for museums and their constituencies can affect museums is at least three ways:
  • 1. CEs can place the interpretive process in the hands of specialists by combining their collective skills in subject matter, educational philosophies and methods, and the practical elements of exhibition design and production allowing for a more well-rounded and cohesive interpretive product for public consumption.
  • 2. Following on the heels of the above collaborations, the interpretive/education product can then be opened for input from interested amateurs and visitors, both prior to and during visiting experiences, thereby providing feedback and formative evaluative data leading to improved and expanded interpretive products. Coupled with augmented reality and haptic hand-held devices for visitors, this feedback can be both real time and stored for later digestion. The real time collaboration could include synchronous questions and answers and discussions between visitors and the museum staff.
  • 3 Collaborative partnering between school educators and museum educators, both before visiting, even during interpretive development of exhibitions, during and after school group visits to the museum, can lead to more directed experiences for students and teachers alike. This could extend as an outreach to school educators so that, even if a physical visit to a museum is not possible, the students can still, through collaborative interaction with museum subject specialists and educators, have the benefits of expert knowledge and relevant data, at the same time providing pertinent feedback to the museum professionals for future interpretive and educational products.- david.dean david.dean May 1, 2010
  • another response here

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

On of our curators would like to do an exhibition related project on Australian aboriginal art, where the artists are using a wiki to share works of art, video, pictures, and different points of view. I could see us using a Wiki or Ning site for this project. - christina.depaolo christina.depaolo May 2, 2010
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