Collaboration Fascination - Collaborative Editing Tools

Scott Matheson, Web Manager at the Yale University Library, began the session by describing how the Yale Library has implemented Microsoft Sharepoint to make documents more easily available for collaboration in its internal environment.  He explained that the library has a "vanilla", 2007 SharePoint install on its intranet that has been in place for about a year.  Throughout his presentation Scott demonstrated some of the key features the browser-based software has to offer including (but not limited to) the spreadsheet tool, the wiki, the blog and notification tools.

One of the most basic features of SharePoint is the document library.  Similar to a file share, users are able to access documents in the document library, however, SharePoint allows users to read, edit, add track changes or comments, and save the documents back to the SharePoint server.  The shared document library works on a check out/check in system whereby a user can secure a document for editing by "locking" it so only one user can make modifications at a time.

SharePoint keeps track of the documents' modified dates, authors and status (e.g., draft or complete). One clever feature that Scott prefers over a standard file share is the ability to track the version history of a document.  The version history allows a user to view any modifications that have been applied to a document at any time over the life of that document.  Within the version history view, a chronological list displays each modification point made to that particular document.  The user can then look at the revision history and retroactively view any document's revisions.

Another advantage of SharePoint is setting individual permissions on shared documents via the active directory integration.  Thus, granting document access and permissions to selected users or groups is as easy as typing in a user's name, Yale Net ID or email address.  Scott admitted that one disadvantage to this system is allowing access to non-Yale users.  Since SharePoint is so closely tied to the Yale active directory, essentially only Yale users can be granted access.  Scott suggested other alternatives for outside collaboration including Classes v2 and referenced the ITS Collaboration Tools web page for additional information.

Other notable drawbacks to SharePoint mentioned by Scott included browser incompatibility (Internet Explorer reigns supreme), native Macintosh incompatibility (although Microsoft offers the Microsoft Document Connection utility as a means for Mac users to connect), the inability to handle Microsoft Access files, the inability to import third-party wiki formats (e.g., MediaWiki and Saki wiki), and the lack of support for Linux, Firefox, and Zotero to name a few.  Scott did add, however, that SharePoint has a good html, WYSIWYG editor and a slide sharing library which serves as a PowerPoint slide repository for users to create custom slide shows.

The second half of the session was an expeditious, walloping wave of synergistic, technology w00t lead by Italian professor, Michael Farina, who discussed alternative collaboration software accompanied by a 72 slide PowerPoint presentation.  Michael stressed the distinction between collaborative work spaces and collaborative editing tools by defining work spaces as driven by social business software, project management software, or groupware with a "steep learning curve."  Conversely, editing tools are task driven, intuitive and easy to use.  Michael also drew on the fact that many of the editing tools can be very useful in academia and have a social networking aspect to them that can be incorporated into some of the more popular social networks, including FaceBook, MySpace and Google.

Michael listed off a plethora of collaboration software (mostly freeware) which he divided into two categories and labeled the categories in honor of election day: Democratic and Benevolent Tyrant.  According to Michael, "democratic" collaborative editing tools should show who is contributing what at any given time, in real-time.  Some examples include Tokbox, DoingText, Dimdim and Creatly.  "Benevolent tyrant" tools, on the other hand, typify a more controlling quality in which an instructor acts as the editor and has the final say.  Flowchart is one such editorial instance.

Three of Michael's favorite collaboration tools for courses are Writeboard, Textflow and Etherpad.  Michael continued that he likes the flexibility of the tools for use after office hours and uses each application for different purposes depending upon the students' needs.  Writeboard works well for keeping track of version history at different times at different places, while Textflow gives more control to the instructor over multiple text versions when consolidating.

After his presentation, Michael took questions from the audience including what his opinion was on Google Docs.  He replied that he likes tools that do not require a user to be tied the same system of suite applications and do not require an email account.  As an alternative, Michael recommended either Etherpad or DocVerse.  Another audience member asked what the advantage is of the other mentioned editing tools over DocVerse.  Michael answered that a disadvantage of DocVerse is that it only works with Microsoft products and not everyone uses Microsoft Office.  He encouraged a solution that allows for multiple ways to collaborate.

Here is Michael Farina's Slideshare of his Keynote Presentation:

About Matthew Regan

Instructional Technologist - Instructional Technology Group - AM&T - Yale University
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