The Pattern Language Network

Taming web2.0 in Higher Education

project communications platform: current state and future plans

Posted by yishaym on February 29, 2008

Our project has adopted a broad range of web-based collaboration and communication tools. First and foremost, because we believe in the value of these tools to support our work. As a bonus, using the tools we’re researching to support our research provides us with a perfect case study: us.

Almost two months into the project, its good to stop and assess where we are and where we’re going.

Web site and blog

At the launch meeting, we identified having a project website as a high priority. During a coffee break, Steven bought the domain, I registered a wordpress blog, and within minutes we were rolling. A couple of iterations, and a few minor misunderstanding later (e.g. the difference between a wordpress profile and a profile on the people page) and we were ready to launch the site. We decided to keep the blog as the front page for the project, as it gives our users and friends a good focal point.

The site has a simple and intuitive structure. Apart from the front page, it includes the following sections:

  • About: a brief description of the project.
  • People: list of team members, each with a picture, a short bio, and link to personal site (if available).
  • Resources: links to our main tools, with descriptions, and to some related projects.
  • Contact us: email addresses for managerial, administrative, and web issues.

The sidebars provide quick access to most of the tools listed below. This way, the site is a showcase and a group workspace at one, making all our products immediately available to the community – as well as the process by which they are derived.

Shared documents and mailing lists (google groups)

We agreed to use mailing lists and shared documents as our primary channels of internal communication and coordination. Using google groups, we set up three lists:

  • general interest: low-volume, announcement only, for anyone who wants to keep a tab on the project.
  • members: invitation only, any member can post. this is the main communication channel for team members. Any issue which requires coordination among partners will be discussed here. Even when an issue only involves a sub-set of the team, the list is CC:ed for archival and to keep everyone informed of all aspects of the project.
  • users: this will be used by the users participating in case studies.

One of the issues that came up was sharing documents: plans, reports, meeting minutes, etc. At first, we tried circulating them by email. This is problematic in terms of managing documents, versions, etc. Next, we tried sharing the document as files or pages on the mailing list web-space. This too proved inadequate, as the filing and editing facilities were limited. Eventually we decided to use google docs. Any document that needed collaborative editing, commenting or archiving was created there and shared with all team members. We are considering having an index of key documents as a page on the members list web-space.

Calendar

We decided to use google calendar to share dates and events. This should include deadlines for conference and journal submissions, meetings, milestones, etc. So far, only one event has been listed (project meeting, Monday, 14 April).

Code

The main goal of our project is to develop a pattern language for using web2.0 technologies in higher education. Inter alia, we will need to develop a structured set of web-based tools for collaborative authoring of pattern languages. This effort is also marked for an open, collaborative process. To support this, we’ve registered a project on google code. Google provides free code development services for open source projects, including code version control, issue tracking and release management. So far, no code published yet.

Developer wiki

As a first step towards developing our platform, we need to collaboratively develop a set of specification documents. We opted to use a wiki for that purpose. As a prototype, we’re using the wiki provided by google code. This doesn’t seem to provide the functionality we need, such as email notification, WYSWYG editing, hierarchical editing, etc. Once we set up our own system, we’ll use it instead.

Emerge ELGG group

We’ve set up a group space on the Emerge site. However, given our other tools – its function is mainly as a signpost directing interested visitors to our site. This situation does highlight the tension between a centralized hub, like Emerge, and specific project / team / individual sites.

SlideShare space

We’ve presented the project in a few occasions, and produced slidesets for them. In order to share these, we’ve created a group space on SlideShare. Apart from the option of viewing, downloading and commenting on the slides, SlideShare allows us to easily embed them in blog posts.

google apps

We have started experimenting with google apps. This should give us project email addresses, a more convenient shared document space, and a few other services. However, the setup offered by the standard edition doesn’t yet give us answers to any clear and immediate needs. For the time being, we’re putting this on the back burner.

Shared references: bibsonomy and del.icio.us

bibsonomy is nice because it supports sharing of both web bookmarks and academic references. del.icio.us, on the other hand, has a much wider user base (including in our team). Instead of choosing between them, we use both – with the same tag for marking the project (patternlanguagenetwork). RSS makes it all so easy…

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