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A continuum of collaboration


Tim Bray wrote about how blogs and wikis are different:

A wiki is a collaborative construction engine, with refactoring and edit-in-place being the dominant forms of activity, and many equal voices singing in a chorus. A blog is more like a content faucet, a source with one voice, always growing at one end; while updates to existing content are OK, the dominant activity is pouring new text and pictures and whatever in.

And James Tauber is belatedly continuing.

James points out there are a number of dimensions of wikiness, and I agree with him.

I'd like to talk about just one dimension: collaborativeness (James' "Spirit of collaboration").

At one end we have a wiki, which is can be changed by anyone. That's collaboration.

At the other end we have a blog like this one, which is mine all mine, even though it uses wikiesque markup and which has no comments. You can converse with me via email, your own web site, or a tag in del.icio.us but you can't collaborate except by quoting me elsewhere. Ha!

(Can I have 'ends' to a dimension? James would know.)

Here I talk about another kind of collaboration that is not wiki-like which I have implemented before, and which We are exploring here at USQ, for a potential content-seeded learning system, either as an extension to or a replacement for a 'traditional' Learning Management System.

In between there are blogs with comments, and blogs with discussion forums, and wikis with closed authorship.

I have worked a lot with another approach which is to use inline commenting or annotation. The Continuous Publishing System that we built at NextEd (now available from Sourceforge in kit form only - know how to use CVS and NANT?) allows annotations in-line on published content. Published means locked, and once content is locked it can magically sprout little discussion links on every paragraph, based on a unique id, like Tim Bray's purple pilcrows. This lets people make a small bit of content that adds to the main one but is stored separately. They can point out a typo, or ask a question, or see the original content without all the annotations all over it. At previous jobs we used this technology for:

Right now, in my new job we are putting together a demo of how this kind of annotation can be used in a learning system for:

At the end of the course the teacher should be able to roll the feedback into the module for next time and publish a new, improved version.

This is all collaboration, provided you have a live teacher in the feedback loop responding to class input, but without the ability to change the content that you have with a wiki. But a course or meta-course wiki may be worth adding to the Learning Management System as well, possibly one that persists across course offerings.

You can read about the vision behind this in the paper I'm writing with Cameron Loudon, a lot of these ideas come from his interaction with online educators.

This approach lies somewhere between a wiki and a blog on the scale of collaborativeness. The content is arguable, but the integrity of the published material is assured and it is always visible behind the annotation. In an online education environment this could be very important — you probably shouldn't just go changing content even with tracking of the change, and in a replicated environment where people go on and offline, re-synchronising when they can, each item needs to be kept as a separate transaction so you do not have merge problems.

But it is collaborative, and it is not a wiki.

Updated with a spell check. Remember coffee first, post later.

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