An unconventional view on online collaboration

When i began my study years ago, online e-learning systems were just being introduced. These Learning Management Systems(LMS) promised a new way of learning. Students could now submit there work online, educators could fill the courses with online content, and all would benefit from this new approach; in theory...

In practice this doesn't really work. These LMS are managed top to bottom, and focussed to keep content within the walls of the organisation. This results in unmotivated attempts to fill courses, both from students and educators. This is a waste, since built-up knowledge is going down the drain without much thought. Technology is only a partial answer to this problem. Succesful communities are run from bottom to top, where each user has responsibilities and some degree of control over this environment. To make a LMS succesful in terms of community-contribution, one has to recognize this mechanism, and has to overcome the fear of accidently sharing knowledge with pear educators.

The other problem is technology. Traditional LMS like Moodle or Blackboard are structurally unsupporting realtime collaborative features. Their design is typically for websites of the last 20 years; a user opens a browser, types a url, and a page with it's content starts to download to the user, after which the connection closes. This approach worked well for static pages. Online collaboration however, requires a more interactive approach. How do we allow multiple students to work on the same document or presentation online for instance? Making traditional and expensive workspace in a school redundant, requires multiple ways of sharing a user's presence with other users. Media like voice & video chat, web collaboration tools and virtual world technology should be included in one workable package.

An open solution for this has intrigued me for many years. The last two years I have been working on a bsd-licensed prototype web-system, that would allow this kind of collaboration. The HWIOS project(https://github.com/phrearch/hwios) is an unconventional content management system, in that it uses a html5 technique called websockets to communicate and deliver data. With this system it's relatively easy to integrate realtime collaborative tools. Currently these tools include a hyki(a wiki where users can edit the same article at the same time), a pad(a multi-layered canvas in which users can paint at the same time, or design processing.js scripts) and opensimulator(an opensource virtual world) management tools. Now that the fundamental pieces have been developed, further development will focus on making this cms suitable as a LMS. There are a lot of issues that still need to be addressed, but it's exciting to see how far the concept has gone so far. For more information, see http://hwios.blogspot.com/

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Tags: html5, realtime, virtual, web, worlds

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