The internet and web-applications (software that runs over the web instead of from your desktop) have made collaboration amongst individuals and groups far more efficient. Many people still collaborate by attaching copies of documents to emails and sending these to collaborators, but there are serious limitations to this method of collaboration including:
- Lack of standards/conventions for determining which copy of a document is the most current revision
- Incompatibilities between various applications and versions of applications used to create documents/presentations
- Limits on the size of documents that can be shared for collaboration
- Need to send multiple copies of a document of multiple recipients every time a new "set" of revisions is made
Web-based tools for creating documents and presentations overcome many of these limitations. In particular, good collaboration tools have the following features:
- Single application that everyone can access in the same way (by connecting to the application server over the web) and that therefore has the same features/functionality
- Single document/presentation that is accessible to everyone anywhere with an internet connection
- Version and author tracking and rollback that tracks changes to a document/presentation, allows for comparison of versions and allows users to revert to an earlier revision
- Near "real-time" display of changes so you can see what changes collaborators made soon after they make them
The archetype of web-based collaboration tools is the "wiki," the type of tool used to power Wikipedia. More recently Google Docs has provided a platform for collaboration amongst smaller, more defined groups of collaborators.
What you need:
Most web-based collaboration tools such as MediaWiki and Google Docs require you to create an account and/or log in.
MediaWiki is most commonly used for create articles within a given domain of inquiry that can be interlinked and organized "bottom-up" by means of "wiki-links" which can be links to existing articles or "stubs" that can be used to initiate new articles.
Google Docs is most commonly used to collaboratively draft single documents. For faculty, it can be a great way to collect assignments and give feedback
How you do it:
Middlebury has an instance of MediaWiki that can be used for curricular activities. In order to contribute to existing articles/pages or add new articles/pages to a particular wiki, you will need to log in with your Midd username and password. Wikis can also be created for classes, departments and projects. These wikis can be configured to be publicly viewable or restricted to a group of users (e.g. students in a class, people in a group). Contact the Helpdesk or your LIS Liaison to request such a wiki.
Google Docs is an "incubating" technology at Middlebury that is available for limited use upon request. Contact who for more information. If you already have a Google account (most often created for you if you have a Gmail email account), then you already have access to the "public" version of Google Docs. Both the "public" version and the Middlebury "institutional" version are nearly identical and are accessible from the documents link in the upper left corner of your Gmail or Google Calendar page.
Tips and suggestions:
If you plan to request your own space on Middlebury's MediaWiki:
- Decide what the scope of your wiki will be...
MediaWiki is great for building a collection of articles on a wide range of subjects. Make sure your collaborators know what that focus of your wiki is
- Decide what should not be in your wiki...
Anybody (or anyone who has access to your wiki) can edit what is in your wiki so keep any content that you want to have control over somewhere else