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My prediction for 2008 – groupware is so cool

January 30th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Around the start of January it has become traditional for educational bloggers to make their predictions on what is going to happen in the world of education technology in the forthcoming year. Predictably, I am late. But better late than never, as the saying goes.

And here is my prediction. 2008 will be the year of web based groupware. Nothing much revolutionary about that. The first on-line application I ever used was FirstClass – jointly hosted by the UK Open University and the BBC in th early days of the web. The interface was not great and of course it was not very fast. But it sort of worked. You could join groups, exchange messages in groups and uplaod files. Pretty basic but that is all most people wanted to do.

I used FirstClass until a couple of years ago. I even got quite smart in administration. After changing hands every couple of years FirstClass seemed to slowly fade, not helped by the refusal to release the code and insisting developers could only work in some horrible thing called RAD.

Of course FirstClass or FC as us aficionados used to call it was not the only groupware product. There were and still are many very good products out there.

But in the last few years groupware has been eclipsed int eh education field by powerful CMS systems, by LMS and VLEs and more lately by social networking platforms. This, I predict, is all about to change. Why?

  1. Groupware is scalable. Not so much scaling up, but scaling down. It works just as well for 5 people as it does for 50. Social networking sowfatre does not scale well – especially downwards. It needs considerable activity to show any gain.
  2. Groupware doesn’t nag – you do not get endless status upgrades. It shuts out the ‘noise’ of the web.
  3. Groupware does the things many people want to do in their work – share files, provide a small repository, share messages with a limited group of people.
  4. Google and yahoo have been quietly developing excellent, free easy to manage groupware products.

Lest give you a few examples. I have been struggling for years to get projects to collectively sharegoogle groups developmental activity through various CMS and more latterly WordPress based platforms. But it is very hard. What they usually do is send me things which I have to put up. And if none of the group are used to blogging it is very difficult to persuade them to participate in a group blog. But people ‘get’ groupware. they can see the value of it and it is very easy to use. It makes their lives easier, rather than being another thing to learn about. In the last three months nearly every new project I have participated in has set up an group on Yahoo or Google.

Another example – a friend and colleague of mine – John Pallister who is a teacher in a UK school worked for a long time in developing a great blog on his experiences in implementing e-Portfolios. But try as he might he got very little traffic, still less feedback. Now he has started a group on Google called e-Portfolios and PLTs (PLT stands for Personal Learning and Thinking Skills). John says:

yahoogroups“I don’t know whether this will work, but I have watched and contributed to many online discussions about both skills and ePortfolios – most discussions dried up very quickly and did not manage to engage the people who were prepared to throw their ideas into the thinking-pot. Can Google Groups as a vehicle help?

I have set the group up with minimal admin and now hope to sit back and enjoy reading about your experiences, thinking and ideas about how ePortfolios can support the development of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills).”

There have been so good posts to the group, though I think John is a little disappointed there are not more active participants. But, as I have written before, lurking is a great way to learn. Even with limited active participants, groups can be a powerful means of mutual learning. And groups – just as face to face – tend to have peaks and troughs in activity, quietening down and then re-emerging for particular purposes at particular times. Groupware is ideal for supporting such forms of discourse and exchange. So stick in there, John.

So that is it. 2008 – the year of groupware.

3 Responses to “My prediction for 2008 – groupware is so cool”

  1. you bet!
    Groupware is here to stay. And why, because no matter what people say, email is still not that old fashion and everyone uses it….well…many do! Besides, it is much more straightforward than many of the web 2 applications out there. It does make life easier for those who are just starting to use the web a little bit deeper. Even today I was talking about this with a friend. He remarked he was surprised to see that many people (still) use computers as if they were type-writers. Barbara Dieu sometime ago also pointed out that the problem with many people is that they handle the web as if it were a book. Obviosuly, these approaches take you no where, but when people don’t know better that’s what they do. That is why we want them to advance faster and “push” them to join and engage with online social networks and tools… just like that. The poor fellas have a hard time understanding the concept, let alone managing the overload of information – not all of it relevant to them – and so they lose motivation; some even give up. It doesn’t mean they don’t have the capacity; they just feel overwhelmed with all the novelty. If we start with something they are already used to I think it might be easier. They start building their strengths there,by reading emails, gradually pitching in with some messages of theirs, and later are even (more) willing to take it further….maybe blogging; joining other networks… whatever they think appropriate.
    That is why I think it is better to start with what they already know: email. Then from there you can guide them to experience other stuff…slowly you get them there.
    I have been using yahoo!groups since I joined the webheads (2004) and have witnessed how people who could hardly attach a file to an email, now use blogs, voice tools, create podcasts and host webcasts just like that.
    Learning is a process…sometimes I think we want to start learning from a middle point and we forget we need the foundations first. There isn’t an end to learning, but there is a start point to it.

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