Collabosphere and the UCOE Suite

The Collabosphere (prototype) is an online learning app I have been working on for the past 3 years as part of a project at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. Its conceptual design has been greatly inspired by insights from my work and research findings on the Space2Cre8 project, feature gaps in available eLearning tools I observed while implementing multimedia and project-based learning in my classes, as well as my theoretical work in new literacies, multimodality, digital media, and software studies.

The three shortcomings in current eLearning tools we wanted to address with Collabsophere were

THE “SCROLL EFFECT”: Vertical content organization in the form of threads become difficult to navigate. “Older Content” tends to lose value over time.

STATIC CONTENT: Multimedia elements and texts are not open for repurposing or re-contextualizing and lack modularity, often confined within postings and thus limiting their potential for re-use and for future synthesis with new learning content.

VIEW AND REACT: Participation and collaboration is too often limited to commenting and responding. Production often occurs at a distance from or separate to the consumption of instructional content or peer-produced content.

Collabosphere is designed to create a dynamic and generative ecosystem that privileges 21st century learning principles. I was particularly inspired by how people participate in Internet meme culture as a model for articulating an online learning experience (See Limor Shifman’s fantastic book Memes in Digital Culture for a thorough investigation of the subject).

DISCOVERY: Artifacts circulate across communities of curation and creation, visually displayed as customized thumbnails with tags. Filtered search and direct importation into collaborative working spaces allow for ongoing interaction and use of content across time.   

REMIX: “Open Texts” and modular content foster ongoing interaction and re-contextualization. Sources maintains a use-history of content, so citation is embedded in the production of new content and students can readily see how content was used and changed over time.

SYNTHESIS: “Generative” content demands attention to the connections across content. Easily searching and adding instructional content and student-generated content to workspaces allows students to make comparative inquiries, critical analysis, and multi-faceted dialogue with peers.

META-KNOWLEDGE: Focus on presentation and narrative represents high-level summarization and understanding of how learning content and learner perspectives were constructed across a course. Narratives allow students to tell a story about their own learning experience, and author these stories collaboratively with others.

(See below for a video demo of the Collabosphere Prototype)  

University of California Online Education SUITE

After successfully testing the Collabosphere prototype in three different UC Berkeley courses (an undergraduate education course in literacy, an undergraduate French course, and a graduate course for pre-service teachers), we received a second round of funding from an Innovation grant sponsored by the UC Office of the President to develop a version of Collabosphere that could exist natively within the UCOE and Berkeley instances of Canvas, to be used by instructors across these campuses in online and blended courses. We partnered with a development team at Berkeley’s Education Technology Services to build the tools, which consist of an upgraded Asset Library and a Collaborative Whiteboard space connected directly to the Asset Library to maintain the idea of an ecosystem in Collabosphere. Key feature upgrades include:

A web-clipper for grabbing content across the web, and adding that content to the course Asset Library while maintaining a link to original source.   

Real-time collaborating on the whiteboard with concept mapping tools, enhanced composing tools, and publishing to the Asset Library or to Canvas course Assignments.

We also partnered with Professor Greg Niemeyer (Berkeley Center for New Media) who received a grant of his own to develop his Engagement Index, a reciprocal validation algorithm that rewards students for generating learning content that impacts the community of learners and tracks participation through a customizable point system. In the current version of the Suite, for instance, if a student adds or creates an Asset that is used in someone else’s published Whiteboard, the student-creator would receive a point for that contribution to another peer’s learning. The concept for the Engagement Index situated within this suite of tools has the potential to drive new innovation in student-facing analytics.   

We will be piloting the Canvas Suite in an online/blended UC Berkeley/UCOE education course with Dr. Glynda Hull in the Fall 2015 semester called “The Art of Making Meaning.” You can view the first week of the course here. The Suite was recently presented at InstructureCon (2015).


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