I agree with Stian that Suthers makes a good counterpoint to the Knowledge Building crew, because it seems obvious to me that knowledge building is a concept that should be possible outside of the particular software of Knowledge Forum.
I haven’t used collaborative representational environments outside of text. I’ve made mindmaps on my own in Freemind and a few other graphical layouts of notes for my classes, but when I collaborated with other people, it was typically through a text-only Google Doc., frequently based on the questions of a study guide or other professor-based guided structure, even when we were not collaborating with the explicit permission of that professor. So, I’ll try to offer some thoughts on how different representations of knowledge or information could affect collaboration on different types of projects.
On my own time, as I’m writing my novel, I’m using a piece of software called Storybook, that offers an organizational approach to writing a novel. The interface is matrix-like, but clearly doesn’t ask for all fields to be filled, as in the example Suthers provides. You can follow the storyline chronologically across different “strands” and see where characters and locations work their way into the story.
It would be interesting to submit the story document to editing by a collaborator in this software’s format, before exporting it to a linear text file, though such an experiment would be purely ethnographic: I won’t be able to have a “control” story that I edit a different way to compare the results. I think a collaborator would have a different outlook on the story when viewing it in this format: I certainly approach writing differently than when I was just working with text. It’s easier to jump around to different scenes and approach the story as a big-picture view this way. When I was writing in a word processor, processing words, I kept worrying that the decisions I would make would need to be changed later and it would take me too long to find all the repercussions of the changes I had made across a giant text document. I wanted to plan out the story better and write down my thoughts into a chapter/scene structure, but I was having trouble making that structure real just in my head or in different files for different chapters on my computer and in the cloud.
The Storybook approach lets me jump in and out of the scene view to take notes on the big picture, organize structure, and then jump back in to write while considering the broader changes I had made.
Another example of collaboration using visual representations:
My fiance is in librarian school and has been collaborating in small groups to prepare presentations using a combination of Skype group chat and Prezi digital workspace. This seemed to work pretty well for them earlier this week when they assembled a presentation in about two hours of chat and work. Prezi provides a distinctly graphical-organizational approach to a slideshow. Directing the “camera” through the workspace of a presentation invites graphical organization of concepts, because you don’t want the camera to pass through unrelated slides on its linear journey through the information. Presenters can play with relative size of elements to indicate importance, shapes to link things together. It’s somewhat more free than the knowledge-based tools like Knowledge Forum and Belvedere (that Suthers used).
Here’s a presentation Meggie and her partners worked up in an hour and a half summarizing a particular chapter of reading on Internet protocols’ relation to library science:
And here’s the graphical element of a longer-form presentation on the Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH).
I think the data structures they ended up with, which grouped like information in specific graphical areas, for which each group member took responsibility in the presentation, is an outgrowth of the tool structure. However, because the “camera” moves through the information in a linear manner, it may be less likely to foster a high level of connection between different topics. I think presenters are less likely to move back to previously presented information to explore new connections because the linear “flow” of the presentation is an ingrained part of the tool.
You can see an exception to this pattern as Meggie described the structure of Library of Congress subject headings. Scroll through the second presentation to the “conceptual analysis” section and see how Meggie moves back and forth between the same slides as she explained the relations between subject headings. UF (used for) for equivalence (Livestock UF Farm animals), hierarchical relations like BT (broader term — Livestock BT Agriculture), NT (narrower term — Livestock NT Sheep), and Associative relationships like RT (related term – Livestock RT Food Animals) and SA (see also).
Anyway, our class meeting is coming up in an hour, so if you are going to have any time to look at this, I’d better post it now.