There is a bewildering array of online tools that could be used for business and community engagement (BCE) collaborative work, the majority of which have not been proven in this context. The ‘trialling of online collaborative tools for BCE’ project did not specify which tools were to be trialled by its partners as it is important to choose the tool that is appropriate for the context of the collaboration.
Choosing online tools for BCE
In choosing the tools, the trial partners based their decisions on a variety of factors.
For example, the University of Northumbria utilised an action research methodology – plan, observe, reflect and revise. They had previously used a wiki to enable collaboration between students and multinational organisations but this tool was not effective in this context.
They chose to trial Plone, more usually used as a content management system backend for websites, in the first semester. After reviewing its use (especially feedback from the students), they implemented WordPress in the second semester. Other communication tools were used in parallel. Due to commercially-sensitive product material, security was paramount in this trial project and so any tools chosen had to be implemented behind the University firewall.
Others, for example The University of The Arts London and Birmingham Metropolitan College trialled tools that the team had previous experience of using but in a different context and the University of Leeds chose to use a tool already used by a professional organisation.
All the trial projects were very aware of the need to keep costs and required technical support to a minimum as these would be factors when looking to sustain the use of collaborative online tools in business and community engagement after the completion of the project.
However, the University of Glamorgan decide to pay for hosting in the USA, as opposed to using a university server, as this met the requirement of the business incubator facility being ‘semi-detached’ from the university and the time difference meant that traffic would be low when G-Blog was being used in the UK.
Using tools in different contexts
Some trial projects chose the same type of tool but used them in different contexts.
For example, blogging tools were used by Northumbria University for international collaboration between groups of students and businesses (co-design), and Glamorgan University used the same type of tool for local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to discuss their requirements. The project blog was used to disseminate information about the project as a whole.
WordPress has proved an excellent platform for G-Blog1, without any technical difficulties
University of Glamorgan
One of the major barriers that had to be addressed by the project team was access to the NHS network. Moodle allowed access through the Firewall and online chat sessions [involving external users] did not present a problem.
Birmingham Metropolitan College - MHA response
For the purposes of this project we decided to try the following systems: Plone, MediaWiki, Joomla, WordPress and Skype. Each is available as a free download and has varying degrees of assistance available, mainly via online communities.
Northumbria University - Open ICT tools
- 1 G-Blog is the name that Glamorgan University gave to their collaborative online working space