Sara Abrons’ November 23rd post on rAVePubs.com about Nureva’s Span classroom collaboration system struck a chord with me. With all of the talk of collaboration spaces over the past couple of years, I have yet to see a product that truly enables collaboration. To me, collaboration means everybody, interactively working on a work product at the same time. The best example I can think of that I would define as collaboration is Google Docs. Multiple people can edit a document, it tracks changes, and you can see what other people are doing live. One person, putting their computer up on a large display, and everyone else talking about, in my opinion, is not true collaboration.
While I love Google docs, and use it almost exclusively, the problem with it is that it is somewhat limiting in that you can have a document, or an spreadsheet, but you can not have a whiteboard. Ahh, the classic analog whiteboard. How amazing are they, really? You can write on them, make charts on the them, put sticky notes on them. Then you can easily adjust them all and change them as you see fit. Additionally, you can truly collaborate as anyone can walk up to the board at any time and move things around.
So, when we talk about digital collaboration, do we have a solution in search of a problem? If whiteboards are so great, why don’t we just continue to use them? The problem with whiteboards is that they are only useful when you are standing right in front of them. If you want to refer to notes an hour after the meeting, you need to go back to the board and hope it is not erased. Or, you can take a picture with your phone. Except, you can not edit those. My group is experiencing this right now as we try to initiate stand up meetings. We want to be able to refer to metrics, projects, etc. as we have these daily meetings. A white board can be put in the space we meet, but we are in different buildings, and are only in that one space for the 15 minutes that we meet. Therefore, the board is not an active tool for us.
Back to Sara’s column and Nureva Span collaboration system — I have not used, or even seen this product in person. However, from the promotional material it seems to be getting very close to what is needed. The product seems to allow multiple users to add content to a virtual whiteboard from their own device. Also, with interactive screens users can walk up to the display and adjust, add and edit what is there. Just like a REAL whiteboard. This is much closer to what people are used to doing, and comfortable with. What is not clear to me is the level of interaction when the “meeting” or “class” is over. For example, I can not tell if I would be able to view the entire whiteboard remotely, or if I can only add something to it, but the whole thing can only be seen on the large interactive screen.
The other issue I see with this product, is what I don’t see. A price. It seems to me that this software, along with all the hardware and advanced installation requirements, would put this out of the range of all but the most wealthy of schools. That is OK for now, as we know this is how new products hit the market, improve, get competitors and start to lower prices. I, for one, am ready for the day where a product such as the Nureva sits behind every monitor and digital sign on a campus.