Effective Patterns of Use: Choosing the Right Tool for the Job

Pre-Workshop/Event Ideas

Start a workshop website by choosing from existing model pages. SERC has developed a set of standard pages for workshops. You can work with SERC staff to get copies of these pages in your own website to jump start the process. While not every page type is relevant to every workshop, looking through the collection may give you inspiration about how to meet the specific needs of your group.

Collect Application/Registration information with online forms. By having participants register through an online form (rather than via email, phone or paper) you get all the relevant details in a common queue that is always up-to-date and which all the organizers can view online (so there's never a question of who has the most up-to-date list). Within the online view of submissions the organizers can track the status of individual applicants if that is relevant. Also, the ability to dump all the submitted information into a local csv file (which can be opened in Excel) means it's simple to create a local spreadsheet in which to track other information about workshop participants. Just remember that the local spreadsheet won't reflect future changes in the online queue (new applications, changes to status information).

It's also possible to set up a multi-form process where participants fill out several forms before the workshop and the organizers can view the combined set of information organized by participant. This is especially useful when there is an application process where a larger group fills out application materials and the selected group is then invited to fill out a follow up registration form (which may include more logistical details). Example application and registration forms are included in the model workshop pages mentioned above. You can work with SERC staff to develop forms appropriate for your workshop.

Use an email list to communicate with participants (and perhaps organizers) Once you have a list of the email addresses of your participants (perhaps collected through a registration form) you can create a participant email list through which you can announce information about the upcoming event as well as follow-up post workshop. You'll want to clarify in an initial message how people are expected to use the list: is it just for announcements from the leaders or do you want to encourage free discussion from the whole group.

If you have a larger team organizing the event it may be useful to have an email list for that group so that no one gets left off the cc list on critical messages. If you find yourself using the list to exchange files frequently you may want to consider using a web page (either a development page or a private workspace) as a place to store important files that need to be retrieved quickly (e.g. to avoid the--I'm digging through my email for the attachment--delays during planning calls).

Have participants contribute (and edit) materials before they meet face-to-face. Have participants submit an activity they've worked on, a course they've developed, a personal or institution profile page before the event starts. If these submissions are then shared (through the site) with the other participants they can jump start engagement before the workshop starts. Having these concrete products to reflect on can help focus the event on real work that will have a direct benefit to each participant. These pre-event assignments can also serve to introduce participants to the tools they'll be using during the event so that any initial hurdles around accounts and editing mechanics can be worked through before the event.

During a Meeting/Workshop

Have a generic file upload form for collecting presentation and other materials on the fly. Collecting powerpoints from presenters and notes from working groups on random flash drives and as email attachments can be lead to quite a mess. Instead provide a single form (that includes a file upload) as part of the workshop website where folks can upload their file along with a description of what it is. Workshop organizers (or even support staff working remotely) can simply check the single online queue from that form to find all the materials and move them into appropriate locations (e.g. linking presentation files to the corresponding point in the event program) as the workshop is underway.

Use workspaces to record group work as it happens. Notes from discussions and working time can be entered as the event proceeds directly in a workspace pages. If groups record their notes directly online (rather than in a Word document or the like) other groups members and event leaders can easily see what everyone is working on as it happens.

Event programs can evolve from showing what will happen to showing what did happen. Before the event workshop leaders can use the event program page (in the development site) as a group working space to flesh out ideas for the event. As a preliminary agenda comes together it can be made public (by making the page live) so that participants can see what is planned. Leaders can continue to evolve and refine the development version of the program right up to the start of the event.

After the event has wrapped up the program is an excellent place to 'hang' products of the workshop: copies of the powerpoints, videos taken, workgroup products and links to information relevant to particular sessions. The program can be a place that participants return to after the workshop to refresh their memory and share information about the event with colleagues. A program that reflects the richness of the event can help carry forward the impact of the event.

Getting Contributions and Building Collections

Forms are useful when you want broad input with results viewed by a smaller group. In addition to handling tasks like workshop registration you can set up forms to quickly get responses from a large group. They are a good way to gather evaluation data like those end of event evaluation forms. You can solicit suggestions for urls or print resources on a particular topic. By default the information people submit will land in a 'queue' which project leaders have access to but isn't more generally public. If you want to share information people have submitted (e.g. useful url's) you'll need to copy them out of the queue and into some place public--like a web page.

Use the activity and course contribution forms and template to build community collections. SERC and partners have developed standard templates and processes for building community collections of materials important to educators. Currently we have a very robust one-page format for describing activities as well as similar formats for courses and datasets. Additionally a number of different templates exist for profiles of people, academic departments and programs, scientific instruments, visualization tools, lab techniques, field trips and others.

Contributions are scaffolded via a form that walks the contributor through providing the key information. The resulting submissions are immediately available for editing (by the contributor and project leaders) as web pages that can be shared with the community and appear as part of a searchable collection. These well-tested, common formats are a good match when you are trying to put together a high-quality collection with a broad public audience.

Pre-populated workspaces pages can jump start small group work. Rather than having participants contribute through a form into an existing templated format it may be more flexible to create a workspace with assigned pages for each individual or group. You can enter prompting text into each page before work begins to encourage a common format and help participants stay focused on the goals for the work. The results may end up more free-form than if you'd used forms and templates, so this approach is best when use for formative work who's audience is limited. This is great approach for helping to structure note-taking during working group sessions, or to build a set of pages that shares results within a community during an event.

Facilitating a Team or Small Group

A workspace can be useful tool to support the ongoing internal work of a team or project. By default workspaces have very little structure, just a starting blank page and a file archive page where uploaded files can be found easily. There are a number of common practices structuring a workspace that you may find useful.

If the group meets regularly keep meeting notes on a separate page within the workspace. You can either use one long running page for all meetings are start a new one for each meeting (or perhaps less frequently). You can build the agenda within the space before the meeting taking advantage of the ability of any member of the group to add items to the list as they think of them.

When you upload files embed them with the [file] tag in a page that provides some context. While the file archive at the back of a workspace is a handy way to find all upload files, take advantage of the fact the with the [file] tag you can also embed each file into the text of a page. Include some details about what is in the file within the web page and place it near related information in the page (e.g. place a document next to the area where it will be discussed on the online meeting agenda). While this approach takes a little extra work it will pay big dividends down the road when you want to find a particular file. The context provided by the web page will provide clear guidance: you won't have to dig through a directory of files with cryptic names.

Link effectively within and to resource outside your workspace. If the workspace is providing structure for work that is also resulting in a public website, make sure you link from the workspace to the relevant parts of the public site so you can quickly navigate from workspace discussion about some material to the material itself. Also take time periodically to think about how you might link among pages in your workspace (perhaps spliting existing content across multiple pages) to make work go more smoothly. For instance you may find it useful to periodically move old material to a separate page so that it is still available for reference but isn't in the way of day-to-day work.

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