The WWW has been initially designed to support collaboration between geographically dispersed researches by means of easy and cheap distribution of electronic documents. It has mostly been used to make information available to a global audience. Its common infrastructure and open standards offering huge potential to groupware system developers, through:
- Platform, network and operating system transparency.
- Integration with end user environments and application programs,
- A simple and consistent user interface across platforms,
- An application programmer interface for ‘bolt-on’ functionality, and Ease of deployment facilitating rapid system prototyping.
Over the last years, Computer Support for Cooperative Work CSCW research has led to a better understanding how to support electronic cooperation within groups in various environments. Collaborative tools help in communication, collaboration, documentation and coordination within community or group. Communication deals with the exchange and sharing of information. It crates mutual understanding and shared knowledge. There are different types of communication like oral, written and mimic conversation and conferencing. Collaboration is the act of joint co-operation in solving problems, or undertaking a task. Successful support for collaboration involves providing a knowledge sharing environment and communication facilities. Collaboration is the process of creating new knowledge and involves communication through a shared artifact for the sake of creating new understanding that the participants could not have achieved on their own. Documentation deals with the long term exchange of information especially knowledge and experience in general and project relevant information like comprehensible decisions. Coordination deals with the organization, control and monitoring of actions and information access to determine the working process in a collaboration. That is, the functions of collaborative tools can be:
- Information exchange
- Document management and information sharing
- Collaborative authoring
- Time management
- Workflow management
NBCBN knowledge platform
The knowledge platform maximize the efficiency of geographically dispersed NBCBN Community of Practice CoP (research groups) in knowledge sharing and collaborative working, so the platform provides facilities for
- Accessing and connecting the community easily
- Leveraging tacit knowledge, and increasing incentives to sharing information
- Documented explicit knowledge to use
- Distributed learning
- Collaborative working
To achieve these activities, a customized collaborative system was developed and integrated into the NBCBN platform. The NBCBN collaborative system is mainly used in the following ways:
- For user authorization
The shared workspace was set up specifically for NBCBN group members and their research activities. Entry is by password and a directory of valid email addresses and passwords is maintained. This restricts the access by anyone outside the network and allow for contact within the group.
- as a tool of collaborative authoring for distributed working groups
Collaborative working needs a way of editing and sharing files. With document upload, document sharing and control to perform distributed authoring; these are very useful for joint document production. The document authorization in the NBCBN shared workspace is divided into three levels:
- Member Level : where every member has his own storage space and no other member can access this space and its contents
- Cluster Level : which is maintained by a Cluster Shared Folder, in which cluster members can shared their document and make it visible for the other cluster members
- Network Level : the system gives the ability for network members to share their knowledge with all the network members by maintaining a Network shared Folder. This folder can be accessed by all the network members.
- as a memory of CoP for documentation
All documents (data, information and knowledge) are associated with knowledge cycle and can be archived. These documents including data collected, individual study, group report, research proposals and reports assist members knowledge sharing and collaboration.
- as a platform for threaded discussion
Submitting a common space for members to discuss issues regarding their joint research activities. Also scientific advisors can give the suggestion for members' research activities. This will promote the exchange and share of the tacit knowledge stick as know-how, understanding, mental models and insights of an individual or discipline in the course of discussions.
- as a mean of communication through quick messaging and emails Members of this community can send messages and/or emails to the whole group members easily using a customized address book. Also it can be used as a normal web based mail to send email to any mail address.
- as a tool for time management
A calendar was set up for members to manage their time schedule.
- as a tool for online discussions through chat rooms
Members can use the chatting room to discuss online different issues related to their joint activities.
- or coordination
The log of login records the activities about CoP. It provides monitoring the individuals' activities and also helps for getting the useful experience for Cop. Other functions such as document manager, user manager, and cluster manager have been chosen for coordination.
Functionality and Architecture of the NBCBN collaborative System
The NBCBN collaborative system provides basic cooperation support based on the metaphor of 'shared workspaces'. A shared workspace acts as a repository for document and other data which can be accessed by the members of that workspace. Collaboration work with NBCBN requires membership in groups associated with shared workspace. These groups are built dynamically by the users themselves: each user has a private space from where he can access his workspaces and private folders. If the user wants to share information with others he can simply click in front of the desired file and/or folder to send a copy of it to the shared workspace of his community. The system uses icons and colour to indicate changes in the workspace.
Using an ordinary Web browser, users of the NBCBN system can browse their workspaces, transfer documents from a shared workspace to their local computer and vice versa (document download and upload). As described so far, NBCBN is simply an interface to a central FTP-like file store. However, in addition to the already mentioned group model, NBCBN provides a set of features which enable flexible cooperation support:
- Authentication : Users of the NBCBN system must authenticate using a simple name and password scheme.
- Unrestricted documents type : NBCBN makes no restrictions on what type of document is stored in a shared workspace (such as text documents, graphics or audio information)
- Meta-information on objects : NBCBN system provides detailed information about stored objects such as size, MIME type, ownership, and upload date.
- Event history : NBCBN system provides limited awareness of other users' activities by means of an object based event history. Once a document has been created, read or modified a corresponding event is generated, stored with the object and presented to the user the next time he logs into the system.
Design and Process of Implementation
The platform has been designed to foster and provide collaborative environment supporting for the group communication and knowledge process.
The process for implementing the developed system which aims to better prepare members for professional practice appropriate to the shared workspace, knowledge sharing and collaborative working is summarized in the following:
- Training the member to how to login the platform and use it, and how to collaborate with the platform during a special session in the launch event of each cluster.
- Fostering and facilitating collaborative environment
- Encouraging members to exchange via the platform
- Sending members emails or message to inform adding content
- Building and updating members' profile database and knowledge map
- Publishing news related to CoP.
- Fixing dates for online chatting with the scientific advisors to discuss the research activities
- Publishing of important network documents developed by the network secretariat by uploading it to the network shared folder.
- Letting the member knowing the continuous monitoring of the system accessibility to encourage them to use.