The cost of supporting Collaborative Project Spaces

In one of Mike Bogle’s posts the topics of learning ecosystems and “walled gardens” comes up. The main idea I took away from his post is that now it’s so easy to make and access information. While that is a good thing, it brings up the issue of not being able to get to all of this information, and perhaps missing the most important information.

The one thing he doesn’t address is cost. For example, he said:

From the standpoint of the individual, the barriers to entry and participation in what are nebulously referred to as Web 2.0, social media, new media, or social software are extraordinarily low. Free hosting services enable the creation of blogs and wikis in mere moments and facilitate outreach and collaboration on a scale and scope that was once either previously prohibitively expensive, required high levels of technical expertise, or both. The notion of personal space has gone virtual, and it’s being wholeheartedly embraced.

All of that is very true. But in order to participate you must be online. Not everyone can afford to be online, and thus cannot participate. Which in the context of Mike’s argument is very scary: if we have this much information and not everyone is contributing to its creation, what would happen if everyone could get online!

Mike also pointed to the fact that many times new collaborative groups will create a new space in which to collaborate. They effectively reinvent the wheel since a portion of the group may have already started work someplace else. He gave his thoughts on the reasons for this attitude:

And yet with universities still more or less being walled gardens, in which prestige and reputation are the measured currency, the expectation is that projects need to be closely tied back to the institution of origin so as to set them apart from others.

No doubt some of this happens. However, is it possible some of this ties back to costs? I am pursuing my Master’s degree at a State University. Since the University is funded by the state, the institution has a responsibility to act in a responsible fiscal manner. Providing on on ramp to the Internet, creating the project spaces, and maintaining all of these things costs money. You have to pay for the servers, the cables, data storage arrays, software, and for the people to run and support all of this. Some of the “walling” must also come because there is a limit to what can be supported, and who can be allowed to access the tools.

Additionally, if someone is paying to go to that institution, they should be afforded priority access to University’s on ramp to the Superhighway. That doesn’t mean one person should get the biggest lane, which is way access to some tools such as Bit Torrent is restricted.

So I’ll up the ante in the discussion. Someone has to pay for the access to whatever collaborative spaces we build. How does that affect the way we design for these collaboration spaces? Is this one thing that tethers collaboration to one space? If so, how do we change that?Β  And how do we ensure that everyone gets to join this big collaboration pool – even if they do not have the financial means to get online?

3 thoughts on “The cost of supporting Collaborative Project Spaces

  1. Hi Gina,

    Your post has inadvertently made me realise how many holes there were in mine – I’ll try and rectify that with a follow-up post today at some stage πŸ™‚

    First off “walled gardens” was not the term I should have used, since it wasn’t really what I meant.

    For the record, via Wikipedia:

    “A walled garden, with regards to media content, refers to a closed set or exclusive set of information services provided for users (a method of creating a monopoly or securing an information system).”

    Certainly walled gardens exist in academia – just think of the LMS for example – but what I had actually intended to discuss was the notion of heavy branding and ownership over the ideas and the words.

    At least in higher education these days, the sector is highly competitive, with each uni seeking to set themselves apart and above their counterparts to gain more appeal in the eyes of prospective students, funding bodies, etc. So couching research and innovation as something that is closely tied back to the institution as opposed to part of a sector-wide exploratory endeavour, is seen as the better option.

    In saying this though I realise that this argument (at least for the moment) is just an opinion of mine that needs to be properly supported by evidence. Hopefully I’ll manage to find some πŸ™‚ In the meantime take it with a grain of salt…

    I’m an open source sympathiser and believe that anything that can be made publicly available, should be; and that this should be done without strings attached. Certainly there will be instances where transparency isn’t appropriate; but the rest of the time I think sharing of information is really important.

    This does raise the question of the purpose of an institution then – and I’ll need to ponder this further. As you said, what are people paying for if not a unique experience at the institution.

    Your point about not everyone having internet access is another really important topic to be discussed as well, and I don’t believe I’ve seen any mention of it in CCK08 so far. If one of the core tenets of Connectivism is that people seek to “extend our humanity through technology”, but some people have less access to technology than others, what are the implications of this. And equally importantly, how do you design learning pathways that consider inequities like this?

    I’ll give this some thought on the way in to work – for now I’ve gotta dash. Thanks for pointing out the holes in my argument πŸ™‚

    Cheers,

    Mike

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