Our idSpace project is close to releasing its first alpha-version platform. The aims of this online collaborative environment is to provide structured support for distributed (and local) creativity sessions.
We investigated some 200+ creativity techniques to see which ones are suitable for online activities. In our prototype, only a few got implemented, but there is room for more. Another baseline of our efforts are pedagogic strategies which are meant to support online collaboration in small groups or innovation teams. Additionally, the platform contains a recommender system to suggest solutions from previous projects or to suggest team members on the basis of their experience with particular techniques.
What is innovative about all of this?
Existing platforms, such as VLEs, provide a set of tools, but typically no support for process workflow or pedagogies. Users have to hand-carve learning designs and pedagogic strategies with the tools. In idSpace an easy but structured workflow has been implemented consisting of three project phases: Set-Up – Activities – Conclusion. This is no wizard walk-through, since creativity sessions often follow an iterative structure, and frequently you have to go back and start from scratch. The Activities phase consists of the scoping of goals and concepts and the actual ideation phase. To conclude a project the team needs to first evaluate and then confirm the proposed solutions.
The pedagogic support is based on the experiences of CSCL, and strengthens the team-building and collaborative aspects of the project activities. Analogous to teaching sessions, a moderator ownes, manages, and moderates a creativity session with his team members (participants). Good e-moderating skills are therefore as desirable as in any e-learning platform.
Ideation sessions and projects are stored as topic maps. Even sketches and graphs are through sophisticated transformation stored as topic maps. This allows building up a corpus of sessions and solutions and, thus, reuse of previous ideas.
A context awareness module suggests suitably experienced participants from the pool of users to the moderator of the project. Because only few creativity techniques are widely known, the system gives some explanation and guidance on what to observe in a particular situation. It also suggests solutions from previous projects, based on the input of concepts and ideas.
It is, of course, also necessary to state its (current) limitations and assumptions. The base assumption is that users will work within an innovation context and therefore be familiar with the core principles of teamwork and the generation of ideas. Although it can be used individually by a single user, it is conceived to support group work. Important to note that the system does not make a creative genius out of the ‘Auntie Emma’ user, neither does it guarantee the quality of the ideas produced. It just provides scaffolding for the process.
Only few techniques have been implemented, but the platform will be released as open source and can be enhanced by others, past our project’s lifetime. You probably wonder where the link is, so you can look at it, but to follow up from the first sentence of this post, we are hoping to roll over the release from the development server to a public server before Christmas 2009, so this has been just a taster.