"Human beings, when they communicate, are a veritable fountain of artefacts. We leave behind a trail of physical phenomena -- words, songs, gestures, images, scents, touches -- through which our ideas and knowledge are communicated one to the other." (Stephen Downes, 2003, The Aeffability of Knowledge Management,Ubiquity, Volume 4, Issue 43. Oct. 8 - 14)
Researchers at the University of Hawaii's Laboratory for Interactive Learning Technology's coined the term "artifact-centred" discourse to reflect the fact that many collaborative situations revolve around artifacts (such as a project proposal). The challenge is to design collaborative situations in which such artifacts remain constantly in focus. In this section of the book we accordingly include material on how to work collaboratively with artifacts, as well as systems that seem to be particularly good at facilitating such work.
What can be done with artifacts
Laura Gibbs (2003) lists and gives examples of the kinds of interactive features that can be built around texts. This is a modified version of her list:
Setting display preferences (text size etc)
Taking notes (not linked to specific passage in the text like annotations)
Discussion forums (either general or linked to particular parts of the text)
Multiple formats (a facility to 'play out' the text in pdf, html, to a printer)
Some other possibilities not mentioned by Gibbs:
Rating (as happens in community sites like slashdot)
Editing (as happens in Wikis)
Approving (as happens in content management systems)
Artifact cented tools
Artifact centred tools under development at the University of Hawaii include Pink and disCourse.
DIWE 7 an innovative collaborative writing environment developed by the Daedalus Group. The system is designed to support students in the essay writing process, and seven different kinds of support are provided. These include a series of canned questions to help with initial open-ended exploration of the topic, structured peer review, a discussion forum (somehow we just can't seem to get away from that one can we?), and a bibliography manager. Although the system was clearly developed with language and literature teaching in mind, various default settings can be changed to bring it more in line with other types of educational purposes. The system costs 189 USD (free trial download) and runs on any kind of local network (with very low hardware requirements), but not the Internet - hopefully something they'll consider for the next upgrade. Unlike many other systems the teacher-student relationship does not take centre stage; rather, it is the student's relationship with her developing essay and with her peers that is emphasized.
Annotea is an annotation protocol and demonstration system being developed by the W3C. "By annotations we mean comments, notes, explanations, or other types of external remarks that can be attached to any Web document or a selected part of the document without actually needing to touch the document. When the user gets the document he or she can also load the annotations attached to it from a selected annotation server or several servers and see what his peer group thinks."