Friday, March 18, 2011

Great App for Visual Collaborative Learning Work

As the world flattens and virtual collaboration becomes more common in learning and in business, countless collaboration tools have been developed and used with widely varying usability and popularity. Colaab, launched in 2009 out of Scotland, got our attention because it boasts a few notable distinctions from many of its competitors in the groupware marketplace. First, other than the installation of a small Microsoft Silverlight plug-in upon sign-up, you don’t need to download anything to use Colaab – everything happens in the internet browser. And updates happen in real time without the need to refresh your screen, so you can see what’s happening in your group as it’s happening. Colaab allows users to do more with comments and annotations than other groupware tools, which can simplify the process of expressing and interpreting thoughts in the group. But most significantly, Colaab is the only collaboration tool on the market to employ Silverlight’s DeepZoom technology, which allows users to view high-resolution, high-quality images with virtually no wait time. This powerful imagery distinction makes Colaab ideal for art students, architects, designers, advertisers, and others who routinely work with high-resolution images in a collaborative environment.

But Colaab has those of us who are more likely to share plain old written documents covered, too.

When we log into a workspace (which may be one of several that we see on our personal dashboard), we see tabs on the right side showing recent actions, news feed, and communications as well as a list of all co-collaborators in the group, with those who are currently logged in lit up green. These real-time feeds, along with full audit trails of all actions in the workspace, ensure accountability among teammates, a critical piece of collaborative learning work.

We can easily initiate chat, set up a videoconference, or send a personal email from these tabs on the right, or we can start working with our team resources. Just about any existing file can be uploaded and shared through Colaab, or we can create documents (.doc, .docx, .ppt, .pptx, or .pdf); images (.png, .jpg, .psd, or .gif); videos (.wmv), or XPS files right there on the site. Or, a teammate can enter a URL and Colaab will get a screen grab of it for the group to work with. All team members can work on these resources together in real time, or we can opt to add input asynchronously, as our personal schedules permit. Feedback is easy to give and receive with the use of the resource toolbar, which allows collaborators to add comments or annotations to the open resource. The comments can actually be connected visually to a specific area of the image or document, and the annotations can be markings of any kind or color – a great way to convey ideas about the resource without having to express (and for the receiver to interpret) the right words! The screen shot below shows what we might see if we were collaborating on the design of a house. Note the pointed comments and the circle annotation around the window.

Responding to these notes is as easy as clicking in the comment box. These annotation and commenting methods can be used in written documents, photographs, and even in videos, which users can opt to watch with or without comments and annotations visible. Ideas can be refined by the group as they pool their individual knowledge and perspectives to their project.

Colaab has just been introduced at University College Falmouth in the U.K., where it is used by students in the schools of art, design, media, and performance. With the use of this DeepZoom-enabled software platform, people working in the visual arts won’t need to co-locate to work together as they have in the past – more art and design classes could be structured as online learning experiences. And even those who do share the same physical location may find that communication and collaboration flow more freely with the use of Colaab. A drama teacher could record and upload dress rehearsal of a performance and then the entire cast and crew could annotate, wordlessly pointing out areas that need to be improved by simply circling someone’s position on stage, for example. No words need be exchanged, and yet the message comes across to the person who is standing out of position, with the likely result that she will be more careful to hit her mark on opening night. This added layer of communicating could engender trust among teammates – the set painter feels comfortable pointing out the flaw he notices in the lead actress’s performance to improve the final product that they all have invested in, and she appreciates the opportunity to adjust something she hadn’t realized needed the tweak.

So, Colaab offers many dimensions of interpersonal communication, ranging from rich transactional videoconferencing to interactional notes or drawings, but we would have liked to have seen more to help with our intrapersonal musings. Workspaces are set as either public or private, and everything on the space falls into that same category (with the exception of email messages, which are always private). It would be useful to have a post-it note/reminder tool, or a journal that we could keep within the workspace that is strictly for our own future viewing rather than for sharing with the group.

Another add on our wish list is a survey or polling tool, which could come in handy when a group consensus is needed. Overall, the Colaab site offers enough to be useful and to make it stand out from its competitors, especially if the collaborators are working with high-resolution images or are visual thinkers. The sites looks great, is easy to navigate, and offers real time updates on everything that’s happening within the workspace. And it’s relatively new, with a team of developers who actively solicit feedback from users. It’s worth checking out! Go to to learn more or to start your 30-day free trial.

Kelley Paradis
Carly Neill
Neelima Manandhar


Jasmine Lester said...

Colaab seems like a great product for a visual collaborative learning network. It is still quite new I think that once the word gets around about this amazing product it will change many businesses and create many new ways of communications. I am a visual learner and be able to see what is being created on top of discussing it would help me a lot and many others that are visual learners. This will allow a lot more people to be able to work remotely by being able to see their project be created and the parts that still need to be constructed or final approvals.

Don Hows said...

I was very impressed with the Colaab product and can see where this tool would be extremely valuable when high resolution images need to be accessed.

According to the FAQ page on Colaab's website, "the Discussion Hub is a built in instant messenger. Each Workspace has a Discussion Hub unique to it, and all users of that Workspace can contribute to the discussion. If the user you wish to talk to is online, simply type away in the message box, click send, and then wait for a reply in the same place." Unless I completely missed something, the only way to communicate with others is through the Discussion Hub (other than the Add Comment capability).

According to your post, you can set up a video conference from one of the tabs on the right side of the dashboard, but I could find no reference to initiating a video conference and collaborating on a resource simultaneously.

If voice or video capability is not built in to the application, then I would like to see these features added to the software. It certainly would be a lot easier to discuss my thoughts and ideas on a subject by voice rather than typing in to the Discussion Hub. I realize you might lose some tracking but they could always enable a recording option for voice communication.


Dawn said...

I really liked this product too. I think there's a large market for collaborative learning programs that is built for a specific target audience such as Colaab. I think that for a visual learner this is also beneficial. Great job finding a product that was not traditional.

Shelly Goulet said...

Colaab software application sounds like a great tool. The ability to load and share high resolution work with incredible detail and clarity with others without having to wait a long time was addressed by Colaab with DeepZoom,
a Silverlight technology that allows for images to be downloaded and viewed instantly, whether its 5kb or 50 mb. This means that whether you're uploading an image, viewing it on your monitor, or sharing it with a colleague, the waiting time will be next to zero - with no loss of quality or resolution.

Colaab is the only collaboration tool on the market that utilizes this technology to bring you such unprecedented short loading times when dealing with large image files.

Some examples are available on their web site.

Thanks for sharing this!