A collaborative editing workshop with virtual and face-to-face rooms. Madness or Brilliance?


If you are asking me the question: Can I run a collaborative editing session with 2 face-to-face rooms and 6 online rooms? The answer is yes. You can. I did.

If you are asking me the question: Should I run a collaborative editing session with 2 face-to-face rooms and 6 online rooms? The answer is no… that is insane.

What follows is a story of what I did, why and what I learned.

The Project

As part of the Implement Project we are building a site to simplify the decision process around using technology in higher education delivery. We will have a site which dynamically collects different technologies used in teaching from the community which are then linked to different delivery methods to help educators make those decisions. A big part of the project is generating that content so what better way to start collecting case studies and tools than running a collaborative editing session?

The requirements

To plan a collaborative editing session you need to know what you are editing, who is doing it and where they will be.

WHAT – A google sheet containing all of the technologies we have so far.

WHO – As many people as are interested from Imperial College London and University of Brighton as well as people from our extended network.

WHERE – This is where it gets interesting. Imperial College has 5 campuses, University of Brighton has 4 and then there are random colleagues and friends in other countries.

How did we do it?

Despite the geographical limitations we felt very strongly that there needed to be an ‘analogue’ face-to-face component to the session to include people who are less comfortable with technology. So we booked 2 teaching rooms on the main Imperial College London campus. Then after careful consideration and testing we decided that the best tool to facilitate the online component was Big Blue Button (BBB), this was chosen for the simplicity of use, the cost (free) and the WordPress integration which meant it could be incorporated within our existing site. There are other options, for those with a license Blackboard Collaborate would do the job well (in fact the idea for this came from the #ALTC online winter conference where I ran an edit-a-thon session using the Blackboard Collaborate platform), google hangouts also has potential but was discounted because of the need for a google account which may have been prohibitive to some users.


You may be wondering at this point how we ended up with 6 virtual rooms (actually 7 but one was a welcome room). The content/potential content for the site is currently held in a single google sheet with over 280 lines (we hope to make this into a database that automatically populates the site but at the moment it is a manual process). Editing this would be a daunting prospect for anyone so we split it into 6 smaller sheets under the headings:

    • technology for assessment, feedback and course management
    • technology for collaboration, sharing, audience response and social media
    • technology for data, programming and reference management
    • technology for multimedia, content, creation, visualisation and simulation
    • technology for students, web searching and personal organisation
    • teaching methodologies

In addition to this we started off the workshop with a ‘welcome room’ which allowed me to make the same presentation to those joining virtually as I was making to those in the face-to-face session. Each of these sheets was given their own BBB page and a specific landing page on the WordPress site.

After the initial presentation the face-to-face audience split into two groups, teaching and technology each facilitated by a colleague and the online participants were able to choose a virtual room which most suited their experience. Each of the virtual rooms was facilitated by 2 moderators to answer questions and promote discussion using the chat windows.

What were the results?

There were 52 online users

  • 45 from London
  • 5 from Brighton
  • 1 from Iver (Bucks)
  • 1 from Finland (I have a friend working at University of Helsinki)

Visitors to the virtual rooms were split as follows

  • Technology for collaboration (sharing, audience response, social media) – 36
  • Technology for assessment, feedback and course management – 34
  • Teaching Methodologies – 28
  • Technology for multimedia (content, creation, visualisation, simulation) – 22
  • Technology for data, programming and reference management – 14
  • Technology for students, web searching and personal organisation – 11

The collaborative editing of the online sheets gathered information on about 45 different technologies.

The face-to-face workshop had over 20 people moving in and out of the two rooms and generated 71 post-it notes.

This was a much better response than I imagined and we are now working through the process of updating the site to include all of the new information.



Lessons learned

There were a few take home messages from this event.

  1. While it is possible to run a virtual session and a face-to-face one simultaneously it may not be advisable. I was encouraged to see people in the face-to-face sessions using the online spaces share content however I think this was of limited benefit to either group.
  2. Splitting the virtual rooms was a mistake. During the welcome presentation there was a good amount of activity in the online chat window, admittedly mostly from people saying they couldn’t hear me, and I think that connection was lost when the online participants moved into other rooms. I am unsure, however, how it would have worked to push people to multiple sheets from the same virtual room. I do remain convinced that the sheets needed to be split as the master sheet would have been overwhelming.
  3. Moderators are key. This was learned from the first experience with the #ALTC presentation where they provided a moderator for the room. That person was the single most important thing to the smooth running of the session. Any session that is being run primarily through instant messenger (which I strongly recommend) needs more than one person to keep watch on the comments and respond to questions and discussion points.
  4. Instant messenger not only reduces the strain on bandwidth and minimises background noise but if you are using the right platform you will be able to download the chat window for later review which is critical after an involved discussion.

What next

This session did a great job at providing content for the site but it also served to show us where the gaps are. This means that we can start organising more targeted collaboration sessions that are aimed to answer specific questions. This would not have been possible without first using the edit-a-thon to bring together a community who want to participate. If you have any ideas for the future or would like to share case studies please get in touch through implemntproject.com or @implemntproject


Katie Stripe, Learning Technologist, Imperial College London, National Heart and Lung Institute, @ktstripe 




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