Making collaboration easier – Why do we need a new platform?

Group communication and collaboration are key to every aspect of education and research. A new project we’re working on builds on a successful mailing list service to create a new interactive collaboration platform.

Concept image of the JACSoN platform

Our education and research community currently benefits from a robust mailing list service, JiscMail, which remains enduringly popular over the years. There are thousands of groups, hundreds-of-thousands of participants and new groups join at a rate of 20 every week from across disciplines and interests.

However, to continue leading the world, we need a powerful online collaboration platform to include new, interactive facilities, such as:

  • Shared document creation – like Google Docs
  • Cloud storage – like Dropbox
  • Wikis and blogs – like WordPress and Twitter
  • Video and voice communication – such as Skype and Big Blue Button
  • Calendaring and surveys – like Doodle
  • Data banks and virtual research environments – like Sakai

These facilities should be provided in the form of the best applications from across the internet that users are already familiar with, and the platform should also support new applications as they are made available. We want the new “Twitter” as soon as it’s available.

Single sign-on

And wouldn’t it be great if you could access all these collaboration tools using your university login. A whole suite of tools would be available to your group having been set up just once.

A simple interface would provide groups that have limited requirements with a few useful tools, while more sophisticated groups could access the facilities they need from a wide range of third party applications.

The use of open standards would mean that new tools could be added as they emerge without having to find resources to run them all on a central service.

Collaboration, but better

This is the premise of a project we’re working on.

Sponsored by Jisc, we’re developing a pilot service to deliver these features with a new JiscConext platform. This builds upon the OpenConext platform that has been created by Surf in the Netherlands.

JiscConext will be available to the wider Jisc community as well as JiscMail groups and users.

The potential for the platform is big. Our vision is of services that go beyond group communication and collaboration to the UK education and research community. These could be, for example:

  • delivering interactive online courses
  • making it available for single institution use
  • providing access managed groups for international communities
  • supporting virtual organisations (groups) spanning academic and non-academic participants – securely

I know that a service of this type will be invaluable to me and the groups I belong to.

The idea of having access to a range of useful collaborations facilities that are integrated into managed groups but provided through a signal sign-on is very appealing.

Also, this service would be provided from a trusted organisation (Jisc) avoiding many of the problems I have using commercial services.