Communities and projects

CommonSpaces is structured in Communities and Projects. This page briefly introduce them, while another help page adds details and information needed by community administrators and project coordinators (also called supervisors).

Communities

Communities group projects based on various criteria. Most CommonSpaces communities refer to existing real-world communities, such as the students and the teachers of a university or the members of a professional association.

A community has one or more Administrators. When an Administrator of a community accepts the application of a user, implicitly s/he certifies that the user is member of the associated real-world community; in general, it makes no sense for other people to apply if they do not belong to it.

Projects

A project is at the same type a group of users (the project members) and a space where they can learn collaboratively and create/maintain documents and learning resources. A project is created inside a community - we call this the parent community - by a community Administrator. A project has one or more Supervisors.

Typically, projects gather members based on their interests: a CommonSpaces user applies to join a project and a project supervisor accepts its application (makes his/her membership effective). In general, to apply to a project, it isn't required being a member of the parent community, but there are exceptions.

The declared goal of most projects is the cataloguing of open educational resources (OERs) and the creation and fruition of Learning paths; but other types of project exist; also mentoring relationships can be considered projects of a special type. Inside a project of type LP creation you not only can create Learning Paths but can also catalogue OERs; thus, creating projects of type OER cataloguing isn't so frequent,

To apply for a reserved project, the user must be member of the parent community. Members are added to a support project on the initiative of a supervisor.

Remember that, in any case, you can apply to a project only if you are a registered user of CommonSpaces and have become an effective member of it by compiling all mandatory fields of your user profile.

The project home

Each project has a homepage showing its title, its short and long description, the project type, a link to the parent community. It also includes boxes listing project members, last catalogued OERs and last created Learning Paths.

For the project members, the project home works also as a dashboard, putting together controls (links and buttons) needed to collaborate and to communicate with other members, such as:

  • catalogue an OER
  • create a Learning Path
  • access the shared folder
  • access the project forum
  • send a message to the project members.

The project dashboard of the supervisor includes other controls described here.

A non member finds only a Join button to apply for membership.

The shared folder

Each project has a space where a member can upload and store documents to be shared with the other members. They can be either regular document or hooks for online documents.

Regular documents

Regular documents are uploaded from a PC or form another device local to the user. They must belong to a set of document types including those of the following categories:

  • plain text (extension txt)
  • Adobe portable document format (pdf)
  • Microsoft formats (rtf, doc, docx, ppt, pptx, xls, xlsx)
  • OpenOffice formats (odt, odp, ods)
  • images (jpg, png)
  • audio and video (mp3, mp4).

All regular documents can be downloaded; can be visualized inline, that is embedded in the web page: plain text documents, documents of the OpenOfiice suite, images and PDF documents.

Online documents

In the shared folder of the project, members can create also pseudo-documents, representing hooks for online documents, more in general for online resources that can be embedded in a web page by means of an embed code. This content type is described by only two fields: a label and the embed code.

An example could be a GoogleDocs Form being used to define and publish an online questionnaire. The form owner, by following instructions such as these, can generate the embed code and copy it in the embed code field of this content type. Any project member can visualize the form: its view is embedded in the CommonSpaces page through an iFrame HTML element.

The example above can be extended to any type of document created with GoogleDocs and possibly with many other online resources available in cloud mode.

Communication spaces

For communication inside the CommonSpaces global community, two well-known types of asynchronous tools are available: blogs and forums.

The CommonSpaces Blog

An overall view of the blog is accessible from the Blog entry of the About menu. It implements much of the functionality that is commonly expected to be found in a blog.

A preview of selected sets of the blog articles can be found in other pages; for example, the homepage houses a few articles selected among the most recent ones.

Currently, only the members of the Editorial staff (a reserved project) can post articles; in future, members active in other projects could use the blog to publish information on their activities and results.

Like other types of editorial contents, blog articles must be written in English; afterwards, they can be translated to the other languages supported by this platform.

The forums

Thematic forums

For debating specific topics of large interest, possibly among members of different communities and projects, it is possible to create Thematic Forums. Even if these are not associated to a specific community or project, only Community Administrators are enabled to create them, using a button present in the homepage of a community.

Project and Community forums

The Supervisor of a project can create a Project Forum, where the members of the project can exchange ideas, coordinate their activities, debate hot issues. Similarly, the Administrator of a Community can create a Community Forum to debate general issues of interest for the community members.

Each forum hosts a discussion made up by posts that are grouped in topics. It is a good habit to reply to an existing post when contributing to a discussion thread, and to create a new topic, with a different title, to address a different issue.

From the Forums entry of the Communities menu you get the index of all public non empty forums, with a count of the topics and of the posts. From the black user bar at the top of any page, and from his/her user dashboard, an authenticated user gets a list of the forums and of the topics containing unseen posts for projects of which s/he is a member.

The project chat room

An effective communication tool for the members of a project can be the project chat room. This is a permanent chat room whose members are the project members. The room is hosted by an Openfire server that has been set up specifically for CommonSpaces.

Using the project chat room

If the supervisor of a project of which you are a member has enabled the project chat room, you should be able to text chat with the other project members. You will find a blue-green tab at the bottom-right corner of most pages; by clicking it you will open a small control panel floating on the page, listing the chat rooms that you can access.

By selecting the title of a chat room in the control panel, you open the associated chat panel, which includes two boxes; in the first box you enter your messages and view the recent chat history; in the other box, a list of the online members is shown.

Chat rooms are synchronous communication tools. Unless the project is a very big and active one, the probability that you will meet online other chat room members by chance is low, but the chat room contents will persist beyond the duration of individual sessions and the chat history will provide you with context. In future, the presence functionality of the chat rooms could be exploited to make a user better aware of the online state of other users being members of the rooms; also, it would be nice to implement some rendez-vous mechanism.

Each project can have its chat room, but the project Supervisors have control on its instantiation.