Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Groupware: Improving Group Communication and Information Dissemination

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Groupware: Improving Group Communication and Information Dissemination

Article excerpt

Like many school systems across the country, the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) is faced with increased public expectations and demands while concurrently battling budget reductions. Current conditions require efficient and effective utilization of financial and personnel resources in order to be successful in developing literate students. In early 1996, the newly appointed Superintendent of Education in Hawaii set a vision for education focusing on literacy through a program called The Success Compact. The program emphasizes a consistent instructional process, within a school community, that leads to reading, writing and relating across content areas.

While a focus on literacy is not new, the process is unique in its emphasis on two critical components: teaming and leveraging the internal intellectual assets of DOE staff. These two parts of the process require constant collaboration and information dissemination among education personnel. Groupware technology was identified as the mechanism that could efficiently and effectively support statewide collaboration and information dissemination.

Hawaii DOE's administrative offices identified Lotus Notes as the de facto standard for communication, collaboration and information dissemination. There are approximately 4,200 users in 231 of our 243 schools and administrative offices with Lotus Notes licenses. The Lotus Total Campus Option Plan was purchased, allowing the Hawaii DOE to install server and client software, on a variety of platforms, anywhere in its public school system.

* What Is Groupware?

Groupware can be summarized as software that makes the process of people working together more effective. This compares with previous desktop computing innovations -- word processing, spreadsheets and the like -- that made individual users more productive.

Organizations have progressed beyond enhancing individual performance and are now applying tools to promote group or team effectiveness. Team structures are present in almost every organization today. However, teams are merely organizational structures to rally people to meet common goals. To improve team performance, a facility is needed to help them effectively interact beyond traditional communication channels. Groupware is the fabric over which people communicate, share and track information, access external resources, and interact with each other electronically, unencumbered by barriers of time and distance.

The Lotus Notes groupware package was utilized in Hawaii because it closely fit the team and knowledge-sharing requirements envisioned by our DOE model. It is also identified as the dominant groupware product on the market, has advanced server replication functionality and, most importantly, cross-platform client availability. Server replication is an issue because of the large-scale nature of any technological deployment in Hawaii, with the 240 schools falling under the single SEA/LEA structure. Cross-platform client portability is critical to many K-12 systems because of their mix of Windows and Macintosh workstations.

While there are many categories of groupware, an oversimplified list of functions best describes groupware as an integrated messaging, bulletin board, document-management and application-development environment.

* Obstacles Faced Prior to Groupware

While students throughout Hawaii were being educated and the DOE operated before groupware implementation, it was clear that tasks were not occurring as efficiently as they could have been and processes such as collaboration were not engaged in as often as they should have been. Being an island-state, the obstacles to increased collaboration and information sharing are obvious. Improved efficiency and effectiveness are often not identified as necessary enhancements when an organization has been operating in a static mode for a number of years.

On the more technical side, potential obstacles related to system scalability and enhancement could become serious challenges in the future utilization of technology to effectively support instruction if there is a lack of integration between application functionality. …

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