The History of Collaboratories
William Wulf coined the phrase "collaboratory," in 1989, to describe how members
of a scientific community could use the Internet to communicate, collaborate,
share data and software, and operate remote instruments in a "laboratory
without walls". The National Science Foundation, along with a number of other federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, developed the National Collaboratory Program, which was legislated in 1991 under
the High-Performance Computing Act and referred to as the National Research
and Education Network (NREN).
This federal program was the precursor to the World Wide Web. Its goal was to build a collaboratory infrastructure that could support scientific
research in the United States. Using this infrastructure, a number of specialized collaboratories were developed representing the spectrum of scientific disciplines. Researchers use these collaboratories to share observations, large sets of data, scarce resources,
and expensive tools. Dozens of these collaboratories for the natural sciences are in operation today; such as, SPARC: The Space Physics and Aeronomy Research Collaboratory, the National
Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR), The Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work, and the Diesel Combustion
While most funding and attention has focused on scientific collaboratories,
there have been a number of early collaboratory applications in other domains.
For example, the Alaska Quill project involved a distributed community of K12
teachers who shared information and resources via linked networks in the
- In 1984, social science researchers
proposed the prototype for a collaboratory that would support the Survey
of Income and Program Participation (SIPP ACCESS).
- In 1992, John Clement envisioned a K-12 collaboratory on the NREN where teachers
and students could be linked to provide a meaningful learning experience.
- Eunice Roe, a librarian at the Binghamton University Library, suggested an application of a collaboratory infrastructure for Library and Information Science (1993). Roe
proposed a collaboratory of reference services that could link people, technologies, and resources.
- Barua, Chellappa and Whinston proposed a collaboratory as a Management Information
System (MIS) where individuals and groups with common interests in economics,
organization behavior, etc. could exchange, disseminate, and create issues,
ideas, and knowledge (1996).
- Recently, several medical collaboratories have become operational.
Traits of a Collaboratory
All collaboratories share common traits. They are socio-technical systems, comprised of human activity, networked virtual spaces, centralized or decentralized artifact libraries, various kinds of shared software, and communications media. In the last five years, Internet based collaboratories have multiplied. Some are extremely successful:
- The most successful collaboratory is the Open Directory, a site where subject experts (over 30,000) share URLs. The Open Directory now contains a classified set of over two million URLS and
is used to support a number of Internet search engines.
- Another example of success is Napster, a distributed collaboratory where members
share music files. Napster was so successful it has inspired a number of law suits aimed at stopping this type of file sharing.
developed by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), is an example of a multi-user
domain (MUD) that serves as an education collaboratory in that it supports
a resource library as well as tradition MUD communication structures.
A collaboratory is somewhat of a holy grail in educational technology and is the goal of many systems designed for pedagogical purposes such as;
Collaboratories can be centralized, with the collection in one location, or distributed, where the collections of many locations are pooled.
Read more about the StoneSoup collaboratory
- For StoneSoup, a distributed collaboratory was chosen over the centralized design used by the systems named above, because it can be tailored to specific school contexts. For example, it can be connected directly to a school’s student information system.
- Perhaps more importantly, ownership of the collaboratory content can be made explicit. Since the school district runs its own instantiation of the collaboratory, it has direct control over the contributed resources. The district pays teacher salaries, oversees educational content, and teachers are ultimately responsible for building the collection. For these reasons, giving the ownership rights to the school districts seems appropriate.
- Another thing that is unique about StoneSoup is that the collection is built by students at the direction of their teachers. The collaboratory is created as a secondary affect when portfolio units are created. Portfolio units are mined for their resources and activities. Materials from the latest units are listed first. This way the collection is kept up to date.
- A third difference between StoneSoup and other educational collaboratories is that resources can be filtered. When a teacher creates a new lesson unit, the collaboratory will create a customized list of resources tailored for that lesson.
- The StoneSoup collaboratory is not operational yet. Since it is a by-product of the digital student portfolio system, it can not be created until there are an adequate number of portfolio units being created.
- The StoneSoup Collaboratory might be only a promise at this time, but watch this space. The collaboratory is coming!