Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (MBB) Case Study
(Case study created by Geoff Ford)
Describe the purpose of your pilot:
To examine how uSpace could be used to serve the community of staff and students associated with MBB, the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. The pilot was visible "on-campus" only and many of the sections were further restricted to MBB staff and/or specific sets of students.
There was no intention of using uSpace as a replacement for the CMS system which provides the external view of the department. Equally, there was no intention of using the CMS system for any internal material.
The pilot would also try to determine the uses and strengths of uSpace for MBB and also make comparisons with other systems such as MOLE and the current MBB internal Web-Site that is hosted on cPanel.
How did you go about setting it up:
The MBB pilot was chosen as a space and a hierarchy of sub-spaces and sub-sub-spaces was set up. These sub-spaces imposed an organisation on the material and also allowed selected sets of viewers (confusingly called groups of viewers and linked to MUSE groups) to see some or all of the sub-spaces.
After an exhausting experience in the uSpace Admin Console, the MBB space was sectioned into :
- News Channel - visible to all registered users. Essentially a departmental blog of news items.
- Aide memoir - visible to MBB staff. Sub-spaces - Safety with content provided by MBB Safety Committee, SAP with content from MBB Finance, Minutes of Staff Meetings, etc., etc.
- For MBB Students - visible to MBB staff, and students. Student Handbook; Tutorial Information; Links to all MBB Modules
- MBB Level 1 - visible to MBB staff and MBB level 1 students. Contents - information for all MBB level 1 modules. Sub-spaces - one for each MBB level 1 module, MBB152, MBB153, ...MBB158
- MBB Level 2 - visible to MBB staff and MBB level 2 students. Contents - information of all MBB Level 2 modules. Sub-spaces - one for each level 2 module, MBB20-3, MBB203, ...
- MBB Level 3 - visible to MBB staff and MBB level 3 students. Contents - information of all MBB Level 3 modules. Sub-spaces - one for each level 3 module MBB301,...
- MBB Level 4 - visible to MBB staff and MBB level 4 students. Contents - information of all MBB Level 4 modules
- MBB Postgrads - visible to MBB staff which includes postgrads. Contents - information for MBB postgraduates and their supervisors
- Research and Collaboration - visible to MBB staff. Contents - information for research groups that may be open or maybe private. Sub-spaces - as requested by research groups.
Did you get others involved and how long did it take?
Pilot was set up with backing of Head of Department and of the Director of Studies. Several Module coordinators agreed that their lecture presentations could be used in the study.
Did you think it appropriate to acquire "buy in" from your community or management to set it up?
This was a departmental pilot.
Did you use a space or a group? If you choose a group why?
A space was used as this allowed a hierarchy sub-spaces and granular control of access to those sub-spaces
Did your community engage with the space/group - did they get it?
This is a long-term project rather than a short-term one. Within the department, there is considerable interest in the concept, considerable agreement with the purpose of the project, but reluctance to join as volunteer posters. At present the project has a low profile but this will change as more departmental material is posted within MBB space and as MBB space becomes the main or only source of this material.
Finally did your community achieve what you wanted?
The project demonstrated that it was viable. A large departmental WebSpace could be created and seeded with material. More importantly, casual users could easy post material without needing extensive courses. As an example in second screen shot, the MBB News Channel relies on simple material, a graphic and a little text, that fits well within uSpace. More complex postings can be over-long or disorganised as the uSpace editor has little control over layout.
Sub-spaces gave a top-down hierarchy of organisation on the WebSpace and many module sub-spaces were provided with tables of content that displayed links to key material. This gives a rather formal site that perhaps is contrary to the spirit of uSpace but it matches the material on display as shown in screen shots.
uSpace Comments were seen as the natural way to interact with the displayed material (which was mainly lecture presentations) or to ask questions on the material. This gave a natural dialogue of question and answer.
Tagging was seen as the most impressive feature of uSpace but unfortunately not enough material was available to investigate fully the power of tagging as learning tool. However, it is very clear that tagging can link together material and provide the "extra reading" that is so desired in our teaching. Unfortunately, uSpace does not allow tagging to be added to comments and requires write-access to the document. These restrictions make whole process of tagging much more difficult and inflexible.
Comparing uSpace to a cPanel WebSite shows that the uSpace editor is fine for the generation of content but gives no control over layout. A selection of uSpace widgets were used to control the site appearance and these worked very well and gave good overall organisation. With widgets, uSpace is flexible and easy to use and organise.
Comparing uSpace to the MOLE system is looking at two very different systems. uSpace has none of the assignment and assessment features of MOLE and it lacks the surveillance monitors. uSpace is the ideal system for the posting of material and for interactions AND the access to the posted material is not restricted to the strict module rules that are applied in MOLE. This free access is particularly important for staff, tutors and postgraduate demonstrators who need to access all lecture material for information and for viewing "best practice" of colleagues.With uSpace tagging, the system gently suggests "extra reading" material to students and emphasises the integrated nature of the course.
Top tips from your pilot
- Focussed postings are best content for uSpace. For the MBB site, most postings were a introduction - short heading, a couple of paragraphs and a graphic - that lead to a much larger file or another web-site with many images.
- Posting to uSpace is VASTLY more satisfactory than posting into MUSE groups where users can never find files.
- Tagging is the most difficult material to use effectively and to organise. uSp\ace makes tagging more difficult by attaching tags ONLY to the source document and not to comments This demands that many documents are left open for write access which is a security problem.
- Although formalised organisation of postings runs against the spirit of uSpace, it can be achieved with the use of sub-spaces and Tables of Content lists as shown in some of the screen shots.
- uSpace assumes that the name of a document or a space (ie the name seen on the system console or in links) is the same as the title of the document or space (ie the title printed at the top of the document or space). This can be very restrictive.
- uSpace user profile is a key feature BUT should allow user to apply minor edits to add a "common name" or "informal name" as the name given for their profile.
- uSpace editor is fine for straight-forward content but it can be tricky to place images and links. The HTML editor is basic in the extreme but it can be useful to add place holders for images.
- uSpace Participant ratings are superficial and only count numbers of postings and questions. There is no count for comments and no count for tags even though these are key parts of collaboration and analysis of material.