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Groove Workspace: Instant Messaging Grows Up

Instant messaging isn’t just for kids anymore. Once the exclusive domain of idle chatterers, IM programs have gained professional credibility as vendors have added security and business features. In fact many IM systems have become multipurpose collaboration tools complete with chat rooms, conferencing, screen sharing, whiteboards, video, and broadcasts. When applied to the realm of higher education, these tools are being used to supplement the classroom experience to create an enhanced distance learning environment.

Collaboration across organizational boundaries, once an option, is now becoming a requirement for people serious about sharing information. E-mail, the traditional standard in collaborative applications, limits multi-dimensional interaction between members of a project team. Desktop collaboration is software that naturally leverages a person’s familiar desktop environment to speed work with colleagues on projects that ordinarily occur in e-mail.

Groove Workspace, from Groove Networks Inc., is a product that has made the switch from communication to collaboration tool. Workspace is a desktop application for small groups that leverages e-mail and Microsoft Office for interaction across technical and organizational boundaries. With Workspace, users create virtual shared spaces where they connect immediately and directly to work on a projects, brainstorm, plan an event, hold discussions, share drafts and proposals, and, coordinate schedules. The shared spaces require no server setup and end users are in full control.

There is no ‘master copy’ of the data in a shared space. Each member’s copy of the data is a peer in the network, and the Groove platform ensures that the content and state of the shared space is always synchronized across all members’ machines.

The Groove platform is based on a hybrid architecture that includes a role for a server or switch, called the Relay Server, to broker connections between offline members (who may never be online at the same time) and members separated by network firewalls. While working offline, all work performed within the Groove workspace is stored. When the user is online again, the client-side pings the relay server to store and deliver the changes.

Requirements for set-up of Groove Workspace include a Microsoft Windows operating system (98, NT, 200, ME, or XP), an Intel Pentium II processor of 400MHz or higher, 128MB RAM, and 100MB of free disk space with additional space required for data. A minimum resolution of 800 x 600, 15-bit (32,768) color is required for the display, and speakers, a sound card, and a microphone are required to use the voice features. Software requirements include Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 or later.

Courses in business, advertising, and Web design are just a few that typically involve group work and continuous communication among students and instructors. Students working together on a group project can also form their own workspace specific to their project or assignment in order to collaborate on their work in real time or asynchronously.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Robert Kirkpatrick, distinguished associate professor of English and director of the London Summer Honors Program, has used Groove Workspace for the past three years to conduct two first-year seminars. One of the features he finds most useful is having persistent access to dated p'em drafts and annotations, which simplifies the revision process and gives instructor and students more time to develop craft. He also makes use of the software’s threaded discussion list and archiving capabilities. Kirkpatrick and the students use Groove’s Discussion tool for a class forum, and the chat feature makes for “a practical as well as lively ‘after hours’ dialogue that seemed to go on at all hours,” he said.

The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., has also had success using Groove Workspace for distance learning. Their challenge was to provide a virtual classroom experience as similar as possible to the physical classroom environment—a daunting task considering some of the students were in extremely remote locations using low bandwidth connections, which made voice messaging difficult. By moving a Web-based distance learning system such as Blackboard into the Groove browser, the users all have the advantage of seeing who is in attendance, having the lecturer navigate all their screens together, and most importantly, users are able to voice message each other.

According to Groove, Workspace is a tool that creates a cohesive classroom environment that allows classmates to socialize around academic content in a way that is meaningful, natural, and easy, with complete personal control. It also offers a medium for group projects, in which the dynamics of teamwork unfold in a way that accords to student lifestyles.

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