U Mich: CompreHensive collaborative Framework (CHEF)

In September 2003, the Midwest Instructional Technology Center installed on server hosted for the Comprehensive Collaborative Framework (CHEF) now being used and developed at the University of Michigan. Faculty members, supported by instructional technologists, at Earlham College and Lake Forest College are participating this semester in a pilot test of CHEF from a MITC server. Five faculty members, two instructional technologists, and a librarian, as well as more than 90 students, are currently using the system in five courses.

The CompreHensive collaborativE Framework (CHEF) initiative has as its goal the development of a flexible environment for supporting distance learning and collaborative work, and doing research on distance learning and collaborative work. This project is staffed by University of Michigan School of Information and Media Union staff. We are working closely with and are contributing to the OKI reference architecture, and are collaborating with other groups interested in open source collaboration standards. Communities targeted for CHEF use include those involved in the scholarly activities of teaching, learning and research at the University of Michigan, and their students and colleagues involved in teaching, learning and research that are outside of the Michigan community.

CHEF is an online service that supports working communities; communities of scientific researchers, communities of teachers and students, people who work together in person as well as those who are geographically separated.People in the community use CHEF to access computing facilities, to share resources, to communicate with one another, to facilitate meetings, to work together. They access CHEF through the web from any internet terminal with a supported browser, from their desktop or laptops or hand held devices or phones, or from public terminals. The community can host a CHEF server of their own, or work with a CHEF service run on their behalf. CHEF users can extend the capabilities of CHEF to add capabilities specially needed by their community.

CHEF will involve the identification, design and development of a framework that can effectively accommodate various tools that are used in supporting collaborative work and distance learning, and tools necessary for the study of collaborative work and distance learning. The framework needs to provide organization for the disparate functionality used to support research, collaborative and learning activities and be able to combine locally developed, commercial off the shelf and free off the shelf components.

The communities of use that CHEF is targeting include those involved in the scholarly activities of teaching, learning and research at the University of Michigan, and their students and colleagues involved in teaching, learning and research that are outside of the Michigan community.CHEF is aimed at making available a set of functional elements that can be easily configured by users to accomplish a wide variety of activities. This framework will support existing and emerging capabilities, and will seek to make the integration of new functionality as easy as possible.

In our past and current work we have seen much commonality in the needs and tools used by people in these communities, and we are seeing the emergence of frameworks for user configurable toolset delivery. CHEF will mobilize that experience in the effort to develop a comprehensive framework to support these activities, and to make this framework available for wide use.

CHEF services run on one or more CHEF servers; clients use various means to communicate with the servers to access CHEF. CHEF is a multi-user system, and has features that surface the presence and activity of the current set of users to each other. CHEF uses the practice of separation of concerns to introduce different metaphors used to organize the development and use of the system. These include tools, services, interface technology, and portals. CHEF also uses the "Model View Controller" practice; services handle all modeling, tools handle the controller aspects, generating views which are rendered by a template interface technology.

To access a sample CHEF course worksite in which you can participate from either the faculty or student perspective, click here.

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