COIL Needs CAPspace

I’m attending the 10th Anniversary COIL Conference and listening to how higher education is doing collaborative online projects – specifically connecting internationally. In the kick-off plenary, there was discussion of how to find partners, and a general concern about how difficult it is to get started.

It seemed like an aha moment to me! COIL needs a higher ed version of CAPspace!

What is CAPspace?

CAPspace headerI spent much of my early career (1998-2011) supporting videoconferencing for 22 school districts in southwest Michigan. Much of what we did was collaborations, which you can see by the volume of blog posts I have that are tagged Collaborations.

In 2002, the newly minted TWICE, Michigan’s K12 videoconferencing organization, started an event called Read Around the Planet, In it’s hey-day, almost 2000 classes read to each other to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday. CAPspace was born initially out of a need for a tool to match the classes that signed up to participate. A directory feature to meet other people was soon added.

Now, it has several features that are key to supporting collaborations:

  • the ability to search for people
  • the ability to post a collaborative project idea and find a partner
  • the “exploding projects feature” – for when you post a great idea, and you only need one partner, but so many other people want to do it. Exploding projects allow the “extras” to match up with each other to do the same type of project
  • the ability for “coordinators” to run managed projects using the tools created for Read Around the Planet

Side note: I was heavily involved in the development of this site.

Managed Projects vs. Individual Projects

One thing I’ve noticed attending COIL, is that it seems mostly higher education collaborative projects are done by individual teachers. There may be institutional support, even COIL coordinators, but not so much projects that are run by an organization and many faculty participate in it. CAPspace has the ability to support managed projects, but I’m not sure that this is a need or interest at the higher ed level.

If you want to read more of my work on supporting projects, including descriptions of managed projects vs. individual projects, see my 2010 Challenge: 20 Days to Better VC Projects.

Higher Education Adaptations of CAPspace

So, I’m very new to COIL, first time attending the conference. So take my views with a grain (or chunk?) of salt! But after a day of listening to faculty describe their experiences and challenges with COILing, here are my first thoughts about how CAPspace could work for higher ed:

  • Qualifications. One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems like higher ed is a little more concerned about the quality of their partner institution and faculty member. Maybe it’s because there’s so many fraudulent institutions in higher ed globally, particularly online. Maybe it’s the increased focus on rigor and scholarly work. Maybe you’ll have some ideas of why as well. But, I think one feature that would be essential is some way to vet the potential partner. This could be including links to publication profiles on sites such as, researchgate, etc. Maybe a field for research interests. And, what would be some ways to indicate some background information on the potential partner institutions? I’m not quite sure, but I think that would be essential as well.
  • Email ads. CAPspace right now sends emails out with the collaborations that have been posted. The user can choose which emails they receive. I’m not sure higher ed would be interested in getting all the emails – but maybe the instructional designers and COIL coordinators would want to see what opportunities were out there.
  • Exploding collaborations. I ran this idea by another attendee yesterday, and we talked a lot about the trust needed. Because the higher ed collaborations tend to be so much longer than the K12 collaborative projects we are doing, the faculty really need to trust each other. It seems unlikely that they would want to just match up with other people who were interested in an idea.
  • Others: Having heard how CAPspace works, what do you think? Is an online tool needed to help match? Are the supports and resources for creating COIL and COIL-like collaborations more important?

Mulling Over Challenges

  • In a session this morning, Sarah Guth talked about the difficulties of the a platform created in Europe for matching language learners. One challenge is that everyone thinks they need to talk to native speakers, when there are other models such as connecting two classes that are learning the language, or connecting language learners to other disciplines such as engineering. Ideas are needed to help imagine the possibilities.
  • Higher ed needs to see and support and participate in research – in this case, on COIL activities.
  • As I was leaving K12 in 2011, the pressure to focus on standards and test preparation was increasing. This had, and continues to have, a negative impact on collaborative projects and creativity. I see this issue in higher education as well. There is huge instructional pressure and the need for accountability to accreditors & funders. On the higher ed side, there isn’t any time at all to waste! A quality experience is greatly desired. A “fun” little experience doesn’t cut it.
  • It’s not that simple to just make a place to find each other. Best practices, research support, models, frameworks… these things are all essential.
  • So much institutional support is needed. In the K12 world, support from the media specialist was often sufficient. Principal support was helpful too. But in the higher ed world, chair, dean, IT, instructional design, assessment, provost, president… all these supports are needed.

So, what do you think? In the Tuesday morning session, there was clamor for a “” site. What should that site look like?

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