Can Online Collaboration Raise the Stakes?

2 Aug

“Collaboration is the process of shared creation: two or more individuals with complementary skills interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own.

Shrage, M. 1990. Shared minds: the new technologies of collaboration

I like this quote because it perfectly evokes that feeling of innovative discovery you can only get from a group process. You know what I’m talking about – you’re in a classroom discussing an issue. Everybody has a unique perspective to bring to the table. Ideas build on ideas and solutions to problems evolve exponentially.  I think the key is that everyone brings a unique perspective.

Think of Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 version of Oceans 11:

Danny (George Clooney): Ten oughta do it, don’t you think?
Rusty (Brad Pitt): [Stares of in silence, not looking at Danny]
Danny: You think we need one more?
Rusty: [Silence]
Danny: You think we need one more.
Rusty: [Silence]
Danny: All right, we’ll get one more.
Rusty: [Blinks]

Granted, in this scene, the collaboration is subtle. Rusty doesn’t even speak, but his silence says it all. Without the 11th man, would Danny Ocean’s team have been able to successfully rob Terry Benedict’s casinos? I don’t think so! Snap.

But can this type of revelatory fruit of real world collaboration transcend real-time and occur similarly online? I’m not sure. There seems to be something magical about a real-world meeting of the minds that I have yet to experience in an online collaboration. Maybe it’s the asynchronicity of most of my online collaborative efforts, but I don’t feel like I have as effective of collaborative group experience online without some sort of face-to-face interaction at some point.

Now, this may be a different story for synchronous online experience, like group chats or second life, but I have no experience, really, with either. I also believe that many online tools enhance the collaborative process that have no real-world substitutes, like wiki documents. But it’s the process of creating “a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own” that I am dubious about when it comes to online collaboration.

What do you think? Is collaboration as effective online as it is in person? Maybe you think it’s more so? Why?

(Image courtesy of


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