IT Connect
Information technology tools and resources at the UW

Planning a CommonView Workspace

What You Can Do with CommonView

CommonView is a Web-based workspace creation tool that can help you organize resources and share information. With CommonView you can quickly create a course or project workspace to provide students or collaborators with a central point for online access to resources including files, links, images, announcements, and Catalyst Web Tools.

Here are just a few ideas about how you might use CommonView:

  • Set up a course workspace to give students easy access to announcements, materials, and other course resources, including discussion boards, quizzes, and homework dropboxes created with the Catalyst Tools.
  • Set up a workspace for any type of student group to easily plan events and coordinate efforts. Post meeting notes, publicity materials, and a calendar of events in a space that can be accessed (and, if you like, edited) by all involved.
  • Set up a research project workspace to make sure everyone involved in your collaborative project has access to project documents, data collection instruments, and records of what was discussed.

Planning and Preparation

While getting started with CommonView is as easy as creating a workspace, entering text, and maybe attaching some files, setting up a complete and well-organized workspace will likely require some planning and preparation. This guide outlines practical advice to help you make the most of your CommonView workspace.

Gather All the Content

Start collecting all the documents, images, audio/video, links, presentations and the other material that you would like to include in your workspace. Saving these together in a folder on your computer will help you get a sense of what you have to organize and will save you time once you start adding content to the workspace.

Organize Your Materials

Think through the whole workspace and make a list of all that you would like to be included in it – text, images, links, documents, contact information, and so on. Start “chunking” the content into sections, for example “Syllabus,” “Assignments,” “Lecture schedule,” and so on.

Map Out a Plan

With blocks of content in mind, start creating a workspace map. CommonView workspaces are generally divided into different “views,” which function like pages in a Web site to organize content and reduce scrolling. Decide what content should go in which view, and determine whether you have content that should appear in multiple views. Spending some time mapping out your workspace will help you make it more effective and usable.

Consider Your Audience

When organizing a workspace it is important to keep in mind the perspective of those who will be using your site. What are their information needs? What would students like and expect to find in your course workspace? Ask colleagues and/or students for feedback before putting the workspace online, and ask for their feedback again at the end of the course or project.

Front Load Your Content

When you start adding content to your workspace, there is no need to hold back elements that should not be available until later on. CommonView makes it easy to hide elements from view and then later reveal them with a few simple clicks of the mouse. This way you can, for example, set up a quarter’s worth of QuickPoll questions and then reveal them one week at a time.

Link to Other Resources

On your workspace you can add rich text links to outside resources. For course workspaces, in addition to course content specific resources, you might also add links to library research databases, refereed journals in your field, online dictionaries, campus resources like tutoring or writing centers, and so on. For research projects, you and your collaborators might share links to related projects at other institutions, relevant journal articles, media coverage, and so on. Remember to check periodically that the links are still working and still target the correct content.

Use UW Libraries Electronic Reserves

An easy way to make course materials available in digital format to your students is to use the electronic reserves system of the UW libraries. The electronic reserve system enables you and your students to have remote, 24 hour a day protected access to unlimited high-quality copies of your course materials. Find out how you can put your reserve items on the Web.

Strive for Visual Coherence

With the rich text editor, you can format your text easily. Text formatting can be very helpful in giving visual structure to a workspace if it is consistent and meaningful. Aim to create a visual environment that is easy to scan and uses consistent color schemes and formatting conventions across all views in the workspace.

Keep Images Small

You can easily insert digital images with the rich text editor. However, you should keep in mind that graphics on the Web take much longer to load into a browser than plain text. Users with a slower Internet connection may find it difficult to access your Website if you use large images. When working with digital images you should keep the file size as small as possible.

Keep Tables Small

Just as with images, tables can be inserted with the rich text editor, and again you should consider size when adding tables to your workspace. Different monitors display different numbers of pixels, which effects how much of a table will fit on the screen. To be sure complete tables will be visible no matter what the user’s screen resolution, you may want to limit the width of tables to no more than 550 pixels.

Direct Students to Necessary Plug-ins or Helper Applications

Some file formats, such as portable document format (.PDF) or QuickTime movies, can be accessed from the Web only if your users have additional software installed on their computers, such as the Apple QuickTime plug-in or Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you are including information in these formats, you will want to direct your users to locations where they can download these extra pieces of software in order to access your information. While computers in the University of Washington computing facilities have the most common “helper applications” installed, this might not be true for home computers.

Consider Issues of Access for the Visually Impaired

While viewers can change settings on their computers to make text larger, they cannot do much to change the colors you choose for your pages. Strive for strong contrast between text and backgrounds, and remember that different computers display colors differently, making some color choices potentially unreadable.
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Keep Workspace Content Dynamic

Make your content dynamic by posting announcements, ideas, and links that change often on the home view of the workspace. You may also want to consider initially hiding some the content you have developed and revealing it in stages over the term as it becomes relevant, rather than posting everything at once.