Collaboration - Overview
We realized that there were thousands of books that cover the scientific and social aspects of Time in excruciating detail and we did not want to compete with them on that level. We decided to develop a website that provided easy access to an easy-to-read and well-designed overview of the topic.
This site was conceptualized, written, designed and coded by an international team of students, scattered across 5 different time zones. Along the way, we learnt a lot about connecting and collaborating with people from various geographical, religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. It was an incredible experience, one that allowed us to bond as a team and grow as individuals.
Kishore, our team leader, and Jim, our primary coach, had such a wonderful time working together on Manufactured Minds last year, that they decided to link up one more time before Kishore was too old to participate as a student member. Once they convinced Tina to come on board as the assistant coach, Kishore got to work interviewing candidates to handle the technical side of things, while Jim started interviewing researchers and writers, and Tina went to work finding someone to take on translating the site into Greek, something that we believe no other ThinkQuest team has done before.
They were plenty of contenders for the five remaining slots and we were very selective. We wanted people who were not only talented, but also committed, hardworking, motivated and who believed in the concept and spirit of ThinkQuest. The end result of our search was this international team.
Topic decision and implementation
It is not without good reason that democracy is the most popular form of governance in the world today. From the moment our team was formed, we agreed that the democratic process would reign and all major decisions would be voted on by the group. And so it was from choosing our topic to developing the outline/site map to designing the layout. We held weekly online chats so that everyone could voice their opinion in real time. We came up with a list of topics during our first two chats, that we thought were interesting, and which would allow us at the same time to showcase our creativity and present it in an educational manner. After much discussion, the group concluded that the concept of Time had more relevance and more impact on all of us than any other. So the group voted unanimously to base our website on the topic of Time.
That was in fact the easy part! We still had to decide how to tame and trim such a broad topic and present it in a logical and comprehensive way. We accomplished this through weekly chat sessions and email. Kishore asked people to email him ideas. He would compile them and then include them when he sent out the chat agenda for the next week. The agendas helped everyone prepare in advance for what was going to be discussed that week. This helped keep our chat sessions short and productive because, in the beginning, we found our chats lasting nearly three hours and being rather unorganized! Chrissy and Taylor often took minutes of what was discussed, and then sent them out to the team members at the end of the chat. The ideas Kishore sent along with the agenda would be discussed during our weekly chats, and as new ideas poured out, new items were inevitably added to the list. There was always plenty of purging, merging, modifying, and looking for consensus going on during these brainstorming sessions. After about 4-5 weeks of this give-and-take, the outline began to take shape. We wanted to have a site that captured, under one roof, the multiple dimensions of Time. We did not want to focus on Time from any one point of view whether it be scientific, social, religious or practical. We wanted to take a holistic approach to the topic and explore it from multiple angles. And also, due to the global importance of Time, we wanted to include the human factor and explore how those ‘supposed universal concepts and beliefs about time’ are perceived across different cultures.
We still remember discussing, during an early chat session, how we wanted a site that emphasized quality in content rather than quantity. We realized that there were thousands of books that cover the scientific and social aspects of Time in excruciating detail and we did not want to compete with them on that level. We decided to develop a website that provided easy access to an easy-to-read and well-designed overview of the topic. We accomplished this by leveraging our accessibility through the interactive medium of the web. Throughout this project, we tried our best to present the information we’ve researched and put together in a down to earth manner that was not only easy to read, but peppered with fun and games along the way.
Scheduling the weekly chat sessions posed a few problems for some, due to time zone differences. However everyone tried to compromise and accommodate, so at times we cancelled some of our other appointments while in other cases we had to stay up till 1 AM to participate in the chat sessions. However, we soon settled on a fixed time of 11:00:00 GMT on Saturday or Sunday of every week. This was a convenient time for most of us (early morning in USA, mid day in UK, evening in Singapore and India, night in Adelaide).
Design and Interactivity
We believe that a site’s design plays an important role in delivering the information to the end user. It must be organized and easy to follow and it must engage the user and urge him to learn more about the site’s topic in the process. With this in mind, our designers, Kishore and David tried to use aesthetically pleasing color pastels, fonts and icons to make the site visually appealing. We also decided to give the site a rustic and withered look since we figured it symbolized longevity, - the very essence of Time.
In addition to implementing a well thought out navigation system, we put a lot of emphasis on providing the users with a number of basic tools to serve as learning aids. An example of this is our “widget box” which provides simple tools such as a notepad to jot down bits of information found on the site.
In line with our goal to make the site easy to use and its content clear and easy to find, we implemented a “Slideshow” feature on our article pages, which offered a very short synopsis of the page’s content.
Admittedly, working across five different time zones was challenging. However, in the end, we feel we pulled it off quite well! We used a variety of communication tools such as email, the forum, instant messaging, and VOIP (Voice over Internet Phones) to collaborate effectively.
It is said that failing to plan constitutes planning to fail. Keeping this in mind, we set up agendas for meetings and assignments with deadlines in advance. It certainly helped that the members of this team were very conscientious and that all stuck to their deadlines pretty closely.
Each article was reviewed twice (once by Tina, then by Jim) before it was sent onto Kishore and David for integration into the website. Harry’s Greek translations were also reviewed by Tina, before they were added to the site. In this way, we established a clear workflow that got the work done in a timely, organized, and efficient manner. Considering the number of articles involved in the final product (nearly 70 in all) we are pleased that the whole process went as smoothly as it did with very few hiccups along the way.