Extending the read-write matrix

Read-write matrix of Web 20 tools for learningLimitations of the matrix

The read-write matrix provides a model for analysing the roles of learners in working with documents in a Web 2.0 context. The complexity of Web 2.0 tools, however, has prompted me to explore ways of extending the model to provide more detail, including different forms of contribution and collaboration. In addition, some readers have found the two-dimensional matrix difficult to interpret.

I’ve been wondering for some time how to show additional dimensions to the read-write matrix. This is necessary because it’s helpful to distinguish between different sorts of editing rights. For example, the blog reader cannot usually edit someone else’s blog posting but can normally add comments to it.

We can simplify the read-write matrix by considering only three user types:

  • self (the learner)
  • peers (fellow learners enrolled in the same course)
  • the world

We can now assign a value to each of these user types based on the ability to:

  • read the document
  • comment on the document
  • edit the document

Table 1: mapping the roles

We can now create a simple table for any given application of Web 2.0 tools:

Edit Comment Read
Self X X X
Peers X X
World X

We can use such a table to define clearly how we might want a specific wiki or blog activity set up for a learning activity, and we can use it to communicate to teachers and/or students how an activity is meant to work. A simple tick or cross in a cell shows that that user type has that role.

Table 2: the geek version

And for the more technically-minded, we can steal an idea from Unix’s chmod to provide a shorthand way of describing the characteristics of the activity:

Edit Comment Read
Self 4 2 1
Peers 4 2 1
World 4 2 1

We now have a shorthand way to describe the read-write roles within a learning activity using (say) a blog or wiki – add the values in each row that apply and show as a three-digit number. The roles shown in table 1 would be 731. (I’m not sure that this version will be popular, however!)

Where to from here?

We could easily extend either version to include the additional user types in the read-write matrix: the sub-group of peers and the wider group of a learning community. We could also add other types of contribution in addition to commenting and editing: eg annotation or bookmarking.

In addition, I envisage simple planning tools which incorporate something like table 1 to help communicate decisions around educational use of Web 2.0 tools to other teachers, technical support staff and learners. The table extends the read-write matrix by adding detail to the types of collaborative contribution, but also provides a simple means of communicating the analysis to others.

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