9(1), November 1992, pages 89-91


Mark Amdahl

ASPECTS is a simultaneous conference software program for the Macintosh that allows one or more users on a network to work with the same document in real time. As an interactive software program developed originally for business use, ASPECTS offers promising opportunities for classroom writing instructors to encourage increased collaborative writing among students.

Collaboration in the ASPECTS Environment

Among its features, ASPECTS enables students in a computer-based writing classroom to share documents, allowing more than a single user to edit the same document at the same time. Students can participate in an electronic meeting of 2 to 16 users in a real-time dialogue, or what ASPECTS calls a conference. Students' computers must be connected by ASPECTS and a network, modem, or serial link. Because ASPECTS allows for instructor control of the on-line dialogue by means of three levels of mediation, resulting conferences are not merely chaotic but also can be a meaningful, interactive use of linked computers. In "Free-for-All Mediation," any participant can edit a document at the same time; "Medium Mediation" enables one user at a time to edit; finally, in "Full Mediation," the instructor controls who can edit.

ASPECTS also allows for students to participate in a real-time dialogue about the document that is being edited by means of the "Chat Box." The publisher's documentation suggests that this feature supports conversation among users who are separated by distance and who have access only to a single telephone line dedicated to modem use. In the classroom, however, "Chat Box" allows for discussion about a document to occur on the computer screen without becoming part of the document. Although contents in "Chat Box" couldn't be saved in the version reviewed, version 1.03 can save these contents. Another attractive feature of ASPECTS for classroom teachers is the capacity for each participant in a conference to choose a unique pointer, rather than the same familiar pointer for all. Through use of unique pointers, participants can more readily distinguish among each person's comments.

Additional Tools

Through ASPECTS, students may work on different documents or even different parts of the same document at the same time, thus allowing for increased group work in the classroom. Students can also switch to other applications, such as more-advanced word-processing programs or graphics programs. Files saved in these other applications can then be imported into an ASPECTS conference.

Three applications, including writing, drawing, and painting programs, are available within the ASPECTS software package. The word-processing program is simple and basic, using standard Mac menu conventions and commands. Unfortunately, ASPECTS supports some document inconsistencies from one computer to another. In addition, when a user imports from a more advanced word-processing program to ASPECTS, she or he loses tables and columns. Still more distressing is the inability of ASPECTS to import Microsoft WORD files saved with the "Save" option. The drawing and painting programs enable the creating and editing of graphics or importing documents saved in PICT format.

ASPECTS can accomodate up to 16 computers, connected through AppleTalk-compatible network, a modem, or a serial link. The documentation manual adequately details installation for each of these options; it also provides clear instructions for effective use of the program. ASPECTS is available for sale in five-user, ten-user, and single-user packages. However, the technical limit of 16 users presents a serious challenge to instructors who teach in classes of 20 or more students.

Enterprising instructors in computer-based classrooms can use ASPECTS to create a more collaborative environment for their students. They can allow their students to use computers and computer networks more interactively through participation in real-time electronic conferences.

Mark Amdahl is an independent scholar living near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.