Harvard’s H2O

H2O is a unique type of discussion software created at Harvard and recently opened to the public. Group conversations are organized around something called the Rotisserie, described thusly:

The Rotisserie implements an innovative approach to online discussion that encourages measured, thoughtful discourse in a way that that traditional threaded messaging systems do not. The basic concept of the threaded messaging board is to enable broadcast-to-broadcast communication among a group of people, meaning that every participant in the conversation receives every post from every other participant. This mode of discussion inevitably leads to the domination of the discussion by a few very verbal participants and silence by the lurking majority. The Rotisserie breaks this mode by assigning every post within the conversation to another, specific participant for response. The resulting conversation guarantees that every post will be responded to by at least one other participant and that every participant must respond directly to the post of another participant.

Unsurprisingly, this structure seems especially well-geared to class discussions (more so than, say, any of Blackboard’s interactive features) and group projects.

The site is set up now to allow anyone to create and join a discussion (called a ‘project’). Projects may be setup by their creators to be open or invitation-only. Any profs who’ve been driven away by the CS-feel of other discussion software may wish to give H2O a try.