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.
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
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
Mark Amdahl is an independent scholar living near
Group Technologies, Inc.
1408 N. Fillmore St., Suite 10
Arlington, VA 22201
Prices (effective 9/1/91)
Single-user pack: $189
Five-user pack: $695
Ten-user pack: $995
Ninety days of free technical support available upon return
of registration card. System requirements: System 6.0.3; Finder
6.1 or higher.