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  • C3MS stands for Community, Collaboration, Content Management System, i.e. web-based software that allows to manage a community, collaboration between members and contents. C3MS can refer to either a existing portal that includes several usually simple modules or to portalware (i.e. the toolkit) needed to install and configure the portal.
  • DSchneider thinks that a C3MS is not a true Content management system (CMS), because true CMSs offer better fonctionality for defining templates, workflows etc. A C3MS is rather a collection of many applications including a lot of mini-CMSs, like a News engine, blogs, links management, image management, etc.
  • Variants: "Community, content, collaborative management system", Community, Content, and Collaborative Management System", "Communicate, Collaborate & Coordinate Management System".

C3MS components

Here is a table of typical C3MS components along with a list of functions useful to activity-based pedagogical designs. This is not a canonical list, it only demonstrates the spirit.


C3MS modules (tools of the portal)

Content management

News engine (including a organization by topics and an annotation mechanism)
Content Management Systems (CMS)
Collaborative hypertexts (Wikis)
Image albums (photos, drawings, etc.)
Glossary tool or similar
Individual weblogs (diaries)

Knowledge exchange

News syndication (headlines from other portals)
File sharing
(all CMS tools above)

Exchange of arguments

Forums and/or new engine

Project support

Project management modules,

Knowledge management

FAQ manager
Links Manager ("Yahoo-like")
Search by keywords for all contents
"top 10" box, rating systems for comments
"What's new" (forum messages, downloads, etc.)

Community management

Presence, profile and identification of members
Shoutbox (mini-chat integrated into the portal page)
Reputation system
Activity tracing for members
Event calendar
News engine

Some of these tools are awareness tools : elements that answer "who, what, where, when, and how".

C3MS in education

The abstract of Schneider et al. (2003) argues that C3MS can fill in needs as "scenario and "community" engine.

Recent interest for rich activity-based pedagogies that originate in various socio-constructivist schools of thought is tied to the goal of creating deeper, more integrated and more applicable knowledge. We also want students become better general problem solvers and better group workers. Finally there is a pressure to make learning more interesting and even more fun. However, experiments made with learner-centered "new pedagogies" have shown that automatic results are not guaranteed. Good pedagogical design is crucial to their success. The efforts to make "new pedagogies" effective requires the use of structured scenarios where the teacher has to fulfill a triple role of facilitator, manager and "orchestrator". In addition, learning should happen within a social space that provides intellectual and emotional support. Therefore, supporting technology, i.e. virtual learning environments, should be designed both as "scenario engine" and as true virtual space where participants have "presence". Such systems can be implemented with Community, Content and Collaboration Management Systems (C3MS) that have been developed for collaborative portal sites. According to our experience, they allow us to create learning environments that provide a "clear focus" (learning activity support, management and scenario orchestration) but also necessary "fuzzy edges" (community support).

See the C3MS project-based learning model for more details.

Support for scenario planning

Pedagogical story-boarding with a C3MS follows a simple principle. The teacher creates a pedagogical scenario (activity) by defining different phases of the work process. Each phase contains at least an elementary activity which in turn should be supported by a tool (portal brick). Larger projects can contain several smaller scenarios. The scenario building bricks, i.e. elementary activities are something like "search on the Internet", "insert a link", "make a comment", "coedit a text", "vote for something", "enter an item to a glossary". It is needless to say that portals can not provide all the tools than can be imagined, e.g. on-line drawing programs are hard to find. Anyhow, it should be planned that at least the products of some activity should be posted to the portal, in order to discuss, annotate and reuse them. In the TECFA SEED Catalog (based on the original TECFA SEED teacher's catalog) we classify the scenarios according to the following categories:

  1. Gathering and distribution of information: Teachers and students share resources and the activities are designed to create a "critical mass of input", i.e. help them gather information and make it available to all.
  1. Creation of collaborative documents: Here the students can write definitions, analyse cases, solve problems, write documents and create illustrated documents together around specific themes.
  1. Discussion and commentaries around productions: Students identify together facts, principles and concepts and clarify complex ideas. They formulate hypothesis and plan solutions, make links between ideas, compare different points of view, argue, evaluate, etc.

Support for community, flow and creativity boosting with C3MS portals

While as we showed before, C3MS portal provide rich functionalities for pedagogical "story-boarding" they have been designed first of all as community portals and therefore are ideally suited to boost collective learning, creativity and optimal experience.

First, the portal should be a rich information space for " domain support " and it should encourage students add their own contribution. Such a space also encourages exploration . Typical tools are links managers, wikis, news engines and RSS feed that keep users up-to-date about articles posted to other interesting portals or individual weblogs.

Intellectual support is provided via forums, annotations and articles. Student productions are always accessible to all (including visitors) and therefore provide for recognition . One could manage activities by using various standard tools like articles, forums and the calendar, but it may be more appropriate to use special tools, e.g. simple project management tools or special purpose ones. In our experience, it has been shown that students are more like to contribute to an environment if they own an online identity. In the student's partly automatically generated home page on the portal one can see their contributions, read public parts of their personal blog and conversely each production in the portal is signed with a clickable link to the author. A successful teaching by projects pedagogy needs to provide strong emotional support and it is therefore important to encourage spontaneous, playful interaction and corner's for humour that will augment quality of on-line life and contribute to class spirit. Tools like the shoutbox or a little quotation box can do wonders.

See also creativity, community and motivation.


Finding an appropriate portal is very difficult. In the absence of standards for active pedagogics and given the dominance of so called "e-learning platforms", we suggest to adopt one of the following solutions:

  • A technology-savvy teacher interested by modern server-side technology should try to install and to run his very own portal. Possibly on a Linux-based machine that is available for his school, else with a private provider that provides the kind of technical infrastructure that is needed, e.g. a well configured Apache/Php/Mysql server.
  • A variant is to have it installed by someone in the organization or some Internet enthusiast that will do it for little money
  • Ask around if the school system supports a community portal (for schools) and use this.
  • Re-purpose the huge and heavy enterprise portal you may have access to (e.g. Lotus/Domino, IBM Websphere etc.). However, this entails negotiation with some central informatics department.
  • Re-purpose the functionalities of an e-learning platform

Currently, we repeat, there is no "off the shelf" platform for the kind of pedagogics we advocate and covers all your needs. E.g. so far, we do not know yet the full potential of C3MS like PostNuke or Drupal. One major limitation of using C3MS portals seems to be the lack of provision for integration (and in particular data-flow) between applications which are required for more complex Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSLS) scenarios. Another limitation concerns management of contents, activities and people over time: How can we efficiently enough "reset" or move some of it so that fresh activities of the same kind can start with an empty slate while keeping past student production available to new students.? Some of these issues can be dealt with by careful planning of module use and naming, as well as differentiated write access permissions. In other words, handling these issues require the same sort of planning that a traditional user-driven educational site does. But certainly, things could be improved and automatized to some degree. We are also aware that C3MS portals are not the answer for more complex CSCL workflow scenarios. However, we think that there is an important need to actively support educational scenarios requiring less complex technology and that can be used for other interesting purposes such as community building.

Portalware as candidates to support educational scenarios can be categorized in 5 main classes

  • Simple WebLogs
  • Wikis and wiki-based portals
  • Complex WebLogs, community enhanced CMS systems built with scripting languages, complex news systems etc., i.e. systems that grow into what we call C3MS (Community, Collaboration and Content management Systems
  • Large Portal Systems or Java-based modular portals
  • webtops that grow towards what can be called webOss.


  • Class, Barbara et Mireille Bétrancourt (2004) Un portail en éducation à distance : vers quelle ergonomie pédagogique ? / Ergonomics, community portal and distance learning : some pedagogical issues", Actes Ergo'IA 2004 [1]