Building an Online Collaboration Toolkit: What’s in Yours?

Increasingly, group work and collaboration are valued as key strategies for engaging students in online and blended learning environments. There are many online tools available to support students as they engage in group work and collaboration. With so much to choose from, it is helpful to create a basic collaboration toolkit.

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I teach both face-to-face and online courses. Of note, my face-to-face courses are also always blended, hybrid and/or HyFlex in nature. I’ll discuss my HyFlex courses in another post. In my courses, I use a variety of learning technologies to support students as they interact and learn. Over time, I have developed my favorite toolkits for teaching and learning. I share my favorites categories and tools with you in this post.

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Learning management systems such as Canvas, BlackBoard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Edmodo, etc. allow for a one-stop shop for students in your online courses. LMSs usually have options for setting up group areas for students to collaborate.

Small group and 1-1 Web Conferencing

Small group and 1-1 web conferencing tools such as Skype and Google Hangout are great tools for synchronous communication and collaboration and support instructor-student communication, 1-1 study partners and small to medium-sized groups meetings. These tools allow for text, audio, and video chat along with other features including screen sharing, file sharing and a variety of other collaboration features. These tools provide mobile options as well.

Large Group and Class Web Conferencing

Large group and class web conferencing tools such as Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate also support synchronous communication and collaboration just on a more robust scale than the small group and 1-1 web conferencing tools. These tools can support full classes, with 100 or more participants and include a variety of features including PowerPoint and other document display, chat, audio, video, application and screen share, whiteboards, breakout rooms, recording, and more. Adobe Connect and Blackboard Collaborate are cross-platform but they are not free. These particular tools provide mobile options as well.

Collaborative Document/Product Creation

Collaborative document and product creation tools such as Google Drive include great tools for collaboratively creating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and even movies. For example, using Google Docs is just like using MS Word except that everyone in your group can edit the same document online synchronously, asynchronously, and from any Internet connected computer. A tool like Google Docs along with a web-conferencing tool like Skype or Google Hangout, can support groups or teams to with effective and efficient communication and collaboration as they engage in and complete group-based activities.

Wikis and Blogs

Wiki tools like PbWorks and Wikispaces and blogs like Blogger and WordPress are great tools for group work, collaboration, and collaborative publishing. Wikis are different from Google Docs in that only one person can create or edit at a time. Wikis and blogs are most helpful for group work if a polished end product is required.

Microblogging

Microblogging tools like Yammer and Twitter are fun tools for asynchronous communication and collaboration. Where Twitter is a free and global microblogging tool, Yammer is an organization-focused microblogging tool with free and paid for components. I use Twitter for a low-risk fun activity in the Practicing phase of group work in my PSTC Model. I also advise students on the supportive nature of Twitter for group work. By using the mobile notifications, a group can stay on top of group activities. I have personally experienced this strateg and found it a fun and timely way to accomplish group activities.

Conclusion

There are many other types of tools for group work and collaboration that could be discussed such as group texting, many other blog tools, graphic organizers, and a plethora of mobile apps. However, it is also important to keep things manageable for your learners and yourself. Therefore a strategy of picking a set of tools or a toolkit that is manageable and proven to be effective is recommended.

In my online and blended courses I choose a specific set of online tools to support student group and collaboration. These tools included the LMS Canvas tools; Skype; Adobe Connect; Gmail and Google Drive/Docs; and Twitter. In 2012/2013, I conducted research with my students about online tools for collaboration and they confirmed the usefulness of these tools for student success and collaboration (Parra, 2013).

For lots more great learning technology options, definitely check out the Top 100 Tools for Learning – http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/ and see my resource Julz Toolz for all of my faves.

References

Parra, J. (2013). Developing technology and collaborative group work skills: supporting student and group success in online and blended courses. In P. Blessinger  (Ed.), Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, Volume 6 Part G – Increasing Student Engagement and Retention in e-Learning Environments: Web 2.0 and Blended Learning Technologies. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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