If you’ve ever worked on a project as part of a student group, you know that the experience isn’t without stress. Add distance to the equation and you often find yourself coordinating complex tasks across time zones and conflicting schedules.
In addition to the group workspaces and tools available in a school’s learning management system, there are a lot of supplemental resources available to help you and your peers complete a group project as painlessly as possible.
This post is the sixth in a series featuring helpful apps for online students (see the previous entries on mobile note-taking, study skills, productivity, writing, and the job search). My goal with each of these articles is to narrow down the increasing number of apps available with the potential to support your success as an online student. For this post, I looked for apps that specifically focus on group communication and collaboration. The following guidelines framed my search:
- Free vs. Paid: Low- or no-cost options exist, so that you can quickly get started with limited financial commitment.
- Cross-platform: Each app on the list is available for use on more than one kind of device or operating systems (i.e., Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mac, Web, Windows).
- Recommendations: These apps all have good ratings or reviews from other users who have already tried them out.
6 Collaboration Apps
Collaboration can mean a lot of things. Do you need to create a product (i.e., paper, project, presentation)? Do you need to synthesize and report opinions and perspectives? What about group decision making? Your online courses likely include multiple tasks and requirements related to working together. Think about how you might use specialized tools to:
- Communicate with your team members. This could include meeting at a specific time to discuss plans and complete work, leaving messages at any time, and a wide range of conversations related to your project. Communication can also take place in multiple ways via text, audio, and video.
- Organize team members’ contact information, the project schedule, assigned tasks, drafts, and notes. Tools available to help track progress range from non-nonsense to-do lists to more complex filing systems and calendars.
- Conduct the work required to complete your group project. A research project might, for example, require a virtual space for collecting data and compiling a bibliography. While preparing for a live presentation might multi-editor capabilities, and a virtual place to rehearse.
If you are looking for tools to help you and your peers collaborate online the following apps provide a variety of functions and features to get you started:
- ConceptBoard: The basic account option offers “free collaboration with friends.” Set up a reusable online board to communicate via chat and comments. You can also create content, as well as share and edit files. Storage is cloud-based, so you can access your work from any browser or device. [Web]
- Google Drive: With so many easy-to-use and access tools, Google apps have been included multiple times in this blog series. Set up a new Google account, or use an existing log in, to share and co-edit documents, store files, track versions, and leave comments along with your team members. [Android, iOS, Mac, Windows]
- Moxtra: Chat, screen sharing, and audio capabilities allow student groups to interact in real-time from any device. Additional features include to-do lists with task assignments, and voice recording of comments on stored documents. If you have group assignments in multiple courses Moxtra allows you to create separate binders to organize materials. [Android, Blackberry, iOS, Mac, Windows]
- Podio: Designed as a team communication and project management tool, the free account offers collaborative options for up to five users. This plan includes a task management system, file sharing, and the ability to set up multiple workspaces. [Android, iOS, Web]
- ShowDocument: Need to set up a quick web meeting? ShowDocument allows you to start a session for real-time conversation with one click, without having to log in. These spaces include a whiteboard, text chat and screen sharing. Invite others to attend via URL. If you register for a free account you can also access audio and video tools. [Android, Web]
- Zoho: This application is popular in education circles as a communication tool for students and teachers alike. A free account allows users to create and manage one project. The tools available include document storage and editing, archived text chats, discussion forums, calendars, and more. [Android, iOS, Web]
Selecting Collaboration Apps
The resources I’ve featured above are just a few of the many options available. Selecting one (or two) that work best for you should include careful consideration of the following:
- Synching: Look for apps that “synch” your team work and related notes, so each person is working with the latest versions no matter when or how they log in.
- Seamless Integration: Many of these tools are designed to work with other resources you may already be using, such as Evernote, Dropbox, and Google.
- Storage Space: Free accounts are convenient and affordable, but can be limited. Double check that any product you want to use will accommodate the size of your files and number of team members.
Make a list of must-have features that would help your group collaborate successfully. While you may find one tool that has all of the features you really need, it can also be beneficial to select a combination of basic apps. The goal is to find options that are both helpful and easy to use, so that they become part of your regular routine, and not an extra source of frustration.
Don’t forget to talk with your instructors. They are able to recommend additional mobile apps and web-based resources, and may even have access to collaboration tools available for students at your institution.
Have you tried any of these communication and collaboration apps? Let us know what has been the most helpful to you in your online student groups.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog