Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tools for Collaboration

A basic activity of the digital age is self organizing using readily available (often free) online tools and social media. In terms of digital literacy, to take needed action in the world we must have tools to CONSUME information; CREATE content; and CONNECT with others. Tools will vary over time in their utility, but whatever suite of tools you have, make sure they help you in those three areas. I want to focus briefly on the last of these, CONNECT.

Obviously by requiring our students to use Google+ and to post links there to their blogs, this enables connecting (as well as consuming and creating). But as one starts to move into collaborating on presentations or on projects, Google+ is not enough. Here is a short list of essential collaboration tools that we recommend:

Essential Collaboration Tools

  • Google Documents
    Do you know how to share a document to an entire group so all can work on it? Have you tried to do real-time, collaborative writing? Have you tried sharing Google documents, spreadsheets, or presentations? 
  • Google Hangouts
    Think of this as Skype on steroids, and free. You can have multiple people in video chat, plus (if you use their extended features version) you can share desktops with each other, share documents with one another, and even co-create or edit Google documents together in real time. 
    Hangouts are integrated with Google+, so you can create a hangout with any of your circles. 
  • Wiki
    We have set up the Digital Civilization wiki on wikispaces. Use this as a way of centralizing resources, curating content, and organizing information and media.
  • Social Bookmarking
    This is a way of keeping bookmarks to websites in the cloud where you can tag them and find them, but also a way to do collaborative research by sharing bookmarks to a group. I explain this in a tutorial about my favorite social bookmarking tool, DiigoOne's social bookmark stream can be subscribed to by others, posted into a widget on the side of one's blog (see the Diigo widget on the side of this blog as an example), associated with a group (such as this Digital Civilization bookmarking group on Diigo), etc. There are other such services, such as  DeliciousStumbleupon
  • Link sharing / Link curating
    There are lots of ways to share links. While we encourage students to post links to Google+, that is not the best place to curate a set of links. Of course one can put links into a blog post or a wiki page to organize them. Consider, also, using social bookmarking as just explained. That is a powerful way to share links. There are other services for grouping and sharing links. Look at bit.ly bundles.
  • Presentation tools
    Google offers presentations as integrated into their documents suite. Those are admittedly less powerful than PowerPoint. But you might consider an alternative presentation medium that is really taking off, Prezi. Prezi presentations can also be shared and co-edited within a group. If you stick with PowerPoint, consider publishing your presentation to slideshare.net.