How can students collaborate more effectively online?
It is one thing to ask your students to work together on a group project. But the logistics for many students online is a completely different matter. Unlike a situation in the classroom, students do not have a fixed schedule when they expect everyone to be in the same room to coordinate. In fact, it is unlikely that any of them will be in person.
Fortunately, the technology that allows online education also makes remote work possible. So, while the difficulties students face in coordinating school projects are similar to those faced by remote workers, the technology industry has been working hard to address these needs and provide cheap, easy-to-use solutions.
It is possible that some of your students have already found these tools at work or in their personal lives. For those who do not, I have looked for tools that are free, functional and easy to use. The list here is broken down by main function and sorted according to my preferences. How could you use these tools in your class?
Your WordPress LMS should come with a forum, and this can be everything your learners need to coordinate their project. However, some projects require a more responsive chat feature or a greater nuance in the subject organization. In this case, a more specialized group chat application may be in order.
With the slogan “Where is your job”, Slack has established itself as a powerful tool in the business world to coordinate remote teams. I use Slack extensively and I am a fan of the simple yet flexible user interface. Creating loose groups is both easy and free, and after all the members of the team have signed up, they can start issues by subject or task power. It even comes with file-sharing capabilities.
For some learners, Slack can be harder than it is worth it. WhatsApp provides a lightweight alternative, and it has the advantage of being more popular internationally. WhatsApp also allows users to create group chats and share small files, but it’s a little less organized than Slack in its layout.
The good thing about the forums is that there is hardly any learning curve to use them. Everyone knows what they are and that there is interaction in a forum at some point. When your forums are properly managed, your learning program can add value.
While Slack and WhatsApp allow users to send files to each other, they either provide a way to organize these files in the program, or they do not allow live editing. If your project requires a significant amount of file sharing, you will need something built for this purpose.
My first choice here is Google Drive for two reasons: first, the shared folder structure makes it easy for users to add files and know they will be anywhere, where anyone can access them. Second, multiple users can simultaneously write and collaborate in the same document. You can even highlight and leave comments in different areas of the document, or chat with each other while you work.
I’m using Dropbox, but for a long time I did not notice anything to distinguish it from Google Drive. In particular, it seemed most useful as an online repository of files and images, and not a place for live editing. However, Dropbox recently launched a new Dropbox Paper tool and promises many useful collaboration tools that you expect from Google Drive, but with an easier-to-use interface. I did not use it myself, but it is a promising option.
How about coordinating the calendar or scheduling? For complex multi-stage projects, organizing everything through Slack or Google Drive, it can be a bit difficult. In this case, the software for project management can be in order.
When it comes to free software for project management, Trello is probably the most famous option. Thanks to the simple color design of the plates and easy to manage task lists, it is difficult to find a more accessible program. I can not imagine that for most group projects, a full-fledged project management tool will be needed, and those that probably do not need something heavy. After all, most of your students will not want to study for hours at a time if they only need one project for each semester.
That said, if your students want something with more functionality, Asana could have more to offer. It comes in free and premium versions, so some of the more powerful features may not be available. Still, it’s worth exploring if Trello does not seem to measure up.
Sometimes your team needs to call a conference. Fortunately, there are many free options on this front, many of them work well with most groups. Many offer similar functionality (in this case, the most important in terms of group chat and screen sharing), so choosing between them is probably based on personal preferences.
I like Hangouts for the simplicity of the interface. It makes it easier to use and easy to integrate with other Google applications, such as Gmail and Google Calendar. If someone does not have a Google account, they will need to create one, but it will still be needed to use Google Drive.
join.me serves the business audience, but still offers a free version. Like Hangouts, it includes conferencing and screen sharing. However, it does not require users to create an account to join the call. This may not be a hindrance for some students who are not interested in learning to use another application.
We now know Skype and have been using it for years. This means that most of the students have already been downloaded on their computer and that they may find it most appropriate to meet each other in this way. But for me, I find the interface frustrating and I have noticed that there has been a rapid development of technical errors in the past few years. Does switching to a new app work? Probably not. But you are undecided, there are better options.
How many tools is too many?
As I have mentioned several times in this article, there is a definite limit to the amount of time that you or your students want to spend to choose the right tool for group projects. And using all of them is not absolutely necessary. The right tools will depend on the assignment. For example, if you assigned a group of paper, your students may only need Google Drive. However, if you have created a periodic, multi-stage project that requires extensive research and rich media use, you will probably need more.
You can leave the selection of the tool to your students, or you can assign a specific program. For example, if you want to track the progress of a project, it’s best to create Slack channels for each of your groups so that you can be in place to mitigate any problems that arise.
No matter how you do, do not forget to communicate with the students in advance so that they understand how much cooperation and teamwork they should expect to complete the assignment. The better they understand the scale of the task, the more likely they are to choose the right tool to carry it out.