Monday, August 26, 2013

Online Tools and Tips for Group Collaboration

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 26 March 2012.

This semester, I (and about 30 of my colleagues) enrolled in IST613: Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment . This is a course in which balance is key–student teams work with host libraries to write project plans, marketing plans, assessment plans, and literature reviews in relatively short succession, and we’re constantly looking ahead and revising older work. It’s something akin to standing on a roof on a windy day, singing at the top of your lungs in an unfamiliar language while trying to control pitch, tone, and tempo within a hairsbreadth of perfection. Needless to say, it’s a bit of a challenge, and exhilarating. One of the biggest challenges is simply organizing projects with your team, as there’s certainly enough work to go around!
My group has found that our collaboration is greatly helped with a number of tools, and I thought I would share a few of the best with you all.
The Google Suite
We started with Google Docs, which forms a practical workspace for us to record our ideas and wrestle with content for each of our plans. The four of us share the documents, and the ability for simultaneous work afforded by the system comes in handy on a few levels. First off, it’s great to host each document in the cloud so that we can all work on it from any terminal we please, at any time. I’ve signed in through the computer labs, edited from a netbook, written from my laptop, and referenced it from my smartphone.  Also useful is the ability to collaborate in real-time, virtually. Getting four people with radically different schedules together in person is a challenge, but working virtually is a great alternative, and Google Docs makes it easy. Also, working within the Googleverse allows for Google Chat, which is one of the most streamlined, sleek IM applications I’ve seen. (Also, don’t forget email! For non-timely or lengthy communication, email still reigns, as far as I’m concerned.)
Once documents are closer to finished, we pull them off the cloud into a Word or Open Office document, and share them via Dropbox. I’ve known a lot of people who love Dropbox to keep their files synchronized across multiple devices, but I think the ability to share a single folder among multiple people is even more useful. Once we have our final document in a relatively finished format, it’s super-handy to be able to access it from anywhere, and Dropbox feels a lot more stable than Google Docs–it doesn’t allow for simultaneous collaboration, but that’s a good thing once we’ve all agreed on a final draft.
Finally, it’s impossible for me to write a productivity post without mentioning Evernote. Though we’re not using it to share thoughts and notes as a group, I use it almost daily to keep track of research, class notes, post ideas for my blogs, things I need to check out at the library or across the web, and more! Specifically, I love that I can grab quick notes or snapshots on my phone, and have them waiting for me when I get back to my laptop. Or vice-versa: I’ve even used it for grocery lists–I can write them item-by-item when I think of things, and it’s all waiting on my phone when I get to the store!
The semester’s getting hectic, but Google Docs, Evernote, and Dropbox are helping me and my team stay on top of things. What are your favorite collaborative (or personal) apps and tools? Let us know in the comments–I’d love to hear what other people are using!

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