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Remote learning: Online collaboration

“A lot of students fear that online collaboration is 'lesser' or not as engaging as face to face work. This could not be further from the case. Current technology allows authentic collaboration, sometimes beyond what could be achieved in a traditional meeting. "

As part of your studies or assessment, you may be required to work in groups. While there are restrictions on in-person contact, you will need to undertake any collaborative work online where possible. This page covers everything you need to get started with online collaboration and the software to support it. Even if you do not have group work, this guide will help you keep connected to your course mates. 

When working with other students, it is important to understand that everyone will have different responsibilities and needs. Some people may have care, childcare and/or homeschooling to balance alongside their studies. You will need to consider these responsibilities when you arrange your meetings to ensure you are inclusive to everyone in your group. If this proves impossible, let your lecturers know. 

Online meetings

When working collaboratively it is useful to have online meetings where you can make decisions, divide tasks and share progress. You may need to initially get in contact with each other via Canvas messages, especially if you have not already decided on how to keep in touch. When choosing the style of meetings you want to use, you will need to decide between synchronous meetings and or asynchronous meetings. 

Synchronous meetings mean you will all be logged in talking at the same time. Technologies like Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and Google Hangouts support this. To make the most of these meetings, everyone will need speakers and a microphone. If you choose to, you can also share webcams which can make communication feel more natural and human. If you have people in your group who are shy, they may just want to text type which is also fine. 

Asynchronously meetings mean everyone will contribute at different times. Technologies like Canvas messages, Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage support this. Other students in your group may have a preference for these kinds of meetings, especially if they have work or caring commitments. 

When deciding which to choose, you will need to consider everyone's availability. If you cannot find a time everyone is available, you may need to have your meeting asynchronously. The technology you choose will also depend on the equipment everyone has available. For example, you cannot use FaceTime unless everyone has an Apple product.

Scheduling meetings

To help you find a time that everyone is free, there are some helpful tools that can help you compare schedules. They are designed to help everyone choose a convenient time, without the need for multiple messages or emails. 

Calendly scheduling tool          Doodle scheduling tool

Collaborative workspaces

If you are working on a project together, it can help to have a common space where you can all share files or work at the same time. 

The University provides access to Microsoft Office's OneDrive which has lots of storage and premium features. You can login to your OneDrive account using your University credentials. Another option is Google Drive. On both of these platforms you can store store files in the same place and you can edit them together in real-time.

Using collaborative workspaces

Whenever you are using a collaborative workspace like OneDrive or Google Drive for group work, you need to make sure you share content with everyone in your group. Once you've uploaded files, make sure you select the relevant folder and choose the 'share' option. You will usually need everyone's email address to set this up. After this is done, everyone will be able to add their files, comments and notes into the same shared area.

Top tip:  Take minutes or notes for every group meeting you have - even if this is not required. It is a great way to record decisions, responsibilities and actions.

Getting collaboration right

Similar to face-to-face collaboration, it is really important to communicate effectively and professionally. You should ensure everyone in your group has a role, and takes responsibility for doing what is required. When decisions are made, you should record them and everyone in the group should stick to them. 

Online meeting tools

Here are some of the tools you may want to consider using:


Tool Advantages Disadvantages
Canvas Everyone already has an account. No need to exchange contact details as you can reach anyone in a module through Canvas. Not as quick or seamless compared to the other tools.
Email Everyone already has an account. Even if you do not know everyone's email address, you can look them up on the global address book in outlook web. Not everyone checks their emails. It can be difficult for group conversations and its hard to share files.
Facebook Messenger Offers instant communication between the group. Can also facilitate group video calling. Very easy to share photographs. Not everyone will want a messenger account. It can be frustrating to find everyone. 
Microsoft Teams Everyone already has an account. No need to exchange contact details as you can reach anyone in a module through Teams. It is a one stop place for communication and storing files while you are at University. There are some access restrictions for external guests. 
Whatsapp Offers instant communication between the group. Can also facilitate group audio and video calling.  You will need to exchange phone numbers and everyone will need a mobile phone. Not as convenient when sharing files, especially if used on mobile. 
Slack A powerful communication tool designed to replace email in businesses.  Will take getting used to. It is also likely *another* tool that you will need to install and get used to. 
Skype Great for text, audio and video calling. Can seem a little restrictive compared to other available tools. 
Zoom Offers professional online conferencing allowing users to share audio, video and screens. Limited to 40 minutes for group meetings after which time it will disconnect. 


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