Communicate and collaborate online

Aims and objectives

This module will:

  • explore the advantages and disadvantages of different methods of online communication
  • examine tools for communicating and collaborating online.

After completing this module, you will be able to:

  • communicate effectively, respectfully and safely in interactive online environments
  • evaluate and select different tools for communicating and collaborating online.

3. Collaborating online

Collaboration involves working with another person or group to achieve an outcome. When collaboration takes place online, it can create extra challenges, but it can also make it easier to share ideas, plan tasks and be productive through the use of online collaboration tools.

Group assignments and projects

At university, it is likely that you will have to complete group assignments and projects. It can help you develop effective communication and leadership skills to prepare for the workplace. It is common in the workplace to work in teams with colleagues to complete tasks or projects. However, it can be particularly frustrating at university because you have the added pressure of having your project marked, plus other courses to complete. Online collaboration tools and techniques can make it easier for you to work with your group.

Remember that you must maintain the highest standards of academic integrity in your work.

Techniques for collaboration

Your group will be able to collaborate online effectively if you use some key strategies.

Group charter or contract

Set up a group charter (YouTube, 1m11s) presents some basic guidelines for collaborating online with your group:

Set up a group charter video transcript (DOC, 23KB).

Use this example group charter (PDF, 98KB) to set up guidelines for your group.

Dealing with collaboration issues

Try these techniques to deal with any issues:

  1. Communicate regularly. Everyone should also make a commitment to regularly check their messages. When the team has an assessment due, you may need to check your messages more frequently, in case your team members have last minute questions or concerns.
  2. Plan regular online meetings. Use a poll tool (e.g. Doodle poll) if you are messaging back and forth too much trying to decide on dates and times to suit everyone.
  3. End all communication with clearly defined next steps so all group members know what is expected of them.
  4. Use an online brainstorming and voting tool (e.g. Tricider) if group members can’t agree on something. There are options that allow for anonymity if you feel that others don’t want to disagree with a dominant group member.
  5. Use a messaging tool that allows for discussion threads. If you ask a question in a tool that does not have discussion threads, like Messenger, your question may get lost when more messages are posted. Some group members may not see your original question due to all the other new messages coming in.
  6. Choose a tool that allows you to share and collaborate on documents easily.

The next section, on Collaboration tools, lists online tools that can help you do all these steps.

Online meetings

Think about last time when you had an online meeting or video call. Were there issues? What could you have done differently to improve the meeting?

Online meetings or video conferences are a great way to find out what the group members are thinking and doing, and to get things moving with your project. You can also use screen sharing to examine ideas and documents as a team.

Steps for successful online meetings:

  1. Prepare your equipment — you will need a computer with a reliable internet/wifi connection; headphones and a microphone; and a quiet space.
  2. Decide what online video conferencing tool you will use (see the Collaboration tools section for suggestions).
  3. Send a meeting invitation in advance with a link to join the meeting.
  4. Set up 10 minutes or so before the start time — open any web pages or documents you will need during the session. If you will share your screen, close anything you don’t want anyone else to see.
  5. Prepare a simple agenda before the meeting and send it to the group so you know exactly what you need to discuss. This also helps you to check that the meeting has a real purpose. Anything not on the agenda can be discussed after you have been through all the agenda items.
  6. Keep it positive and follow the online etiquette recommendations. If you disagree with someone’s ideas or actions, focus your feedback on the issue rather than blaming the person.
  7. Try not to get distracted. Ask questions directly to each member if you feel they are not getting a chance to speak up.
  8. Share a summary of the meeting and the agreed actions with the group so everyone will know what is expected from them next.

Collaborating on a document

If your group is sending documents back and forth to each other via email, it can be easy to lose track of the latest version. When collaborating on a document use an online tool that:

  • stores your document in a shared drive that all group members can access
  • allows group members to write and edit at the same time
  • shows the version history and allows you to revert to a previous version if needed
  • can be downloaded as a Word document, PDF or other file type.

The Collaboration tools section gives examples of useful tools for creating collaborative documents.

Privacy

Maintaining your privacy can be a concern when you are using social media or online tools for collaboration. Make sure you check the settings on your accounts to limit the amount of information that others can see about you or your group members. You may want to keep your personal identity separate from your university or professional life. If a member doesn’t want to use social media to communicate, don’t panic. There are other tools you can use e.g. Slack - find out more about Slack in the Collaboration tools section.

Our module on Digital wellbeing and privacy looks further into online privacy issues.

Duration:   Approximately 20 minutes


Graduate attributes

Knowledge and skills you can gain to contribute to your Graduate attributes:

Effective communication Effective communication

 Critical judgement

 Ethical and social understanding


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