This is a guest post written for students by students Matty Trueman, Kai Ackroyd, Curtis Alexis-Jones and Gagan Warinch to highlight the free collaboration tools available and how they can support remote learning. We are final year students at Sheffield Hallam University.
Our blog post will look at how you as a student can: plan tasks, share work online, schedule and run online meetings whilst staying digitally connected through messaging services. In addition, tools to help with managing time and staying motivated during times of difficulty will also be shared.
Project planning tools such as Trello and Slack are useful for planning tasks and organising work. These can help your group capture all the tasks that need doing and track what has been done.
Trello allows you to work collaboratively by using task boards, lists and cards to organise and prioritise your work. Trello integrates with many other apps such as Slack, Dropbox and Google Drive to name a few. Trello can be accessed on the go via a mobile app or through the browser allowing users to update projects with ease.
Slack is also another powerful tool that can be downloaded as an app or accessed through the browser. Slack allows you to communicate and collaborate in one place by organising different chat channels (groups). Within the channels files can be shared and face to face video meetings can be arranged through Zoom and Google Drive platform integrations which allows work to be shared via video. Each channel can be split down for different projects and groups to help organise your work. Slack also integrates with Trello and 2000 other apps to support your work.
Collaborative work spaces for group work
Collaborative work spaces such as OneDrive & Google Drive are the perfect tools to work on individual and group projects in challenging times. You can access your files everywhere, no matter where you are as long as you are able to access the internet.
You can also share your files with your friends with just a few simple clicks. You can set the permission where your friends can either view, edit, comment on your stuff, or all of them. And thirdly they can encourage open discussion. You can create and reply to comments to get feedback and make files more collaborative, it can be done by commenting directly on the files.
These tools can provide a quick way to find the best time slot for groups to meet online, without the need for back and forth emails or messages.
Online meeting platforms including Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are effective for learning when you have group work/ assignments and for contacting peers/ tutors for any support during this trying time.
Zoom is an easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio meetings across mobile devices, desktops, telephones, and room systems. Key features are (free plan):
- One-on-one meetings: Host unlimited one-on-one meetings with peers/ tutors.
- Group video conferences: Allows you to host video meetings for up to 40 minutes and up to 100 participants.
- Screen sharing: Meet one-on-one or with large groups and share your screen with them so they can see what you see.
Skype is accessed online and works across multiple devices; mobile, PC, Xbox and Alexa. Skype messaging and HD voice and video calling will help you share your findings/ideas and get group work done with others. Key features are:
- Individual conversations: Host individual audio/ video with peers/ tutors.
- Group conversations: Allows you to have audio/ video calls and meetings with up to 50 participants.
- It’s free to use: To send messages and have audio and video calls with groups.
Google Hangouts is a communications platform which facilitates messaging, video chatting and phone calls. You can access it via web browser or mobile devices (IOS/ Android).There is also a Google Chrome extension for this platform. Key features are:
- Individual/ Group conversations: Conversations can include up to 150 people.
- Individual/ Group video calls: Video calls can include up to 10 (Gmail, G Suite Basic) or 25 (Business, Education) people.
- Phone calls/ text messages: Make phone calls using Wi-Fi or data and send text messages with your Google Voice or Google Fi phone number.
Studying alone can help you focus but it can also be isolating. Make use of chat to check in on peers and see how they are. Use group chat to keep everyone in your group informed and to take stock of your progress towards forthcoming assignments.
You may be familiar with apps like WhatsApp, Messenger and Twitter for keeping in touch socially with friends and they are also a good to use for group work.
- WhatsApp https://www.whatsapp.com/
- Messenger https://www.messenger.com/
- Twitter group DMs https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/direct-messages
Discord allows users to chat via text, voice or video call from anywhere. It can be downloaded to mobile, desktop or be used in a browser and instantly allows for voice communication. Users can create their own chat groups and invite others to it and you can see when others are online in the chat and instantly join in to speak. Users have the ability to have their profile appear as online, busy or idle to ensure others know their availability. It is widely used in the gaming community, but easily applied to students for group work or for effective communication.
- Discord https://discordapp.com/
Self motivation / Time tracking
Carve out some space for study time. This will be harder if you are doing this at home or in halls where there may be multiple distractions. Here are some tools to keep you on track:
Toggl allows users to track the number of hours they’ve spent on a project across multiple devices (phone app, chrome extension, desktop app & website). With Toggl you can start timers, integrate it with over 100 online apps and add your hours to a calendar to keep track of what you’ve been working on. It will also identify any idle time so you can decide what to do with it later to keep you motivated.
Pomotodo is a great tool to help keep you motivated and driven to achieve your tasks and goals when not in the classroom environment. The Pomodoro technique is a time management strategy. The user will create and prioritise a list of all the things you need to accomplish. The smart system will limit distractions, schedule breaks and increases accountability.
- Toggl https://www.toggl.com/ (Free plan for basic time tracking for teams up to 5 members)
- Pomotodo https://pomotodo.com/
Check your university website for student support guidance and resources. The library web pages are always a rich resource to help you with things like referencing and academic skills.
It is also important we all look after both our physical and mental wellbeing. Reach out to friends you have not heard from and check they are ok.
Student Minds https://www.studentminds.org.uk/coronavirus.html
Big White Wall https://www.bigwhitewall.com/
Fika – Mental Fitness https://www.fika.community/
We hope this has been useful. Stay well and keep on studying.
Matty, Kai, Curtis and Gagan
BSc IT with Business Studies and BSc Business and ICT students at Sheffield Hallam University