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Collaborating online: Home

working with others

As part of your studies or assessment, you may be required to work in groups online. 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. 

When working with others, it is important to understand that everyone will have different responsibilities and needs. Some people may have care, childcare and work to balance. You will need to consider these responsibilities when you arrange your meetings to ensure you are inclusive to everyone in your group.

Online meetings

When working collaboratively it is useful to have online meetings where you can make decisions, divide tasks and share progress. When choosing the style of meetings you want to use, you will need to decide between synchronous meetings and or asynchronous meetings.

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.

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.

Asynchronous meetings mean everyone will contribute at different times. We would recommend using Office 365 Teams which can be used on computers or mobile devices and is available to all University of Southampton students and staff. Office 365 is supported by iSolutions. Alternative technologies include WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage also support asynchronous meetings or conversations.

Other students in your group may have a preference for these kinds of asynchronous meetings, especially if they have work or caring commitments.

Blackboard Disscussion board

The Blackboard discussion board is an example of asynchronous conversations. A user may post a new thread (usually a question or statement calling for a response) and other users may then reply to that thread, creating a discussion. Find out more from this Using a blackboard discussion board guide.

Synchronous meetings mean you will all be logged in talking at the same time. We would recommend using Office 365 Teams which can be used on computers or mobile devices and is available to all University of Southampton students and staff. Office 365 is supported by iSolutions

To make the most of synchronous 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. 

Blackboard Collaborate

Some of your modules may start using Blackboard Collaborate which is a real-time video conferencing tool integrated into every Blackboard course that lets you add files, share applications, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact. Collaborate opens right in your Chrome or Firefox browser, so you don’t have to install any software to join a session.  It will work on phones and tablets without needing an additional app.

Scheduling meetings 

To help you find a time that everyone is free, there are some helpful tools such as Calendly or Doodle that can help you compare schedules. They are designed to help everyone choose a convenient time, without the need for multiple messages or emails. [add in about teams calendar scheduler.]

Getting collaboration right

Just as with face to face collaboration, it is really important to communicate effectively, professionally and with respect. 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.

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. We would recommend using Office 365 Teams which can be used on computers or mobile devices and is available to all University of Southampton students and staff. Office 365 is supported by iSolutions. If you need to collaborate on documents or files with others you should use either SharePoint Online or Teams.

Don't let collaboration become collusion 

As you settle in to studying and working online it is important to remember that you still need to maintain your academic integrity at all times. It may be tempting (and all too easy) to share a copy of part or all of your work to help another student who tells you that that they are struggling with the same assignment but this would be considered as collusion not collaborating. See our Academic Integrity Online page for further advice and guidance.

Online meeting tools

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

online meeting tools
Tool Advantages Disadvantages
Blackboard

This is the Virtual Learning Environment [VLE] supported by the University of Southampton. It is a place where you may find materials for your course, as well as interactive features such as online tests and discussion boards.

Blackboard Collaborate 

Blackboard Collaborate is a real-time video conferencing tool integrated into every Blackboard course that lets you add files, share applications, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact.Collaborate opens right in your Chrome or Firefox browser, so you don’t have to install any software to join a session.  It will work on phones and tablets without needing an additional app.  Find out more in this guide.

Features need to be set up by your course/module instructor. Not all schools / departments use Blackboard for teaching.
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.
Office 365 Teams

Teams is a collaboration tool, primarily used to bring small groups together to work on common goals. Each group space is called a team. Within each team are channels through which (primarily) text based conversations can occur, files can be shared and a wide variety of other actions and integrations are possible.

Teams can also be used for individual or group chat (messaging), individual or group audio or video calls, plus you can share your screen with others in a call. It replaces the older Skype for Business service/application.

Teams can be accessed via your web browser (Edge or Chrome preferred), or you can install the Teams application (available for Windows, Mac, ios and android)

A new thing to get used to but it is well worth the time to get familiar with using it. We think it has all the features that you need to collaborate effectively in a group situation.
Whatsapp Offers instant communication (chat/messaging) 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. 
Google Hangouts Offers messaging, audio and video calling. Can also share your screen with others in the call.  Requires everyone to be connected at the same time. 
Facebook messenger Offers instant communication (chat/messaging) 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.
Slack A 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.

 

Acknowledgement (click to read more...)

Creative Commons License  'Skills for studying online'. Our pages are a derivative of  Remote learning SkillsGuide available at https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/remote/home licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We thank the generosity of the University of Hull Library for providing a CC BY-NC-SA licence and under the terms provide the same licence for our pages.

Book online appointment. Imagee:iStock-1212108555

Related resources:

Blackboard for students by University of Southampton

Blackboard Collaborate for students by University of Southampton

Office 365 by University of Southampton

Office 365 Training Center by Microsoft

Group work by University of Southampton Libraries