What’s in Your Collaborative Toolbox?

There are tons of tools out there that can be used to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and just as many that are powerful collaborative learning tools for students. While the tools I choose for a particular project depend on what outcomes we’re looking for, there are probably half a dozen web tools that I come back to again and again. They’re by no means the flashiest tools on the scene but they seem to be the most versatile ones for me.

So what tools do I keep handy in my collaborative toolbox and how do I use them? Here are my top 3:

iChat (and Skype) chatting and conferencing. This is an oldie but goodie that I use almost daily for collaborating with peers around the country and in my own district. I really like the simple versatility of iChat for Mac users. The newest version supports audio conferencing with 10 people concurrently, 4 people concurrently via video, and even allows me to present remotely or to share my computer screen with someone. In fact, my district uses iChat so that our most remote schools (a 4 hour drive and 1 time zone away) can participate virtually in technology meetings we hold every quarter. In the classroom, my students have participated in virtual projects with other schools over the years including a comparative religion project with a Hebrew school in South Florida and a wetlands project with a school in Louisiana.

Google Docs. GoogleDocs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations have become my primary form of collaborative writing (including the draft writing of this post!) In our school, we’ve begun to do most of our department writing in Google Docs to end the “Who’s got the latest version?” shuffle that happens when we would share draft documents by email or on a network share. In our classes, teachers who assign group projects introduce GoogleDocs to their classes. Students love how easy it makes working together while still allowing the teacher and their teammates to keep track of individual contributions. Last year, our Design classes even created a documentary video to share their experiences with GoogleDocs with other students. What makes GoogleDocs powerful for me is the fact that up to 10 people can actively contribute to one document concurrently and that the interface is instantly familiar to anyone who’s used a word processor. Sometimes the simplest tools can be the most powerful.

Wikis. Last year for the first time, we created a wiki to support our annual Digital Learning Summer Institute. It was a tremendous hit with the participants because it gave them a venue where they could actively contribute while collecting the collaborative knowledge built during the week. We’ve also begun to use wikis in the classroom as a place for students to create a common repository of work with short term projects and as a long-term classroom collective. Last week, a group of teachers approached me to ask about beginning an internal wiki for our faculty to use to compile their collective knowledge about technology. Our site, called CHECK (Catholic High’s Electronic Collective Knowledge) will be a way for them to share tips and tricks they’ve picked up for both practical tech know-how specific to our school and general instructional tips for our 1:1 classes. The best part is that this initiative is a direct result of their desire to share!

These three tools make up a majority of my collaborative work with my peers and in the classroom. In our school, we also make lots of use of internal blogs and discussion boards, as well as good old email. I’m beginning to add more items to my toolbox such as Ning for group discussions such as these and Drop.io for sharing files with commenting, but I often find myself turning back to the same tools again and again.

Here’s the thing that’s most important, I think. These are the tools that work for me. You may find that you agree completely with my choices here, or you may have a completely different set of tools in your top 3. When I asked my Twitter network for their top 3 tools I got a variety of answers:

All of them were unique, but none of them were wrong. And, if you ask me in a month or a year, my answers may be entirely different.

The beauty is that it’s not about the tools we choose, it’s about what they allow us to accomplish together.

What web tools do you turn to most often when collaborating with others and why?

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