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Environments and Tools in the Context of a Web-Course

To begin with, a course designer or a teacher should bear in mind that when a team comes together everybody should get themselves a clear and concrete role in the group. If roles are not assigned, especially the group leader's position, then things are likely to get out of hand. Additionally, every teammate has to assume concrete tasks and responsibilities.

A good solution which helps setting up the group structure, and later on helps to manage on-going work process is a good Project Management software. See Collaborative Tools section for further information. A project management software allows users to simply create a new project to work on, assigning roles to people and specifying tasks, deadlines, and additional material to be used for each and every user. A project management software can also be quite useful when trying to keep track of the overall status of the project, as well as how every user is performing when it comes to his or her tasks. The software can be used to pinpoint when tasks were submitted, if they were on time, late, etc.

A project team is most likely going to produce various documents, presentations, spreadsheets, etc. It can be laborious to update the document on your computer and then to distribute updated versions without mixing them up. Therefore, a collaborative writing tool like Google Docs or Zoho Office Tools is quite beneficial. The links to the documents can be added to the project management software so that everybody can easily find them. Moreover, these collaborative writing tools can be used for live writing, which means that people can write simultaneously and no text gets deleted or left behind. The document is always up to date!


Furthermore, if a team wants to use collaborative sketching or whiteboard tools, which are better suited for drawing related tasks, tools like Evernote or Scribdlink would be useful. Here again the users can draw or make sketches live and everybody can simultaneously contribute. 

Secondly, a team should clearly state and agree on which communication tools they are going to use. See subsection Communication Tools for further information. Among the various possibilities are Skype, Google chat, MSN messenger, etc. Most, if not all of them, allow file sharing, video calls, conference (video) calls, group chat, etc. Therefore, they are a good solution for managing the communication of a project when physical meetings are impossible. 

Moving on to Wikis. Wikis are a type of website that allows users to collaboratively write using a web browser. There are numerous different wiki solutions out there; our Knowledge Management section has listed the three most well-known. Wikis are useful when used inside communities or groups that have a long lifespan.  They don't really make sense for shorter projects.
In groups that have a long lifespan wikis can be used as a place to store the valuable info, discussions, etc. Information can be left behind for future users to use, be it either for learning and training purposes or for mere information (Coleman & Levine, 2012).


The downside with wikis compared to other collaborative tools like Google Docs for instance, is that only one user can modify a text at a time. Hence, if it is likely that multiple users are going to use a tool simultaneously, then a wiki might not be the best solution. Moreover, regarding coding and design possibilities wikis are quite limited. They support HTML markup language, which allows embedding links, pictures, videos, but not much styling. If advanced features are required in styling and design then a blog is most appropriate.

Weblogs and blogging are quite beneficial for study purposes. A blog is very easy to learn and easy to manage. Also a blogs offers very advanced features when it comes to styling and design possibilities as mentioned in the previous paragraph. A blog is mostly intended for personal or for the use of a small group and allows the user to write posts, arrange them into categories, tag them with keywords, embed pictures, videos, links and also schedule them for publishing. Blogs also have the commenting possibility which enables the users to reflect on the posts or to create small scale discussions. Moreover, blogs have track- and pingbacks, which allow for linksharing and notification between different blogs. Blogs also support RSS feeds, which are useful for keeping up to date with students blog posts without having to visit them one by one (Coleman & Levine, 2012).

Finally, File Sharing Tools like Dropbox and  Skydrive allow for groups of people to share their files. Each and every tool has some slight differences when it comes to how it works and what functions it offers, however, the main purpose is to help store files from your computer in the cloud and share them with other users. Therefore, if a group of students is likely to produce many files then using a file sharing tool for storing them would make sense.

References

Coleman, D., Levine, S. (2012). Collaboration 2.0. Technology and Best Practices for Successful Collaboration in a Web 2.0 World. e-Book. 
 

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