Methods for “Green” Meeting and Collaborating

Introduction

Using your laptop and an Internet connection, you can help save resources by using online tools to meet, collaborate, and learn with one another. This guide details some tools and methods teachers and staff in Goochland County have available.

Google

Google Apps offers several document formats that can be shared and open by users simultaneously. Word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations can all be shared with colleagues and visible on each person’s screen. We recommend hitting the “save” button within the Google interface after changes are made on each machine. This syncs the shared document with Google’s servers. When you’re connected to a shared document that is being edited, you can use the “refresh” button on your browser to update the version of the document when others have made changes.

Previously, Google Apps included a chat window, but currently does not. For the latest changes to Google Apps, visit their help pages.

Sometimes getting to Google’s Apps can be tedious. Learn how to integrate their applications into your Mac OS X Dock.

New to Google Apps is Google Sites. This is a “do it yourself” wiki system that supports a host of easy to use features. Insert Google Docs into your wiki, add comments, and even upload files. You can share your wiki space with the public, or just key personnel within Goochland.

Finally, Google’s Forms offer a way to collect data. When the data collected is exported into a tab-deliminated file format, our desktop application InspireData makes a great partner in helping visualize your data and gain insight to what you have collected through the form. To learn more about the synergy of these two applications, check out my video podcast.

Adobe

Adobe’s new Acrobat.com is a Flash-based version of document sharing and collaboration tools that is currently free to use. All you need is a free user account and an e-mail address.

Adobe Buzzword is Adobe’s collaborative word processor. Comparable to Google Docs, it offers a “slicker” interface alongside a different set of tools.

Acrobat also allows you to store your files on their server, and share them with other Acrobat.com users.

Unique to the Adobe tools is Adobe ConnectNow. This part of Acrobat.com allows you to screen share, video chat, and text chat with other people. Upload files to the shared room to distribute, and conduct meetings. Since our laptops all have built-in microphones and cameras, you should be ready to go after updating your Flash player.

iChat

iChat on Mac OS X Tiger offers text, voice, and video chat. With a high-bandwidth connection, you can join up to 4 people together in a video chat, and 10 in an audio chat. iChat is great for exchanging files, hosting your own chat room, and for keeping the “audio lines” open while you edit a document in tandem with Google Docs or Adobe Buzzword.

Those using Mac OS X Leopard (10.5) have a new version of iChat that offers even more flexible collaboration tools. With this version of iChat, you can now share photos, Quicktime movies, and Keynote presentations during a video chat. This way, you can walk someone through key concepts while they see the slides and hear your voice. In turn, you see their reaction as you converse together.

Leopard’s iChat also offers a new feature called ScreenShare. This allows either chatter in a two-way call to take over another person’s screen, or observe their desktop. This can be used to offer technical support on demand, or to demonstrate the use of software. During the voice chat and screen sharing, either user can switch views to view the other person’s computer screen.

Skype

Skype is an application-based chat and VoIP tool that can be used free on computers and also for a fee used with phones. While folks within Goochland would likely elect to use iChat, Skype is a great alternative, especially when you’d like to connect with educators outside our division, and whether they will connect by phone, PC, or Mac.

Skype offers a public chat room feature where you can join many users together. They also offer video chat, not unlike iChat A/V.

Conclusion

Sometimes nothing beats a well-organized, face-to-face meeting. Yet, in a climate where budgets force us to save every dime possible, a new class of technologies are available to help us work together when we are physically apart.

GoogleApps (both Docs and Sites) offer us a place to share documents. You can share with folks so they can view your document, or so they can edit. You can even view and edit simultaneously with other users.

Adobe Acrobat.com, a new website, offers document sharing and in-browser editing. Even more compelling is their ConnectNow service that combines voice, text, file sharing, and screen sharing all in one browser window.

iChat is great for presenting ideas to a colleague if you’ve been upgraded to Mac OS X Leopard. Remember that both parties need to be using iChat version 4. iChat is likely the easiest tool to use, and can be used to exchange files and talk with voice and/or video.

Skype is a great alternative for sharing online with users of other platforms. Especially compelling is their Public Chat service.

Whichever tool you use, remember a few tips.

  • Be precise about when you will meet virtually, and which tools you will be using.
  • Be sure everyone has credentials to use the tools before the meeting time.
  • While some folks are timid about video chats, seeing a colleague’s face can improve communication.
  • When joining with more than one other person, consider methods to manage working together. Perhaps a leader can be established to help lead the discussion and assign turns for talking.
  • Finally, remember you can combine these tools. Sharing the editing or viewing of a common document with voice communications is a great way to make quick work. And no one cares if you’re wearing slippers!