Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thing 5: Collaboration

xkcd cartoon: "Far Away"

We're getting to the time of the academic year where collaboration - and asking questions - is getting to be more and more relevant. So today's Thing is about collaborating online (and also some times when it might not be the greatest solution)



There's a couple of different things going on here. One is that sometimes we want to be able to access a document from multiple places easily. (Google Drive, which will be the focus of an upcoming Thing, is a great tool here). Sometimes we want to be able to write a document but share it easily with other people - for example a handout or presentation notes. And sometimes we want to work with other people on something, whether that's a paper, a presentation, or a project.

And at other times, we may just have a quick question for someone (a professor, someone else in our class, a librarian, a friend.) 

Fortunately, the Internet can help!



If you use UMF's email (or Gmail on your own), you've got a way to collaborate built in. Several of them, in fact. The most basic is Instant Messaging, where you can have a text conversation with one or more people, and sort things out. You can also share documents through Google Drive (and you can have a chat on the document's page with other collaborators.)

I use IM all the time at home to collaborate on a project that involves a dozen people across four time zones - we use both IM and email for quick questions and also for more social conversations.

If you're not familiar with instant messaging, here's a few tips: 
  • Set yourself to "Available" and then find the person you'd like to chat to - some help from Google can get you started. You can also get help on group chats.
  • People can set their own availability (or status notes).
  • If you're focused on a particular conversation (like working on a specific assignment), it's polite to let people know if you need to step away for a minute or two.
  • If it's a casual conversation with friends, things are usually less formal (people may drift away, wander to the kitchen to make dinner, whatever.)
  • There are chat apps for smart phones, and many people use shorthand or brief responses, but you don't need to. Like conversations, chats will find their own flow.
  • You'll sometimes see people indicating emotions with emoticons, emoji, or by indicating an action like *hug* or :hug:
  • You can also format text - if you put *asterisks* around something Google Chat, it will make that word or words bold. If you do _this_, it'll put it in italics, and if you do -this- it'll strike it through.
Did you know the library has a chat feature? 
During a number of hours each day, you can reach one of the librarians on duty through the chat widget on our homepage. When the little yellow light bulb is lit, there's someone on the other end ready to help you with your library questions.

We can help point you to a resource, give you more information about library tools and options, and answer a lot of questions without you ever leaving your home.

Collaborative documents:
Google Drive also gives you access to shared documents. We'll come back to other features of Google Drive in the near future, but you can create a document, share it with other people, and all make changes at once. (Each person will have a different color icon.) You can see exactly what people changed.

Google has more help on collaborating on documents, of course. Besides editing, you can leave comments, or you can share a document without giving people editing permission. It is an incredible tool for working with other people.

Video chat
If you like actually seeing who you're talking to (and have access to a computer with a webcam, microphone, enough network speed, and enough quiet) you can also do video chats. Google Hangouts are one option, but so are tools like Skype. Video chats are just what they sound like: a chance to see and hear the person (or people) you're talking to.

Which is best?

Honestly, there isn't one best. It can be very hard to get tone of voice by chat or email (jokes and especially sarcasm or irony can come across very oddly). On the other hand, a chat or email chain gives you a written reminder of what was said, which can be very useful in some projects.

Some people also have different preferences: I do a lot of my conversations in email, some in IM, and very very few by video or phone for personal projects (because I'm often watching something on Netflix, knitting, cooking, or otherwise multitasking, and they don't mix as well with video/phone.) I know people who are the total opposite, though - they have video chat on all the time. 

Of course, there are also some times when face to face works best. The usual advice is to have face to face conversations for things where there's a lot of emotion involved (if you're upset about something, or frustrated, or need to figure out a better way to work, that's a good time.) And like the comic says above, sometimes *hug* just isn't enough.

Things to try:

  1. Try a method of communication you haven't tried before - or haven't used recently. You don't need to use it for a big project, you can check in with a friend.
  2. Try creating a document and sharing it with someone else (give them editing rights.) Maybe swap interesting recipes for the holidays. 
  3. Talk to the people you collaborate or work with regularly to find out their preferred communication method. (If you have an online contact book, you can use the notes field to remind you.)

No comments:

Post a Comment