2012 Top Online Collaboration Tools for Learning Professionals

My Blended Learning students at GBC have asked at a session the other day what online collaboration tools they can use as part of their social learning toolkit since most of them are building blended or purely online curricula for the companies they work for.  Looked at my browser’s favs and here’s my list. You can use the independently or when in combination to keep your online learners engaged.


1.Stixy is an online bulletin board where you can share pictures, files, calendar reminders, and notes. These come in the form of widgets that you drag from a widget option area to a shared workspace. You can change sizes, colours, etc. It’s in Beta right now but I’m sure it’ll get good traction.
2. Google+ Hangouts let’s you invite colleagues to view your stream. This is perfect for an online-offline event like a lecture by a guest speaker that is streamed and then allow others who can’t participate in person to participate online. It’s like UStream without the multitude of available videos and advertisements… yet. Another easy product to use is MeBeam. It looks a bit like someone just slapped it together in a week but it works.  Create a chat room by giving it a name and then you’re there. Too easy.

3.Grou.ps and Ning lets you create your own social network FOR A PRICE. Much like SocialEngine PHP Community Software  but easier to develop. You can pull different modules together ala Moodle but again, easier. The beauty about this is you can customize your training workspace to your specific needs. You can add YouTube videos, create your own forum, bookmarks, share photos, share URLs, etc etc. There is a 30-day free trial. Wouldn’t it be great if it was a 30 or so number of “use days” instead? I can’t be expected to be on this site every day playing with the software but the countdown can start at every day that I actually use it. I do have other responsibilities.

3.Grou.ps and Ning lets you create your own social network FOR A PRICE. Much like SocialEngine PHP Community Software  but easier to develop. You can pull different modules together ala Moodle but again, easier. The beauty about this is you can customize your training workspace to your specific needs. You can add YouTube videos, create your own forum, bookmarks, share photos, share URLs, etc etc. There is a 30-day free trial. Wouldn’t it be great if it was a 30 or so number of “use days” instead? I can’t be expected to be on this site every day playing with the software but the countdown can start at every day that I actually use it. I do have other responsibilities.4. Let’s DOODLE together online. We can use it as an icebreaker, as a way to brainstorm, as a method to explain abstract concepts, many ways. I use a couple of online tools to doodle. DabbleBoard, FlockDraw,  NetSketch , Twiddla, Queeky and CoSketch are tools allowing you to do just that. Cool thing about these products is that they work immediately – most don’t need the user to register and it’s free. There’s also saving and/or embedding capability for future reference. If you’re new to these types of products, start with CoSketch, Twiddla, and NetSketch first and once you are more comfortable with using your mouse in drawing (or if you have a stylus) move into DabbleBoard and FlockDraw.

Want to see something really impressive? WebCanvas is purportedly the world’s largest graffiti wall.
Now how about a multi-user, live audio, image collaboration, text chat, no user limit collaboration tool? Seems like the rest of the above features smashed into one product called Scribblar. A couple of videos here to get more info on this product. Altogether, if you are teaching adult learners, choose a product from the above set that is appropriate for your audience. Some may look a bit more K12 than others so choose wisely. Personally I’d go with Dabbleboard. Then again I don’t really doodle well.
5. Would you rather create Diagrams instead of use freestyle drawing? Cacoo , LucidChart and DrawAnywere are  good products to start. It’s like working on Visio, FlowChart or  SmartDraw collaboratively online. Start with Cacoo and then move towards the other two once you get the hang of it.
6.  For project management based products, Arcilook and Creately have had good reviews. Arcilook even have a job section for virtual contractors (engineers, architects, designers, managers). Of course there’s for-fee products like Basecamp and Backpack but to be more comfortable using these products and for your own learning, start with the free ones, learn quickly, while your company installs the the more sophisticated corporate social technologies.

7. Group of colleagues tweeting together? Easy to set up when you use GroupTweet. A DM to one is a tweet to the group. I can think of a group of facilitators responding to student queries through tweets. The work is then shared amongst those facilitators.

8. Remember those community centre notice boards? For those who have not stepped in a community centre, Starbucks has them too. There’s an online version using Wallwisher. I can see this being used as part of a “virtual student lounge” where learners can post whatever (of course, you would need set the guidelines). It can even enhance community building. Here’s an example for Teaching Development Tips for Preservice Teachers. Other interesting ways to use wallwisher can be found here

9. Brainstorming online? Mindmeister continues to be my choice. It was introduced by my friend Joost a couple of years back. Bubbl.us is an easier product to use though to start.

10. Now collaboration online also means management of virtual teams for some of you. Managing groups? Use Wiggio to send mass text messages, broadcast voicemails (now if only I can connect that with my broadcast app) emails, etc. It makes it easy to share files and polls. You can set video conferences and also keep shared calendar, keep track of group’s tasks and resources. Of course, there’s GCal and other Google cloud-based products. Though I like the Google programs for personal use, for team work and collaboration, I’ve been using other products. (Plus I like to test new social technologies anyway so it’s good to learn about these other programs)  I like WikiDot as a wiki builder, for example. Easy to create pages, forums, upload files, notes, image shares. There’s of course the known Wikispaces , used by academics. Ages ago, I used PBWiki which has been a fav when I worked with my students. The company website looks better now, called PBWorks. I still use the product.

If you are taking group notes, SpringNote or Evernote would be perfect. I imagine this being used at lectures with guest speakers, seminars, or conferences and a collaborative class notes would be the good takeaway. Everyone gets to participate in the writing process. I like that both have iPhone/iPad apps as most of our learners use their devices at these events anyway.

That’s my current list. As with all technologies, this could change momentarily. Watch for my next update once that happens. In the meantime, enjoy virtual collaboration. It’s as much, if not more (thanks to augmented experiences), fun and learning-enriched as in-person collaboration.



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