We are fortunate to have classrooms dedicated to collaboration and equipped with ClassSpot or other tools. Collaboration classrooms (Rooms 2010, 2015, 2016, and 2021) are equipped with six flat screen displays that allow small groups of students to work together on the preparation documents of all sorts--presentations, text documents, images, or spreadsheets. ClassSpot classrooms (Rooms 2010 and 2016) allow all student in the group to connect their laptops to the displays by wireless network and to share files in native format using ClassSpot software. "Cloud Computing" classrooms (Rooms 2015 and 2021) require students to use VGA cables to connect one laptop at a time to the flat panel display. (This is the format we used in our demonstration of Google Docs during the School of Education Day,)

However, working "in the cloud," that is, with Internet-based tools, is possible in any classroom. These tools may also be used asynchronously from any location with Internet access. Here are a few ideas:

Google Docs

With our WM Apps email accounts, we also have access to other goodies, such as Google Docs. This application allows one person (usually, but not always, an instructor or team leader) to create a folder or single document and then invite others to view or edit it. There are several levels of privacy and participation, so the application is quite flexible. You can create folders for your personal use that no one else can access. Or, you can create a shared folder. The really nifty feature is that multiple users can access and edit a shared document simultaneously. And this needn't happen in the same physical space, so study groups can produce projects without extra commute time.

To access Google Docs, open your W&M email account. Click on the "Documents" hyperlink at the top left of the window.

Learning how to organize your folders and documents, and how to share with appropriate levels of access or privacy may take a little practice. But in the end, you'll find Google Docs is a valuable tool that costs no extra money and requires no additional equipment.

Elluminate

Many of our faculty have already used Elluminate or something similar to attend or facilitate a webinar. One way to access Elluminate for free is to register at LearnCentral.org, a site dedicated to educators. It is possible to conduct a fairly large event in the common meeting space. Account holders also get a small private space for up to three people that can be used to test Ellluminate tools or even run through a presentation before presenting at a large webinar. A bonus feature is the ability to record the webinar, saving it to the Internet for future distribution or sharing through e-mail. Be sure to read Steve Hargadon's instructions and advice on the LearnCentral blog.

WM Wikis

Wikis are widely used in the SOE for student portfolios, but they can also be powerful collaboration tools. A pair or team of students may build and edit an infinite number of pages focused on a particular class subject or research question. (Actually, there's no way to know whether they can create an infinite number of pages -- but the number is pretty big.) Since the wiki lives in cyberspace and is independent of Blackboard or other constraints, it essentially remains accessible forever. (Again, there's no way of knowing . . . .)

Blackboard

Don't forget that Blackboard Learn offers new collaboration tools, such as a virtual lecture hall, blogs, and wikis. One advantage to using these for a class is that all the course materials are located within the same shell and available through the navigation buttons. However, once the course has been purged from the system (usually sometime in the subsequent semester), all student entries are also lost. However, if the purpose for your collaborative efforts is very temporary, the Blackboard tools may be the only ones you'll need.

Keep in mind that new technology is emerging rapidly and the possibilities for collaboration across temporal and geographical boundaries are increasing all the time. Here are a few web sites worth visiting for more information:

  • Start with this annotated list of web-based research tools that all have a collaborative feature: Collaborative Research Tools
  • Take a look at Adobe Connect Pro. Some faculty at VIMS, the business school and our own SOE are exploring its possibilities. What do you think?