5 Ways to Collaborate Online (when you’re offsite)

We’ve all been there before. It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re home relaxing when you realize there was something you and your colleague forgot to include in your plans for the week. Normally this isn’t a huge problem. Just pick up the phone and call, or fire off a quick email. Problem solved.

But this time it’s different. Not only have you forgot to plan an important piece of the weekly plans, but the missing part of the plan requires a little technical know-how which you have explored but your partner has not yet learned how to do. A phone call or a traditional email just won’t cut it. The technical side requires a little something extra. So what do you do, short of giving up your Sunday and meeting at school?

The following 5 suggestions can work as a guide for ways to collaborate and communicate online, even when you’re offsite.

1. Shared Documents

By now most teachers are aware of the power of Google Docs. Many are using Google Docs to help make grading and sharing more efficient. For me, I have exclusively used Google Docs this year and grading papers has never been easier. I don’t miss my overstuffed briefcase, now retired to a closet in my study, and never intend to see it again. Good riddance.

But Google Docs can go beyond teacher-student communication and help teacher to teacher communication as well. The shared documents feature can be used as an effective tool for collaboration, but in addition the comments feature in Google Docs can help foster additional collaboration and communication. To help communicate with your colleague, have both partners open the same document, then use the comments feature, found on the right side of the screen, to create a real-time chat environment where colleagues can change the document then share their thoughts on all the changes being made.

2. Email, Screenshots, and Penultimate

Email is an effective communication tool which has spanned the test of time. In the world of technology this decades-old tool is a grandfather by comparative standards. On its own, email is a great tool, with many possibilities for collaboration.

However, to take the power of email communication to the next level, try pairing email with some newer technologies. To add that extra level, try using email in conjunction with screenshots and a visual editing tool such as Penultimate. Combined together, these features allow you to create a step-by-step tutorial on the fly. Not sure what Penultimate is? Check out this Penultimate tutorial.

Consider this strategy:

1. Take a screenshot of the program in question.

2. Enter the screenshot picture in Penultimate.

3. Edit the screenshot picture in Penultimate, using a variety of hand-drawn signs to highlight the directions for the function in question.

4. Save the edited picture as a screenshot.

5. Attach the new edited screenshot to an email and send to your colleague.

3. Texting with Pictures and Videos

Texting, like email, is an efficient method for communication which is used on a regular basis. But to take the power of collaboration with texting to the next level, consider using the visual possibilities inherent in the medium. To communicate technical directions with a colleague, the following strategies can be employed:

1. Take a screenshot, then text.

2. Take a picture of the function in question, then text.

3. Take a video while you work through the function, then text the video. This feature of texting can be an especially powerful strategy, effectively allowing you to create a video tutorial in a matter of seconds.

4. Google Voice

Google Voice is a feature which allows the Google user to create a custom phone number with all the feature of phone calls, texting, voicemail, and a contact list. On its own, Google Voice is a great feature which can help run all the daily classroom activities. I especially like using Google Voice from my cell phone to call parents. This allows me to be in tough with parents at any time, from anywhere, without giving away my own personal cell phone number.

However, Google Voice off a few additional features for collaboration which a regular phone does not offer. Specifically, Google Voice offers a speak to text feature on both voicemail and phone calls. This can be a great asset when communicating complex, technical directions. One colleague can call the other with directions, then the colleague receiving the directions can access a written transcript of the spoken directions.

5. Remote Control and Remote Viewing

In a desperate situation a program offering remote control or remote viewing can solve any complex, technical problem when one colleague is lost and spoken or written directions just won’t suffice. There are a few different options for programs which offer remote control or remote viewing. My own personal favorite is LogMeIn, a program which is free and offers complete access to networked computers. By using LogMeIn, one colleague can access the computer of another colleague, then control the colleague’s computer as though sitting in front of the computer in person. The remote access can be used by another computer, tablet, or even a smart phone, meaning complete access to the problem can be done anywhere, at any time. Admittedly, setting up LegMeIn takes a little technical know-how to begin with, but the feature is easy enough that someone with only intermediate computer skills can figure it out. You do not have to be a network engineer to use LogMeIn, and the benefits for fixing otherwise unfixable problems are tremendous.

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