E-learning and Collaboration with Free Web Tools

Here’s a quick and dirty way to get your course online using free web tools:

  • Upload your syllabus to writely.com and make it public.
  • Upload your course documents to a folder on box.net and share the folder.
  • Create a discussion group for your class on Google Groups.
  • Post your class list to Google Spreadsheets (although you might want to keep that private).
  • Create a unique del.icio.us tag for URLs you want to share with your class.

I’ve noticed that most people do just about everything in either Word or Excel. These tools let you move that data online without having to change a thing. Once online you can continue to edit it online, share it publicly, or privately share it with a group of collaborators. I find myself using Writely and Google Spreadsheets more and more for any kind of task that would have previously required mailing the same document back and forth several times. Having tried about a dozen different services for running online discussions (such as forums, Yahoo Groups, etc.) I finally settled on Google Groups as the one that is easiest to use for both teachers and students. And Box.net seems like the easiest way to share documents for download. I just wish there was something to make it just as easy for students to submit their homework online.

Del.icio.us is the odd one out. Although I find it very easy to use and now can’t live without it, I’ve not been very successful at getting other people to understand how to use it, or why they might wish to do so. Not sure why that is…

UPDATE: One of my biggest problems doing a course syllabus is moving things around and then remembering which week is which date. I just figured out that Google Spreadsheets lets you do formulas in the date field! That means you can take the starting week and then just add 7 for each week. This way, even if you move things around the dates will still be correct! From now on I’m doing my course outline in a spreadsheet!

UPDATE: The new beta version of Google Groups adds a bunch of great new features.

UPDATE: Google has now merged Writely and Spreadsheets into “Google Docs” and has created a special web page for educators explaining the educational uses of a wide variety of Google products.

4 thoughts on “E-learning and Collaboration with Free Web Tools

  1. Great tips, Kerim! I prefer Diigo over Del.icio.us though. It does almost everything Del.icio.us does but also allows students to actually highlight and add stickynotes to websites. At times some interesting stickynote conversations break out.

  2. Thanks for this Kerim! I have used Moodle in the past and like it a lot, but the average prof can’t really install and use it if their IT people haven’t got a copy up and runnning already.

    There are lots of options other than delicious that people use to share bookmarks. I’ve still never managed to get beyond emailing people — my friends and colleagues (and students!) just can’t be bothered to log on to another service…

  3. Great post. Being a TA for Mike, I can attest for the effectiveness of utilizing internet services similar to those mentioned in an introductory Anthro class. I had my doubts, but the students seem to have really gotten a grip on using Diigo and its various functions. However, what I would like to see is a platform for discussion outside of class. Diigo allows students to comment on their classmate’s public bookmarks, and indeed the students are leaving insightful comments, but I think using something like Google Groups would be a bit more organized and coherent. A year or so ago I took an Anthro course where we used a message board for out of class discussion and I feel the experience the entire class took away from that was tremendously beneficial and educational. So much so that I would like to see similar options presented to students and, in fact, encouraged.

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