Collaborating on text documents

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When you want to offer interactivity during a webinar, you might want to let the participants edit a document together. They can write results of their discussions in order to save them for later use or to present during a later part of the webinar. In some instances it is sufficient to expect group members to figure out themselves what they record and how they present it. However you might also want to give them a structure especially if you want to be able to compare results or if you want to guide the participants to deal with the issues at hand in a specific manner. In such cases it is useful to structure the document participants are working on, and have them answer specific questions. Perhaps the best known type of such a structured discussion is the SWOT analysis. But other useful structures might be a bi-polar brainstorm: For and Against an issue, or analysing an idea with three perspectives: Positive, Interesting and Negative traits of an idea. More ideas on such structuring can be found for example on a page on canvasses for TUZZIT a collaborative space which functions as a canvas or pin-board.

Various web-conferencing systems offer different collaboration tools such as whiteboards and notepads, however there are independent tools which often offer better solutions, both from the point of view of usability or user interface or user expeience and from the point of view of later use of the product created.

Here are a few such tools:

TitanPad

Titan-padTitanPad is a simple, easy-to-use collaborative writing tool that enables you to quickly share a common document with a group. You can set up a new page in seconds and everyone who gets the link can then write on the document. Each user is automatically assigned a text colour so it’s easy to see who wrote what. You can easily “rewind” to earlier versions if necessary and the final document can then be saved as a Word document.

Here is a short introduction video explaining the main features of TitanPad.

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In a webinar, TitanPad can be used for collaborative note-taking in a breakout group but preferably not with more than ten people writing on the same document. You can also create individual pads, one for each group. The interesting aspects of Titan pad are that everybody can be writing at the same time in the same paragraph, and what each person writes has its own colour.

Google Docs

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Google Drive offers users the possibility to collaborate on Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations… A webinar host can post the link to a document on the webinar chat allowing all participants to start editing a common document in real time.

Office 365

Office365

Microsoft offers online access to the office suite and its major tools. The tools Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote now all offer real-time online collaboration. As of 2016 this is true both for the online versions of the software, which run in browser windows as well as through the programs installed on the user’s computer. However when using the programme on the user’s computer the his of her changes to the document only appear online when the user has saved his/her changes. Thus it is usually more efficient to use the online versions when collaborating in real-time.

The three most popular Microsoft programs (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) allow real time collaboration online from within the installed programme itself. OneNote also allows real time collaboration, but with the drawback that updates are not visible in real time as with the other documents, they take a few seconds to update. Usually it seems easiest to expect users in a webinar to use the online versions of the services.

Word

With Microsoft Word (as with Google docs) it is possible to share a document with any number collaborators simply by distributing a link to the document. Webinar participants do not need to login or register to change the document, they can start editing as soon as the document opens in their browser window. A small colored flag shows where each participant is editing. If participants do login, their name (and photo) will also be associated with the flag.

Excel

The spreadsheet program Excel also allows for collaborative real time editing. This might be interesting both for structured discussions as well as for collaboration on spreadsheets.

OneNote

OneNote is a very versatile note taking service. Documents are organized in notebooks, notebook sections and pages. Text, pictures, handwriting and other media can be easily moved around on each page, thus it is also interesting to use as a whiteboard. Both for presentation purposes as for collaboration. The drawbacks are that updates to the deocument take some time to be updated when using the installed versions, but as above, the online version updates in seconds.

More info on the web:

Zoho

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Zoho is a third suite of productivity programmes that offers online editing and collaborative writing: The Zoho suite has wordprocessing, spreadsheets and presenting software which all offer real-time online editing.

See more on Zoho

More on collaboration:

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