Thing 18: Collaborative tools


The existence of programmes that run online through your browser (on the Cloud) has led to a suite of tools that let many people work on the same document at the same time.

Wikis like Wikipedia allow people to share editorial control. However, these collaborations are limited by the fact that people must edit one at a time – if two or more edit a wiki simultaneously reconciling the different versions can be problematic.

The collaborative tools in this Thing allow people to edit simultaneously, to see what other people are writing at the same time as they are – and everyone is (literally) on the same page.

Google Docs and more

Take a look at this video:

As we mentioned in Thing 17, the University of Auckland has enrolled in the Google Apps for Education programme. This means that every staff member and student at university has a email address, which is a GMail hosted address:

This comes with access to a range of collaborative tools hosted by Google: Google Docs (for written work); Google Slides (for presentations); and Google Sheets (for spreadsheets).

(We should note that everyone has access to these tools, but if you go through your university account you have unlimited storage space!)

Office 365

Microsoft’s Office 365 has similar collaborative functionality:

This alternative is free to University of Auckland students, but not currently to staff:

For research

The prospect of an automatically saved, available-anywhere, multiple-author document system is obviously appealing in itself as part of writing up research or collaborating with co-authors. For us, though, the “killer” feature of Google Docs is that you can easily see the whole history of a document.

Google Docs does not save just the finished product – it also retains all of the revisions, changes, and deletions along the way. You can see who wrote what, when, and then return to any earlier version:

try-this-iconTry this

To complete this week’s Things, we’d like you to contribute to a collaborative document:

You may need to log in with your university Google account to access this file. Your username should be your username and your password will be the same as your standard university password.

You can write whatever you like in here, but I’d particularly like to hear about your current research interests. Remember that whatever you add will be viewable by anyone else who follows the link.

Once you’ve added something, you’ve finished Things 17 and 18!

explore-further-iconExplore further

“Collaborative authoring is by some distance the most popular tool …. Social media are helping to fulfill the demand for cheap, instant communication between researchers fuelled by the growth of collaborative and interdisciplinary research.”
Nicholas, D., & Rowlands, I. (2011). Social media use in the research workflow. Information Services & Use, 31, 61-83. doi: 10.3233/ISU-2011-0623

“Beyond using Google Docs as a word processor, these features allow it to become an editing platform, collaboration tool, research aid, and much more.”
10 Things every teacher should know how to do in Google Docs

“Meet Pania, a composite academic at Waikato University. She represents some of the different ways that our staff are using Google Apps in their day to day work.”
A day in the life…


We didn’t adapt any other courses for this Thing.

Header image: Andrew Yee / Flickr / CC By 2.0
Icons: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon / GNU Lesser General Public License

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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