Saturday, January 2, 2010

Choosing Tools for Collaboration: Co-presence Indicators in gDocs

MTA student leaders, Josh Ottow, Lisa Hogan and I are planning a challenge-based learning project called the Network Challenge. It developed as a result of the expansion of the MLTI project from 7th and 8th-grades to the high school. Adding more than 900 devices to the MSAD 75 network introduces both opportunities and challenges.

We need to decide what tools will best support the effort. Since one of the major assessments of the project is a performance-based presentation to MTA Faculty, one of the constraints is that project members will need to develop and give presentations. When students at the MYAN Conference, presented one of their action plans to a review panel, they worked under an extremely tight time-frame. They chose Keynote because they were familiar with the program and didn't need to deal with remote collaborators.

A week later, when visitors came from Maris Stella High School in Singapore to learn how we use technology to enhance learning, Lisa and I asked ITeam members to develop and give a digital presentation about ITeam's contributions to deployment and supporting enhanced uses of technology for learning. We called a brief meeting on Monday afternoon, divided the topics among the ITeam members most involved with each project and asked each presenter to create a 2- to 4-slide presentation. Since students were not able to stay to develop their presentations, we discussed whether to use Google Presentation or Keynote. Since we did not have time for face-to-face development, I leaned toward the Google solution. I thought that it might help presenters to see and articulate through lines of ITeam work. Lisa expressed a strong preference for Keynote and dissatisfaction with some aspects of Google's presentation tool. She proposed that students use Keynote, and email their parts of the presentation to her. Then she would assemble the components into the composite presentation by the deadline of 10:00 am the next day. Presenters accepted her proposal after agreeing to use a common theme and style for their parts so that the composite presentation would be consistent.

When we gathered the next morning, only a few had submitted their parts of the presentation to Lisa via email. So the others transferred their parts via thumb-drive. During the presentation, students spoke in turn as the topic slide signaled their entrances. Since students spoke about common experiences, they built on their previous knowledge of each others' topics rather than previewing their presentations. Students gave impressive demonstrations of their contributions and leadership to the school and district.

The Google Docs development team recently announced the addition of Co-Presence Indicators in the Google Presentations tool. Now, you can see where a collaborator is working on some element of a presentation (e. g. slide, title, text, image, ...). This new feature makes it easier and more reliable to collaborate on the development of a presentation even if contributors can not meet face-to-face.

Schedules challenge our work on the Network Challenge. Students, staff and resource people are all busy with other responsibilities that make it difficult to schedule face-to-face time for the team to work on the challenge. The plan for an initial presentation to the faculty on the January 19th professional development day gives us more time than either of the previous cases. We all have more experience with online collaborative documents. We may even have the time necessary to develop the presentation using Google tools in ways that will make it possible to export into a Keynote for the final presentation to take advantage of some of the features that come with a desktop application.

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