We all know about Google Apps. If you haven’t used it, you’ve at least heard about it. Schools and even districts are becoming Google Apps oriented these days. They are aligning themselves with a tool. But it’s much more than that. It is about aligning with an idea of what learning can look like. Google Apps just happens to be a free tool with robust capabilities. Cloud-based storage, document conversion, synchronous editing on multiple types of documents, and easy sharing. True collaboration may be in the eye of the beholder here, but at least it gets your feet off the ground in regard to working together with others.
Live annotation is the ability to synchronously annotate a document or whiteboard area with collaborators in real time. So Google Apps can easily accomplish this. There are other tools, though, and what you need may vary depending on the situation.
How do I tell what is good and what’s not? First, you need to get your hands dirty. Go and play with it! Most of these tools, even if paid, offer a free period of use. Use it and don’t be afraid to try different things. Make sure it’s what you want before heavily relying on it.
What tools are available? There are so many, I don’t know where to start. Thankfully, the internet if full of blogs and lists of such tools that narrow the scope and provide you an overview of these tools to help you make a better informed decision. The blog below even provides screenshots. Check it out. I might recommend Diigo as a tool you want to check out. It offers a lot of options, so be prepared. It does let you create groups to share articles with, an extension for your web browser, and live annotation and note taking. It even lets you tag the articles that you save so you can easily search for and find them later in your account.
Top Web Annotation and Markup Tools http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/top-web-annotation-and-markup-tools/
Diigo isn’t exactly like Google Apps. Synchronous collaboration (if you want to call it that) isn’t its forte. However, there are other options for real-time editing with other people. Check out this tool called Awwapp.com at http://awwapp.com/draw.html. This tool is a blank collaborative web-based whiteboard. Essentially, you create a session, and you invite people to work together on a blank whiteboard. It is very simplistic, but does allow you to save the board as a .PNG image file.
I have an iPad. Is there something for me? The blog above lists a number of tools that are available as apps on an iOS device such as an iPad (sorry, not Android). However, BaiBoard HD is a great free app for “collaborative whiteboarding” (I will use that as a term). It has a number of built-in features, included pens, a text tool, lines, arrows, and shapes. You can also import pictures, maps, and PDFs. Enable web sharing to send the session to a web browser via an IP address. Start a “Meet” to collaborate on a board with others running the app on their device. The power here is in the ability to share in real-time via the app on other mobile devices and on computers with web browsers.
Wow. A lot of tools. These are only the beginning. Take a minute, though, to look past these tools at what they can help accomplish in and out of the classroom for learning. Our ideas no longer have to be confined to a certain time or space. Our thinking can be out loud and it can be stretched by the input of others. These tools only help us to realize that solitary learning is now a choice and not the norm. Why would we ever push to limit learning to an individualized practice apart from the learner’s wishes? That doesn’t make any sense, especially not in our social world. Tools are not the answer, and although these are shiny, they are merely extensions of our desire and ability to learn through socializing and collaborating. They can still be used to force a concept in a traditional way, so we need to be careful. If I tell students to create a mind map with the BaiBoard app and share it so each person can add a bubble, is that collaborating? Or is it cooperative learning? Is it student-centered, or teacher-centered learning? We…I need to think outside the box. Reframe the process if necessary to provide freedom in learning to our students.