Collaboration Tools: Live@edu / Office 365 / Windows LiveYou may have seen my post on University group work. But I didn't cover too many specifics. With the increasing frequency and weighting of these assignments I feel that it is relevant and useful to know what tools are out there for students to use.
One of these is a free offering from Microsoft called Live@edu, this is moving to Office 365 in the near future. The University of Reading switched over to this for their student email system this year. Yet many see it as just that, an email system. However, it can be used for many more things.
I've been using it for projects ever since I've had it, both personal, and group - Skydrive is a really useful tool. There are some more features I'd like, which I'll go on to explain with my Huddle post.
Live IDWith Live@edu you use your Live ID for anything you would use your personal Live ID for. Not only can you use it with a Windows Live Messenger client, but there is a web version of this service too. If you combine this with group functionality on Live you can create, communicate and share with your groups.
SkydriveThis allows documents to be shared, tracked, commented and edited online. You can specify what access rights users within the group, or outside the group have to these documents. Using this means that whatever programs the group has access to there is a place online for up-to-date storage. You can use the comment tool to add comments to the document, without effecting the document itself. It also saves any hassle with downloading and compiling changes.
Windows Live MessengerNot only does WLM with Live@edu allow you to chat, send files and show ideas via webcam but it allows you to keep up to date as to what work your teammates have done without actively checking thanks to the social stream. You're informed of edits and additions to your group's file space.
CalendarWith Live@edu it is possible to share your availability with others. This is especially useful for determining a time suitable for a meeting to take place should online communication not be desirable. When this is combined with Live Groups a meeting can be scheduled and users notified within the group with minimal effort.
Office 365This up and coming offering has all the features of Live@edu along with an option for the university to issue all, or part of their students with a full MS Office 2010 license, Sharepoint and Lync.
Sharepoint OnlineThis allows for even more extensive collaboration on documents and websites with full audit trails, issue tracking and more.
Lync OnlineAs an MSP I've had some experience using Lync to hold multi-user remote meetings. It's really an awesome tool with some great features. You can call in from a landline or mobile to join a meeting on the go. The chair of the meeting has control of who can talk. For those without microphones there's a instant messaging area. There can be a presentation area with webcam or slide show, with optional polls with real-time results.
University group work: my view
OverviewI see University as a place not only to learn, but to prepare for work in the future. I realise many seem to not share this view. This has been reflected in my experiences of working in teams throughout all of my educational life so far. I agree that not everyone would like to pursue a career working in industry, but may prefer the theoretical and academic sides. However, I feel that it may possibly be unfair on others should someone be reluctant to do any work let alone do work to a high standard.
The very nature of choice in these assignments can lead to treacherous paths, which can ruin friendships, or create them. You can work with your friends at the risk of conflict, or work with relative strangers and resolve the conflict with no lasting damage - you may never have to work with them again. The university as a whole has a mark sheet with effort allocation, this leads to each person pretending they've done 100% of the work they were required to do. As everyone has to sign and agree to these values you may find yourself reluctant to challenge what a team member has put.
One of my lecturers seems to have been hitting the disciplinary nail on the head; not only is the regular sheet filled in, but a personal sheet is also filled in for individuals to gauge the work of their team mates as they see fit. I believe that this is in the interest of seeing if there is a general trend to the values on these sheets and their status on the overall collaborative sheet. You're not obliged to share these details with your teammates.
ProsIt gives you a taste of what I imagine real world work would be.
- Time management
- Leadership skills
- Communication skills
- A sense of responsibility
- Reflective grading
- Unnecessary stress
- Do-it-yourself attitude
- Stepping on egg shells
- In a real life situation your team will be capable of a task or adapt to be capable
Issues and dealing with themFirst and foremost, it's your degree. You come first, if you're not happy, speak your mind - but be tactful in how you do it. Coming out and saying 'You're wrong!' isn't going to improve a situation. Reason with people, if they can't see how try to shrug it off. Conflict can be beneficial to a team. You may see that you are indeed the person who is wrong. Teammates can open your eyes, so can a bit of self reflection.
You must communicate. Communication is the way work is done. It's like being nagged by a parent, though it may be (arguably) more important. You can keep track of what work is still to be done, what has been done and difficulties others are encountering, in good time before the bad stuff hits the fan.
Starting early is a must. It's easy to fall behind on what needs to be done. This only leads to increased stress and fierce periods of activity at a later date, when time matters people can crumble under the pressure. Getting the work nailed down before a deadline is a great feeling, you can take pride in knowing others are still struggling away - but don't rub it in.
Forget how others may see you when it comes to grading. It's your mark just as much, if not more, as theirs. Be brutal, be honest. If they don't want to work, do you want to work with them again? Did they pull their weight? Did they go the extra mile? Try to do this as you go throughout the task - don't leave it until the last minute. If they're not aware they should be doing more it can be unfair to spring it on them at the last hurdle.
Learn from it. This experience isn't the real world but it can be similar, learning how to deal with people is half the battle trying to avoid what makes people tick can be difficult at times if you're passionate about the cause. But dealing with this in a proactive way can make stepping on those egg shells a little easier and may even see an improvement in your teams work.
Doing moreOne of the most exciting, active, interesting and gratifying things I've done in the way of teamwork has been the Imagine Cup. It's amazing putting ideas together to form a solution to one of the worlds toughest problems. Not only can you learn the responsibilities of being a leader, but every role of the team. Idea moulding and how you go about implementing it can be awesome.
If you have an idea for a project, why not see if you can put it into reality in your spare time? Use it to learn, make friends and feel accomplished. It can add to your CV, personality and passion if nothing else.
BackupsBeing a gamer myself I enjoy getting lost in lands, and stories, of fantasy and fiction. Although I probably don't put this amount of effort into other aspects I feel the need to treat my progress as I would with work - backup. I backup my documents to the cloud making use of Live@edu's Skydrive offering. This works well if you think a little before initiating Windows Live Mesh - I've mistakenly tried to sync 'My Documents' and quickly found that I filled the Mesh storage with things I didn't wish to backup. Thankfully I was able to rectify this. However, I have not been so lucky with Mesh on the Mac. I get extremely high CPU usage prior to even logging in (as much as 120% (2 cores)).
This means that I can't use it in quite the same way, a problem even in VM Ware as you can't sync with Mesh to a network location, which is fair enough. These files, over time, have been a lot of effort to make, keep track of and update. It's only right that they remain backed up in multiple locations. I've yet to find the perfect solution to this though. Mesh is close.
When you think about the amount of time you can spend playing a video game, the effort it takes and the sense of accomplishment that can be obtained through overcoming challenges within these ever-increasingly intricate and immersive worlds, which I would love to play a part in making one day myself, it is easily overlooked at how important the saving of this progress is. It's not like the older games, where you'd fire up a console and play to a certain point and have to turn off and leave it, only to rejoin the game from the beginning again if you didn't have a memory card.
With the ever increasing specifications of games consoles and computers saving files has become a standard. But, other than MMOs, we're responsible for creating backups of these saves. On the PC it can be a simple case of copying files to another location, as you would with work. On a console, however, this process isn't so easy. Xbox recently released an update to the Xbox 360 which allowed for the use of USB devices to save profiles, saves and other data to, for use on your console or a friends. This would have been especially useful if they hadn't speeded up the gamertag recovery process, which previously took a huge amount of time. Yet it doesn't recover your game saves.
This is a problem for the Xbox. The new console may not share the same faults as the previous generations, but they shouldn't be left out in the cold or forgotten. 3 red lights on the circle of light could see you waving goodbye to your console, and with it, possibly your saves. Those 30 hours you've put into ploughing through that RPG are now only shown by your Achievements, your developed characters lost and your position in the story only again reachable after the same amount of time. If it was work then it would be a disaster, as - in my opinion - it is in games.
Seeing as Xbox Live gold membership is a subscription service, unlike Sony's current free option, which I believe will have a paid for benefit soon enough. I believe that it should be possible to save 'To the cloud...' this would mean if I spontaneously popped around a friends house or was invited around after being out and didn't have my USB on me, which I wouldn't imagine I would, I could still recover my gamertag and game saves and continue in the fun as I would at home. Yes Xbox Live is awesome, but you still can't beat that nostalgic feeling of sharing a screen with a friend.
The backup could even be automated, you set a frequency of backup, or even attempt to save to the cloud at the same time as saving locally to ensure that backup is up to date. Or it could be performed manually, and reminders could be scheduled. The average game saves are under 1mb with the extremes seemingly in the range of 20mb or so. With space becoming increasingly cheap, and being offered for free in a lot of cases. Why not make this happen?
If you can put the suggestion forward, please do. I'm sure many of us out there would appreciate it.
Project 365: 20/01/11