Working together online

Collaborative working online is an important skill for students and staff. This post looks at some of the tools which can be used to accomplish tasks together online and capturewhy it is important to introduce students to them.

Digital skills

You may have seen media coverage earlier this year of a ‘Digital skills crisis’. This followed two reports on digital skills in the UK; the Digital skills crisis Second Report of Session 2016–17 (House of Commons Science and Technology Committee) and Digital Skills for the UK Economy by ECORYS. The former reported that ‘almost 90% of new jobs require digital skills to some degree, with 72% of employers stating that they are unwilling to interview candidates who do not have basic IT skills’ (page 7) and the latter recommended that in order to address this need we ‘Ensure that digital skills are learned pervasively at all stages of education and training’ (page 5).

There are a range of possible models or frameworks for what are variously called digital skills or digital capabilities (for more on this see the slides from Jane Secker’s recent TEL seminar). 

How can we develop digital skills?

For many years universities have been using group tasks to help students develop interpersonal and organisational skills that are invaluable for life, irrespective of which career path they choose. Today, the use of digital tools for sharing resources and collaborating online is an important part of that (see ‘Doing it digitally: embedding digital skills in the curriculum’). One way that universities can embed the development of digital communication and collaboration skills is by encouraging students to use digital tools for writing together, sharing resources and organizing tasks.

In an earlier post on ‘Learning together: Technology enhanced collaboration’ I discussed a few tools that might be useful for this type of activity and more were explored in a recent workshop on ‘Working together online’ (running again on 14th November – booking for Sussex staff via Sussex Direct).

Students can also be encouraged to use digital tools in other areas of their studies and life. These previous blog posts offer suggestions:

Digital tools for working together online

Which tools work for you will depend on the nature of the task and personal preference. Apps and services evolve and change over time (see the recent demise of Vine for example) but by using a range of digital tools students will be better placed to make critical judgments about the tools that will be available to them in the future.

Office 365, OneDrive and OneNote for students and staff


flickr photo by Budzlife shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The University of Sussex licenses Microsoft Office 365 which means that all students and staff have access to the full suite of Office software on their own devices and 1TB of cloud storage in OneDrive. There are also online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote so there are many possibilities for collaboration. Students could:

  • Use Onenote to collect and share resources for a group project. These could be files, websites, images, audio or video notes, online videos etc.
  • Write a document together in Word online.
  • Prepare a group presentation with PowerPoint online.
  • Work on data together with an online Excel spreadsheet.

ITS offer guidance on sharing files with OneDrive and this OneNote for students website offers lots of ideas and support.

Postgraduate researchers and staff can also use Box to share Microsoft Office files and collaborate on them (see ITS FAQ 2797), but if you are thinking about storing and/or sharing research or teaching materials please see the Library’s Research Data Management website and the ITS guidance on use of cloud services (FAQ 2550).

Each of these tools have mobile apps so users can work together using smartphones or tablets as well as laptop or desktop computers.


Padlet is a free tool which lets you create an online board or ‘wall’ where multiple users can post text, documents, images, videos, music, and weblinks. Many Sussex staff are now using this tool which can be embedded in Study Direct. It is a great tool for crowdsourcing ideas, either live in the class or remotely; for gathering many types of resources around a topic and for creating a sense of community in a shared online space. Students could use Padlet as an alternative to a group presentation – collecting material on a topic and adding their own comments and/or media objects (videos, sound files, images). Dr Lucy Robinson (History) and Dr Rebecca Webb (Education) wrote about their use of Padlet in this post for the #altc blog.


Trello is a free collaboration tool for organizing tasks and projects. It lets you create boards, each of which can have multiple lists made of individual cards. You can break a big project into smaller tasks and add people to each card or board so that they can see which parts of the task are their responsibility and keep track of the whole project. Cards can be colour-coded with labels, have checklists added, a due date entered, and files attached. There is space on the ‘back’ of the card for comments so people working on a task together can keep each other updated. You can receive notification when a card is updated or a due date is near and with mobile apps for Android and iOS Trello can be used to keep track of collaborative projects on the go.


These are just a few of the many digital tools available for working together online. You can read about more in our A-Z of Apps or contact the learning technologist for your School to discuss options.

Sussex staff who want to come along to the next ‘Working together online’ workshop on 14th November 2016 to get ‘hands-on’ with these tools in a friendly and supportive atmosphere can book via Sussex Direct).

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Posted in Digital scholarship, Learning Design, Technology Enhanced Learning
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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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