Given a choice, many people prefer in-person group and team meetings. After all, when you’re meeting in person, you can observe others’ facial expressions and gestures, hear the tone of their voices, and see just how much attention each person is paying to the topic at hand.

However, it’s not always possible to get all the members of a team in one room together. For example, many college classes meet entirely online; if group work assignments are part of the coursework, then it stands to reason that face-to-face meetings would be difficult, if not impossible, to coordinate.

Thankfully, online students have options; there are a variety of technology tools that can facilitate and enhance the collaborative process. Likewise, if you need to host an online meeting, you can take advantage of these tech tools and still conduct your business with effectiveness and efficiency. However, selecting the appropriate tool for the job can enable students to have a successful collaborative experience—while selecting the wrong tool can make the process that much more challenging and exasperating.   

Choosing the Right Technology Tool for Your Meetings and Assignments

Have you tried to conduct an entire conversation over using an instant-messaging service? It seems quick and efficient, yet it leaves a great deal of room for errors, misunderstandings, and distractions. On the other hand, setting up a web conference for a ten-minute conversation may not be the most effective use of everyone’s time and resources.

So, how do you know which communication and collaboration tool to use in a particular instance? In her book Business Communication: In Person, In Print, Online, Ninth Edition, Amy Newman shares a number of factors that should be considered when choosing a communication medium. She states that various forms of collaborative technology fall along a continuum of “lean media” and “rich media”:

Lean media

  • Primarily text-based
  • Provides few cues (besides words) that convey meaning and nuances
  • Better suited to one-way communication

Rich media

  • Incorporates multiple means of communication (video, audio, virtual whiteboards, etc.)
  • Offers a greater degree of interactivity
  • Better suited for multi-way communication (Newman, 17)

Thus, the richer the medium, the more appropriate it can be for longer, more complicated, or more nuanced discussions. In theory, it’s possible to conduct a meeting via text message, instant messenger, or e-mail, but, if you are using a richer medium, such as web conferencing, it’s much easier for all participants to ask questions, discuss topics, and share their insights and opinions in a more natural, conversational fashion.

On the other hand, if you want to disseminate some straightforward information to your team (such as a to-do list, task update, or follow-up notes from a conversation), then an e-mail should suffice; similarly, instant messaging works well if you have a simple time-sensitive question that can be answered fairly easily.

Ideas for Incorporating Technology into Group Assignments

In her text, Newman advocates for the use of wikis as a powerful tool for collaborative online projects. Because wikis are web-based, anyone with access to the website and any necessary login information can access them at any time, from any place that they have a web connection. Furthermore, when using a wiki, the group members can track and manage work with ease, because most wikis allow all users to see what has been edited, when it was edited, and who edited it. As a further bonus, the fact that a wiki serves as a central point of collaboration and communication can help cut down on the number of e-mails that each team member must send and receive. (Newman, 44-45)

Of course, if a wiki is not needed for your course, students can take advantage of online collaboration application (such as Google Drive or Zoho), which allow users to create, review, edit, and share documents—without sending multiple copies to one another via e-mail.

What kinds of collaborative activities do you design for your students? Which tools do you encourage them to use? Start the conversation in the comments below!


Reference: Newman, Amy. 2015. Business Communication: In Person, In Print, Online, 9th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.