Some tools for remote teaching and collaboration

Current circumstances require most in academia to move their professional activities online. While we are already used to collaborate over large distances for our research, for teaching this may be new. Here, I share a few tools that I have used in the past and that I am using now again. Most of them are a little bit more “niche” than the video conferencing services we have to use now to reach our students.

  1. Scheduling meetings

My favorite tool for scheduling meetings of groups and simple personal consultations is doodle. I have always used doodle to schedule times for personal consultations outside my normal office/student hours through my MeetMe page hosted by doodle. Doodle integrates with my (google) calendar without revealing its content. Time slots with an existing entry are just marked as “busy.” The free version has already all the features I need.

  1. Brainstorming and ranking of alternatives

Another tool that I already have used for so long that I don’t remember when I started using it is tricider. This free tool allows collecting ideas, discussing them, and voting on them. I have often used this tool to let students, e.g., tell me which topics I should prioritize in review sessions.

  1. Collaborative to-do — Kanban board

For the management of shared to-dos, I use an online Kanban board. “A Kanban board is a project management tool designed to help visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency.” Kanban boards use cards and columns representing the various stages a task may be in. Imagine a whiteboard with post-its on which you write the tasks that need to be done and which you stick on different places on the whiteboard depending on which stage the corresponding tasks are in.

I have used the free version of trello (affiliate link) for many years for such tasks as writing a joint paper, collaborating in a search committee to find the ideal candidate, and planning vacations.

  1. Note-taking and sharing

I am happy with evernote (affiliate link) for all my note-taking needs, including a quick dump of files downloaded while researching for material online for classes I teach or papers I write as well as archiving all my scanned documents (I try to be as paperless as possible). Indeed, I find it so useful that I even bought a subscription for the professional version. There are plenty of features, it’s available as a web application as well as a mobile app. It integrates well with other tools and allows to share notes with other people — whether they have an evernote account or not.

  1. Virtual whiteboard

Only recently, and for the obvious reason, I needed a virtual whiteboard that works both in a web browser and on a tablet, and that allows several users to collaboratively work at the same time on the same “whiteboard.” After testing about half a dozen options I ended up with liveboard which does exactly that. There are some advanced, fee-based features that I have not used yet. I am reluctant to pay for a tool that I only use for teaching; I believe these are expenses that the university/college should bear, and not the individual lecturer. Yet, I find this a great tool for remote teaching so far as it is intuitive and easy to use.

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