There is a toolbox to help span time zones, culture, and geography and here are a few of the ones that are essential to what we do with global collaboration in the Flat Classroom Project.
1 - Google Calendar
In addition to sharing the events that are part of the collaboration, if you have all of your teachers put their class times into the shared calendar, you can see overlaps and determine synchronous possibilities - always a big plus with the students and something very hard to do, particularly for us here in North America. (We are surrounded by two oceans that literally "soak up the time" and force us into a-synchronicity.)
Embed the google calendar in everything, so you'll never have to come back and update the dates. (See Digiteen and Flat Classroom.)
2 - Timebridge
This is the best appointment setting, timezone handling tool. This interfaces with Google Calendars and you can make a group to allow for easy scheduling and anyone else can schedule the meeting that is in the group.
Truly, this handy website acts like a personal assistant because you pick the 5 best times and ask everyone else to RSVP - it will schedule the earliest time that everyone can come and then remind everyone via email or SMS or both. Great tool and since we've started using it, most of our meetings would actually hit 50% participation which is a big deal when you have more than 8 time zones involved.
3 - Elluminate
Yes, Elluminate does help us by sponsoring some back end administrative functions of Flat Classroom - however, since we've started using Elluminate - we've truly taken the projects to a higher level. Every meeting is recorded and those who miss our weekly teacher's meetings listen to the elluminate session. We are in the process of learning how to rip to mp3 and mp4 to convert to video and audio.
The coolest new thing that has been added is the ability to do screensharing - this means that if we need to jump into a tutorial we can. Julie, Kim and I used it last week and were working on our PowerPoints to kick off the Flat Classroom and Digiteen projects - we were able to screenshare and I was able to edit the preso live in elluminate and then send to Office Live (see down below.) So useful.
We create group skypechats and anyone who has a problem can ask and see who else is online to help with the project. Skype is a great backup and also wonderful to bring video into each other's classrooms when we see that we have a "hit" on times through our Google Calendar.
5 - Google Groups
Google groups is like discussion boards, however, the thing I like is that you can set up the questions to go to your email. All you have to do to answer the question that comes through the group is to reply to the email. We do this for all of the private things that the teachers need to discuss including any urgent issues and whoever is online is able to handle the problem.
The nice thing is that all of these emails and discussions are archived - even attachments and put on the google group web page and you can go back and search issues on the google group. That, and it is private - and every public private needs a private place for teachers to meet and work together.
6 - Twitter
Grassroots is the way to go and the way to help connect students to some really fascinating people is to use your twitter network to share about what you're doing. Just don't go overboard and be genuine and up front about what you're doing and you'll see many opportunities and things happen here.
7 - Google Docs - Wordprocessor
In my classes, we've had up to 21 students enditing simultaneously in a Google Doc - it is truly their collaborative tool of choice. It is also a great tool for me, because I can look at the revision history which has some very fascinating ways to review who has contributed to the doc with color coded highlighting.
Julie and I use this to write grants, collaborate, and write press releases. You can also publish the document live and keep it updated.
8- Google Docs - Spreadsheet/ Forms
When we take applications for our projects, we love to use Google Forms because they are reliable, fast, and also will send custom notifications to the person submitting the form and to us in our emails! I have my students use these for surveys and to collect information as well!
9 - Office Live
This is a new friend of mine. When we create nice documents that just have to be in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint - Office live gives us a shared workspace. So, instead of emailing back and forth word documents or powerpoints and not able to figure out where the newest one is - we can just save to Office Live. I'm going to teach my students to do this as well so that they can share the files with me for our book, and so they can easily transport their term papers from computer to computer.
Office Live just makes sense for anyone using Microsoft Office and the shared workspaces are just wonderful. It has become much more stable with the recent patch and since I first tested it last spring.
10 - Surveyshare
If you're going to have survey data that you must aggregate and use statistical analysis and also have to do some sort of validation up front to ensure data integrity - this is our tool of choice for Flat Classroom. This is one you have to pay for, but it is worth it to me.
11 - Diigo
Pulling in experts is so important, and to pull them in - we make diigo groups and have standard tags for the topics in our projects - then we just pull in some experts or educators and use the bookmarks to feed the current research in to the students. Sometimes, we tap into the tags used by super-researchers like Alan Levine. We can also use this to bookmark problem issues or also the "best of" type things so we can mark best practices that should be recognized.
Up and Coming Tools
As upgrades and enhancements are added to this handy tool, Learn Central is a place to watch. With Steve Hargadon, founder of Classroom 2.0, behind this website, I predict amazing things to happen with this as Steve and Elluminate work to build the portal for educators to collaborate globally.
As we need cross platform publication and become more dependent on video -this tool will become very handy for syndication of our video podcasts. As video podcasts aren't widely used yet, this is not on my top list - but it is fast approaching.
Now, I didn't include our blogging platforms, because certainly on the student side you need a place to share media, blog, and share audio and pictures -- we use Ning, but also have an edublog campus site for Julie's and my class merge this year. These are really the tools to run the back end of things and I've found them most helpful.
There are so many useful tools out there which I haven't named, however, these are the essentials for the back end of things.
web 2.0 education innovation elluminate learn central Google google calendar google groups global collaboration timebridge skype twitter Google docs Microsoft Office office live diigo surveyshare blip.tv flat classroom flat classroom project teacher classroom