Online Collaboration Tools

Photo of professor George HoffmanA short video describing this teaching strategy.

George Hoffmann, Romance Languages and Literatures, teaches a course that explores the controversial literature on the Algerian War. Thirty-two undergraduate students are each required to deliver a PowerPoint presentation on a capstone analytical project. In-class presentations are dynamic, but ephemeral, and their engaging material is lost to students in following course iterations. Therefore, Hoffmann uses Google Sites to create a collaborative course website to document and extend the highly visual capstone projects across courses.

Based on his or her PowerPoint presentation, each student creates a media-rich web page, exclusively in French, without having to learn HTML. Hoffmann pairs students to peer review web pages using the commenting feature in Google Sites. Students’ grades reflect both the content of their own web page, and the quality of their peer critiques. Through the combined use of PowerPoint and Google Sites, students not only learn valuable communication skills, but also practice disciplinary skills of close reading and critical evaluation. 



Large courses present some distinct challenges to teachers and students. How, for example, can hundreds of students practice challenging concepts simultaneously? And how can instructors in large courses gain insights about the learning of all of their many students? 

CRLT has sponsored several faculty learning communities focused on effective strategies for teaching in large courses. Faculty members learn together about pedagogical tools and technologies that facilitate student learning and then develop concrete applications for them in their specific courses. In this 6-minute video, one participant, psychology professor Pamela Davis-Kean, highlights her use of Google Forms to provide students practice with key skills and difficult concepts in an upper-level course of 150 students. She recommends it as a flexible, easy-to-learn technology that can enhance student interaction and engagement in a large course setting.

For more details about Davis-Kean's use of Google Forms, see this page. You can find more examples of U-M instructors creatively using online tools to enhance student collaboration and learning in our searchable list. And you can click on the "large course" tab below for more examples and resources specifically related to such classes. Read more »



Professor Pamela Davis-Kean, Associate Professor of Psychology, discusses her use of Google Forms to clarify difficult concepts in her Social Development course (Psych 353), a 150-student course for upper-level psychology majors.  In class, Professor Davis-Kean used Google Forms to engage students in the actual work of developmental psychologists.  For example, she had students practice coding videos of parent-child interactions, submitting their initial codes anonymously via Google Forms. Using the results from this coding activity, Professor Davis-Kean was able to engage the students in a more nuanced discussion of interrater reliability.  

Through this use of Google Forms, Professor Davis-Kean found she could interact with a larger percentage of her students and better gauge their understanding of difficult concepts in class.  Having successfully incorporated Google Forms into Psych 353, Professor Davis-Kean is now exploring other ways this technology can be incorporated into her teaching, even in her smaller courses. She recommends it to others as a technology that assists students' learning rather than distracts from it, that is easy for both faculty and students to use, and that can be easily incorporated into an instructor’s existing lectures.

Brief Description: 

Group work can be a powerful tool to enhance students’ mastery of course content, motivation, and persistence in problem solving (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith 1998; Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011; Smith et al., 2009; Crouch & Mazur, 2001). Instructional technologies can enhance the ability of student teams to collaborate effectively, increasing access and efficiency by reducing spatial and temporal barriers to teamwork. Similarly, IT can provide novel, efficient, and effective means for instructors to monitor and provide feedback on group projects. Online collaboration tools provide a variety of means to enhance group work.

Tips for Using Online Collaboration Tools

For general recommendations on how to teach effectively and inclusively with online collaboration tools, please see CRLT Occasional Paper 31.  For tips on using specific tools, please see below. Read more »


Can technology help student teams improve their group process—and ultimately their learning? CRLT's recent Occasional Paper on "Teaching in the Cloud" explains some ways it can. In particular, the paper highlights how Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs) can enhance students' ability to collaborate effectively. OCTs can facilitate group members' access to one another and the team's efficiency by reducing spatial and temporal barriers. OCTs can also provide novel, efficient, and effective means for instructors to monitor and provide feedback on group projects.  

The paper features two U-M faculty members who successfully utilize OCTs to improve student teamwork as well as instructor management of group projects. 

  • Robin FowlerRobin Fowler of Technical Communication and Engineering: Fowler has improved student teamwork in Introduction to Engineering by shifting from face-to-face team meetings to synchronous, text-based online discussions. Her students share and assess design plans using Google Docs, a system that has increased student engagement and participation in group decision-making.  To learn more, watch a short video of Fowler discussing this teaching strategy and some of its outcomes.
  • Melissa GrossMelissa Gross of Kinesiology: Gross's studio course uses 3D animation and motion capture technologies to study the biomechanics of human movement. Students' group presentations include such animations to illustrate their research findings, and these require sharing and collaborating on many large video files. Gross uses, a cloud-based storage and sharing service, to solve storage and capacity challenges and facilitate student management and coordination of their teamwork.  To learn more, watch a short video of Gross discussing this teaching strategy.

For additional resources about using student teams effectively in a range of course settings, see this section of our website and this recent CRLT Occasional Paper