Online Collaboration Tools

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 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. Click here to learn more and watch a short video of Fowler discussing this teaching strategy and some of its outcomes.
  • Melissa 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. Click here to learn more and 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



There's no question that students' writing improves most when they have frequent opportunities for practice and feedback. But instructors sometimes struggle to find ways to provide those opportunities, especially in large courses. One method that many U-M instructors use to good effect is structured peer review. These three faculty members--featured in CRLT's recent Occasional Paper about Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs)--have made creative use of OCTs to facilitate collaborative writing as well as timely, frequent, low-stakes peer feedback: Read more »


Laurie Hartman teaches two courses in the School of Nursing’s Acute Care Advanced Practice Nurse Program (N610 and N573). N610 prepares the Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioner students to synthesize and apply knowledge to manage and negotiate health care delivery systems that address clinical management challenges. Interdisciplinary problem solving is a key component of the course. N573 is a medical management course focusing on acute health conditions in adults and older adults. Evidence-based, advanced practice nursing interventions are discussed in the context of age, culture, race, gender, sexuality, genetics, psychosocial well-being and socioeconomic status. Diagnostic reasoning and decision-making skills are among the main learning objectives.  Read more »


A provocative essay in The Ann by U-M business professor Scott Moore analyzes the disruptive impact of internet technology on higher education and asks, "Will the Wolverines remain the leaders?" According to Moore, the traditional model of education is shifting, and students will have far more choices as to how (and where) they learn. He predicts a future where education is a partnership between .edu, .com, and .org, where credit hours are replaced by certificates earned via competency exams, and where an increasing number of educational experiences happen away from campus. To remain leaders and the best in such a future, the university and faculty must experiment with emerging educational methods and technologies, and adopt those that foster transformative educational experiences that are relevant for students, parents, and future employers. 

As Moore points out in his article, CRLT is partnering with faculty and administrators to develop creative approaches that will enable U-M to navigate this changing landscape. For example, an experiment with new educational technology now in progress at U-M focuses on incorporating Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs) in and out of classrooms. As the campus began widespread use of Google Apps for collaboration over the past year, CRLT gathered early adopters to share ideas about how to best use these tools for education. To help spread innovations far and wide, CRLT distributed an Occasional Paper on the topic and organized a Provost’s Seminar on Teaching last November, both of which featured U-M faculty who had successfully used blogs, wikis, and other tools to promote student reflection, to facilitate collaborative authorship, to improve student teamwork, and more. Scott Moore was one of the featured speakers at the Provost’s Seminar, where he described how his students’ blog posts reached an audience of over 40,000 readers--the kind of transformative experience that makes a U-M education relevant in a changing higher ed landscape.