Chapter 3: Collaborative Tools

ENC 4293.0002 Technical Communication Elements » Chapter 3: Collaborative Tools

Chapter 3 Student Writers: Andrew Krug, Joshua DuLac, Liuboslava Vasilev

There are many different tools you can utilize to present your information. Here you will find information on some different technologies and techniques that you can use. There are two main categories of applications nowadays, online web applications and traditional desktop applications. The first two applications are the web applications SlideShare and Prezi. The next two programs are Camtasia Studio and Snagit, both by TechSmith.

SlideShare is a website that allows you to upload presentations online and then allows you to send them to colleagues. The benefit of sharing the presentation through this site allows the readers to go through the presentation at their own place. The downside is the fact that there are no transitions in the playback of the presentation. That means that you will have to design your slides with all of the content on the slides, without over burdening them with the amount of content on each slide. One prime example of a SlideShare presentation is Death by PowerPoint.

Death by PowerPoint covers many different aspects and techniques on how to create a PowerPoint. In addition he designed the each slide to portray the information that he is covering to send the entire message. This particular PowerPoint was designed so that everyone can enjoy the presentation at their own pace. The only difficultly is that each presentation should be done so that there is no need for a presenter.

In order to make your own SlideShare presentation all you have to do is make you presentation in PowerPoint or Keynote and upload the file to SlideShare and then you have your SlideShare. Once it is uploaded you can then email the presentation to your friends, colleagues, or boss. In addition you have the option to embed the presentation on a website.

Prezi is the new kid on the block. The founders of Prezi began working in 2007 and Prezi was launched in April 2009. The premise that they built Prezi on, is that knowledge is not linear. The web application allows the person who is presenting to have all of the content on one page, similar to a mind map, and then they can navigate around the content to show that it is all interconnected. A perk of having all of the information on one page is that if there is a point that you are trying to get across you only have to put it on the presentation once and then you can “fly” back to that idea over and over again. This allows the presenter to zoom into the details and to zoom out to see the big picture.

To begin making Prezis you have to make an account. Once you have an account you can begin making Prezis. The first time you start it up it shows a video that will walk you through the basic tools. The main item that is different is the “transformation zebra.” This popups once you select an element. The inner circle allows you to move the element, the inner ring allows you scale the image and the outer ring changes the angle of the element.

The “menu bar” in Prezi is in line with Prezi’s motto, not to follow trends. The menu has the same style as their transformation zebra. The menu is displayed as connected circles which allow the menu bar to be compact yet efficient. Upon clicking one of the options the menu zooms in closer to see more options.

Camtasia Studio is a screen recording program. There are many features built into the software which allowed the program to become the flagship program for screen recording. The feature in particular is the built-in editing of the screen recording once you are done. The features within the built-in editor include cursor tracking, smart zoom, and adding captions from your own voice.

The benefit from having screen recording is that you can share the video with everyone. Some of the other features include inserting quizzes into the actual video to determine if the audience is listening and learning the topics.

Camtasia allow you to narrate the recording while recording it, in addition it allows you to narrate after the recording. The program also allows you to do a screen recording of a presentation. So if you do like presenting your power points you can do that with Camtasia.

Camtasia starts with a very simple welcome screen so that you can get right down to starting your screen recordings.

For a detailed introduction of all of the tools with in Camtasia go to their website and download a trial version. The trial does come with a video which has a thorough walk through of the main features of Camtasia.

Snagit is a screen capture program. Snagit is a feature rich program which allows you to take screenshots. That does seem like a mundane task that does not require any special software; however Snagit allows you to grab screenshots of the entire window. If you ever need to get a screenshot of an entire website it is just one button click. If you need a screenshot of one small thing on your screen, it is still just one button click.

Once you have your screenshot, the editor allows you to add callouts, arrows, and even some basic editing of the screenshot. Once you are done annotating the picture, the program has a simple menu which allows you to export the picture quickly to different programs. The main navigation is similar to the ribbon in Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010.

Snagit also allows you to create interactive pictures. To make these interactive pictures you have to go to the Hotspots menu. Once you are there you select areas that will respond to the user hovering over the selected area. Once those areas selected then you just have to link the text or image that you want to the relevant hotspot.

Online communication has become an essential component of our lives. While instant messaging and social networking allow us to connect and exchange pictures with friends from distant parts of the world, they lack the flexibility to simultaneously exchange ideas between large groups of users. Outsourcing, distance learning, and project collaboration require effective tools that can assist dispersed teams with the various collaborative tasks they have to perform.

This section of the style guide will introduce you to one of the most commonly used free tools for online collaboration, Google Docs. The reading will familiarize you with the features, benefits, and disadvantages of Google Docs and will show you its basic application to the field of technical writing. For those of you who would like to explore other collaborative tools, the section offers brief information on proprietary applications.

Google Docs is a free, Web-based word processor, presentation, spreadsheet, and data storage service offered by Google Inc. The Writely Team developed the original product in 2005. In 2006, Google Inc. acquired Writely Team and launched Google Docs in February 2007, adding folders and spreadsheets. Currently, Google Docs allows multiple users to collaborate on Microsoft Office compatible formats such as Word, Excel, and Power Point. The application also handles the creation and manipulation of charts and forms.

The following browsers officially support Google Docs:

• Internet Explorer 7+
• Mozilla Firefox 2+
• Google Chrome 1+
• Safari 3

If you are already a subscriber to Google Mail, you can use your current log in information to access Google Docs without any further registration. Once you log into your Gmail account, simply click on the Documents link located in the upper left corner of your screen as shown on Figure 1.

figure1(2).jpg

If you do not have an account, you can review the latest version of Google Docs at the Google’s website:

[http://docs.google.com/]

The account set up process is quick and the prompts will walk you through selecting a user name and password. After you create an account with Google Docs, you can use it for your e-mail as well.

Once set up and running, Google Docs automatically saves your documents to Google’s servers. The application periodically saves open documents to prevent data loss.

You can create documents within the application itself or upload documents from your computer. Similarly, you are able to save the documents created in Google Docs to your computer in a variety of formats, including PDF and DOC.

The application allows organizing your documents in folders that you can later share with selected by you users. You can share an entire folder or individual documents within a folder. To create a new folder, click on the Create new drop down menu and select Folder as shown on Figure 2.

Figure2.jpg

To share a document, you are not required to place it in a folder. However, if you intend to work collaboratively on a group of documents pertaining to the same project, organizing them in a folder and sharing the entire folder will save you time and effort.

To share a folder, click on it to open and select the Share this folder link located by the document’s title. Figure 3 shows the location of the link.

figure3.jpg

Clicking on Sharing settings will allow you to select the people you would like to share the folder with and will further prompt you to specify who can view only or edit its content.

Google Docs allows you to upload files from your computer and share them for collaboration. In Google Docs click on the Upload… button. Your screen will look like the one on Figure 4.

figure4(1).jpg

The Select files to upload link will let you select a specific document that you wish to import to Google Docs.

The Destination folder button allows you to select the folder that you wish you document to be residing in.

The Private button sets access permissions to the document. You can choose from the following three options: Public on the Web, Anyone with the link, and Private.

The Start upload button will upload the document into Google Docs inside the folder that you have specified in case you have specified one.

The two check boxes on the screen are important for your collaboration process:

•Leaving them unchecked will prevent you and the people you have shared the document with from editing online.

•Checking them on will convert your file to the Google Docs formats losing some of the original formats such as styles, but will allow you and your peers to edit the document online.

Once you are finished uploading your documents, you can return to Google Docs by clicking on the Back to Google Docs link in the upper left corner of the screen.

In Google Docs you can see a list of documents and folders that you have created, uploaded, and shared. To open a particular document for editing, simply double-click on it.

The biggest advantage of Google Docs is that it allows you and your peers to work on the same document simultaneously. Editing can take place in real time with everyone making changes. In that case, Google Docs assigns a color-coded marker for each person who is currently working on the document. That way, you can see who is making changes and what changes are being done. Alternatively, people you have shared your document with may edit the document at a time convenient for them. Those changes are saved by Google Docs and will be visible to you the next time you log in.

Any Microsoft Word document can be imported and edited in Google Docs, as long as your total capacity does not exceed 1024MB. Google Docs supports the Menu Bar and the basic text editing options that you are already familiar with from working with Microsoft Word. Figure 5 shows the document editing screen in Google Docs.

figure5(1).jpg

Google Docs supports headers, footers, page breaks, and special characters. You can find them under the Insert drop down menu.
You can also add tables and images to your document.

To review revision history of a document, go to File —>See Revision History. The newly opened window will show all revisions organized by date and time, with color-coded entries for every person. You can restore a revision by clicking on the Restore this revision link as shown on Figure 6.

figure6(1).jpg

Important: Microsoft Word Styles are not supported by Google Docs. Therefore, you will not be able to apply them when editing your document within Google Docs. Instead, you would need to download your document to your computer, save it as a .doc or .docx document, and apply the Styles from the Microsoft Word application.

Uploading, sharing, and downloading rules that we discussed earlier apply to Microsoft Excel spreadsheets as well. Uploading an Excel file into Google Docs will show only the number of rows and columns that you have populated with information. Therefore, in case you have fewer rows and columns and need to add more, you may do so by selecting Insert from the main menu.

The Microsoft Excel formulas and functions are available in Google Docs as well, regardless of whether you are working on an imported Excel spreadsheet or on a spreadsheet that you have created inside Google Docs. You can access the formulas by selecting Insert —> Function —> More.

Google Docs displays multiple sheets at the bottom of your spreadsheet, where you can add, delete, rename, or move sheets.

Uploading a Power Point presentation into Google Docs will not preserve its design preferences or inserted images. Rather, Google Docs will convert the presentation into plain text with no design and no background, preventing you and other users from editing.

Therefore, the best way to collaborate on a presentation with Google Docs is to create one within the application instead of importing it from your computer. Keep in mind that the presentation capabilities of Google Docs are limited. Your collaboration process should concentrate on content rather than graphical design.

Google Docs does not support the variety of themes and backgrounds that we would normally see in Microsoft Power Point. Currently, Google Docs offers fifteen basic themes and allows you to choose from sixty-four background colors.

You can also upload an image from your computer and set it as a background to one or all of your slides. Open your presentation, select Format —> Presentation settings —> Change background and click on the Insert image link.

Keep in mind that uploading an image into Google Docs will add the image size to the size of your document. Using large image files may greatly increase the size of your presentation, leaving you with limited storage space for the rest of your documents.

One way to manage large image sizes is to crop the image to a desired size prior to uploading it into Google Docs. For more information on the most commonly used image formats and their properties, refer to the Internet Media section of the style guide.

The “+” and “x” buttons located in the upper left corner of your screen allow you to add new slides and delete existing slides. Figure 7 shows you the exact location of the buttons.

figure7.jpg

You can also insert or delete slides by selecting Slide from the main menu.

The Start presentation button located next to the Google Docs logo shown in the figure above will open your presentation in a browser window for viewing, similar to running a Power Point presentation on a full screen mode. When your presentation is over, simply close the browser window.

Remember that sharing your presentation for editing may result in changes that you are not aware of. Therefore, if your intention is to present the document to an audience, always check for its integrity prior to the presentation.

In addition to word documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, Google Docs allows you to create and share forms and drawings. We will not discuss forms and drawings in this style guide but encourage you to try them yourself.

Google Docs is one of the most commonly used free tools for online editing and collaboration. Although constrained by graphical limitations, the application is intuitive to learn since its design is consistent with the documents you would create using the Microsoft Office suite. Table 1 and Table 2 summarize the advantages and disadvantages of Google Docs and provide important technical information that you will find useful.

Advantages Disadvantages
No download is required Storage is limited to 1024MB
Free document storage Limited graphics capabilities
Simple design Requires Internet connection
Access from any place with Internet connection Requires creating an account with a user name and password
Supports Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint Documents Currently does not support Microsoft Power Point 2007 and up
Supported by the latest versions of Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome
Group members do not have to be physically present to collaborate


Supported Application Name Supported File Extension
Microsoft Word .doc / .docx
Rich Text .rtf
Plain Text .txt
Open Document .odt / .ods
Star Office .sxw
Hyper Text Markup Language .htm / .html
Microsoft Power Point .ppt / .pps
Microsoft Excel .xls / .xlsx
Comma-separated Values .csv
Image Formats .jpg / .png / .gif
Portable Document Format .pdf

Google Docs is one of the few online collaboration tools that you can use for free, making it very suitable for your college projects and your small business communication. However, your work may require you to become familiar with proprietary software that your employer is willing to purchase. This section provides you with a list of alternative collaborative tools, a short description, and where to find additional information for each.

David Weekly creates PB Works in 2005. Since then, the application has been adopted by the Financial Times and the University of Toronto. Some of the software’s features include:

• Document Management
• Shared Workspaces
• History and Audit Trail
• Network Dashboard

The company offers a fourteen-day free trial of PB Works that you can download from

[http://www.pbworks.com]

Some of you may know Microsoft SharePoint Workspace as Microsoft Office Groove. The software can help you with:

• Creating and editing documents
• Storing, organizing, and sharing text and other documents
• Team Discussions
• Managing Calendars and Live Instant Messaging

For additional information about Microsoft SharePoint Workspace, visit

[http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint-workspace-help/]

Adobe Acrobat Connect is a product of Adobe Systems that is suitable primarily for web conferencing and online meetings. Adobe Acrobat uses Adobe Flash and usually requires downloading the Adobe Flash Player. The application offers some the following activities:

• Desktop Sharing
• Video Conferencing
• Meeting Rooms with Recording
• Notes, Chat, and White Boarding
• Collaboration Builder Software Developer Kit (SDK)

Adobe Acrobat offers a thirty-day free trial for Adobe Acrobat Connect. To download the application, visit

[http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobatconnectpro/trial]