Collaborate with others using Office 365

So you need to create a research paper—Microsoft Office 365 has the tools you need to get from start to finish. Let Office 365 turn your research into reality. All research starts with an idea, and the results of your work are then prepared to share.

  1. Keep in touch and collaborate in a shared workspace with Office 365 Groups.
  2. Plan and track your research project in Microsoft Planner.
  3. Gather your information in OneNote. Use Word to describe your methods, logistics, and results.
  4. Finally, present your findings with PowerPoint and videos that you create with Office Mix, an add-in for PowerPoint.

There are many different aspects of research collaboration. Traditionally researchers have collaborated with their colleagues by having face-to-face discussions, exchanging letters, e-mail and talking on the telephone. Depending on how physically close colleagues are to each other they would use each of these methods of communication to a greater or lesser extent.  

New products and services have not only made it easier, less time consuming and less expensive to collaborate with colleagues at a distance, but have also reduced the amount of time and effort it takes to undertake collaborative research or paper writing with colleagues who are locally based.

Microsoft 365 delivers many tools, which are more feature rich and available to you as a Student or Staff member at Abertay.

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Skype for Business

Instant Messaging, Audio & Video Conferencing

Skype for Business is a widely used program for making free voice, conference and video calls over the internet to anyone else who is also running Skype on a computer or mobile device.

‌Best of all the software is free to download and its basic features are free to use. Skype for Business also allows you to share your desktop with others, which can be useful for reviewing documents with colleagues in real time, showing PowerPoint presentations and reviewing web based materials together. Other Skype features include: ‌

  • File transfers: send that file on the screen to the person being talked to.
  • Security: Skype automatically encrypts everything before sending it through the internet.
  • Chat:  For long distance communications, Skype is arguably easier to use than the international long distance telephone system. Skype also provides a fee based service for using Skype to make calls to a regular telephone for colleagues who do not have access to high-speed internet.
  • Translates conversations into a limited number of languages in near real time.
OneDrive for Business

Real Time Collaborative Document Editing

The ability to have a central, secure location available over the internet to store master copies of documents can help research groups avoid a lot of duplication. Many groups of researchers are still using e-mail to distribute documents for editing. While this is a great improvement, it does introduce the problem of knowing who has the most current version of the document or documents.  There are few things more frustrating than putting significant time into working on a document, and then finding out that someone else has also done significant work on the same section of the document, necessitating a time consuming manual merging of the documents.

There are several products available as well as Office 365 that allow groups to share and edit documents over the internet. Some of the other products available are: Google Docs, Open OfficeZoho Office.

They not only allow for the sharing of documents, but they also give groups the ability to co-edit documents in real time from any internet connected computer. This helps groups avoid the duplicate editing of documents, and also allows more than one researcher to edit the document at the same time. If a particular document is important to a member of the group, he/she can “subscribe” to that document so that they are notified by e-mail any time someone edits the document. Here is a video that shows some of the key advantages of sharing files via OneDrive. The document management features alone are often sufficiently valuable to convince many groups to use them, but there are additional features that are also useful to research groups.

Basic version control functionality is built into all the products mentioned above. This feature makes it easy to see how a document has evolved over time, and allows the group to recover sections of the document that may have been removed or modified at some point in the editing process. The need for version control typically increases exponentially with the number of authors editing a document.

Another feature that most collaboration suites include is an integrated commenting system for threaded discussions about a particular document, or individual comments about a specific block of text. These tools can be very helpful in allowing all participants to read what others in the group think, and then weigh in with their own positions, without modifying the text of the document.

The collaboration suites all have basic calendaring tools so that groups can keep track of important dates and milestones. Task managers can help a group assign responsibilities for research tasks, and then keep track of their status.  Different privileges for elements of the collaboration suite can be assigned to members of the group. For example, some members of the group may be given only “read” and “comment” access to the document; they can see and review documents and participate in the bulletin board section of the site, but they cannot modify the documents.

The good news for researchers on a tight budget is that Office 365 OneDrive is available at no cost, so before spending any money on software or services, researchers should check with Graduate School and Information Services.

Groups

Office 365 Groups brings collaboration tools together so you can easily connect with the colleagues, information, and applications you need to keep your project rolling along. An Office 365 group is a space for team collaboration. It comes with a shared:

  • Mailbox for group email communication.
  • Calendar for scheduling group meetings and events.
  • Library for storing and working on group files and folders.
  • OneNote notebook for taking project and meeting notes.
  • Planning tool for organizing and assigning tasks and getting updates on project progress.

When you join a group, you automatically have access to all group information. You don't have to wait to see group email or view a shared document. When you join, you have access to everything, from everywhere—in the cloud, on the desktop, or on a mobile device. To learn about Office 365 groups, go to https://support.office.com/article/b565caa1-5c40-40ef-9915-60fdb2d97fa2 .

Create a group

To create your group, do the following:

1. Open Outlook.

NOTE: You can also create a group from OneDrive for Business, Outlook on the web (formerly Outlook Web App), or Planner. The steps are similar.

2. In the navigation pane, right-click Groups, and then select New Group. This opens the Create Group window.

TIP: You can also add a new group from the ribbon. To do this, select Home, and then select New Group in the Group box.

3.In the Choose a name box, type a group name that briefly captures the spirit of the group. As you begin typing the group name, the Group ID box appears. If this box says "not available," that group ID is already in use. Type other group names until you type a unique name that you’re satisfied with.

NOTE: After you choose a group ID, it cannot be changed

4. In the Privacy box, do one of the following:

  • To create a group in which anyone within your organization can view its content and become a member, select Public.
  • To create a group in which membership requires approval by a group owner and only members can view group content, select Private.

5. To enable subscribed members to receive email and calendar event notifications in both their group inboxes and personal inboxes, select the Subscribe members so they receive group conversations in their inbox check box. This is recommended when members belong to multiple groups because it means they can see all group notifications in one place without visiting each group mailbox to stay current with group activity.

6. Select OK. You'll see your newly created group on the left navigation pane and a Welcome email in your group's inbox.

IMPORTANT NOTE: For international users, if you are on an Outlook multi-tenant, as a subscribed member you will receive notifications of tasks, conversations, and calendar events in your Outlook inbox. You will not have access to the calendar and conversation view within the Outlook Group display. The Outlook Groups mobile app may not be available for you, depending on the country. To learn more, go to https://support.office.com/client/f3b0f7cd-4aed-432d-a6a7-effcdf4a4386 .

Add members now

You can add members now or in the future.

To add members:

  1. From the ribbon, select Add Members, and then type a name or email alias. As you type, suggestions will be displayed.
  2. Select the appropriate person, and click OK.

NOTE: To add multiple members, start typing the next name after each selection. You can only add individual members, not groups.

File Sharing and Document Version Control

Third party tools

Lastly, for researchers who would like to use a more a traditional, if somewhat less capable, form of document collaboration, there are file synchronization tools available like, DropboxGoogle Drive, and iCloud.  All these tools facilitate document collaboration, but significantly, only one user at a time can edit a document (unlike the tools mentioned above). Depending on how a research group functions, and how quickly they need to do their writing, this may or may not be an important consideration.

Researchers typically use file synchronization software in the following manner: When Dropbox is installed on a computer, a Dropbox folder is created. Any document placed in that folder is synchronized between all computers using the same Dropbox account. Most commonly, a researcher with a laptop and a desktop computer will use Dropbox to synchronize files between the two machines. The researcher can also create sub-folders for projects, and then share specific folders with other collaborators. If any file is updated in a Dropbox managed folder, those changes are immediately synchronized to all computers sharing that file.  If a computer is turned off when the file is updated, then the file will the synchronized the next time it connects to the internet. Google Drive functions in a very similar manner.

The biggest benefit to using this kind of document collaboration tool over one of the co-editing capable tools, is the minimal amount of training necessary to get a researcher up to speed and productive.

Google Hangouts/Talk are newer products and are not yet as widely used as Skype for Business, but they offer all of the features that Skype has, plus a few extras that may be useful for some researchers. First of all, for a group of researchers, Google Hangouts allows researchers to conduct private or public video conference with up to ten people at one time, and the option to broadcast to thousands via Google+ and YouTube.

Another feature built into Google Hangouts is the ability to not only share the view of a computer desktop or windows (similar to Skype for Business), but to share a Google Document, and allow participants to co-edit the document in real time.  Here is a video that gives a brief demonstration of the main collaboration features of Google Hangouts, including co-editing documents while videoconferencing.‌

Google Hangouts and Skype for Business are both available on iPhone, iPad and Android devices for when the researcher finds her or himself away from a computer. Both support audio and video calls, and Google Hangouts supports multi person video calls for free.