Collaboration Tools

Student Voice: What Collaboration Tools Do Students Prefer?

Suchita Chadha is a junior at Emerson College and the author of our weekly “Student Voice” column.

There are various ways for students to collaborate these days, and only one of them works offline. If it isn’t necessary to meet in person, many students will complete their entire assignment through some digital medium or another. With so many options available, and numerous software solutions made specifically for this purpose, it raises the question: what do college students actually end up using?

Collaboration tools, whether or not they were made to be one, can vary in function, versatility, and accessibility, but most students look for three basic features:

  1. Instant messaging
  2. File sharing
  3. Immediate updates

So what fits the bill? Well there are many options, but my fellow students at Emerson College have the following at their disposal:

Slack, Box, Dropbox, Google Docs*, Canvas, and ECMail (the school’s email system).

*Note: Google Docs refers to a three-part application which also includes Google Slides and Google Sheets. Students tend to refer to all three by the name of the first.

ProductWhat is it?Main Feature/Pro
Google DocsWeb based office suite/productivity softwareReal-time and simultaneous collaboration
Canvas LMS A learning management system (LMS) Every Emerson course automatically has a course site on Canvas
Dropbox Cloud storageLarge capacity for shared file storage
ECmailEmerson’s email serverEach student and staff member has one
Slack Internal instant-messaging system There are already public networks of staff, students, and IT Help Desk, and private groups created.
BoxLike Dropbox, but managed by Emerson’s IT adminFile sharing is more secure and access is only granted to Emerson students and staff

But when asked which of the Emerson software is best suited for collaboration, there’s another tool that finds more victory than most: Facebook.

Collaboration tools survey

With the exception of Google Docs, which has emerged at the top of every question asked with regards to usage, preference, and functionality, Facebook outperforms all the other collaboration tools. The primary cause for this is that it offers most of the basic tools students desire, in addition to being a constant in their lives. Accessibility wins over comprehensive functionality.

However, this may not be the case if students truly understood the scope of these products. One of the biggest problems with all the other software is that most students don’t know some of the more complex features collaboration-specific tools offer. At Emerson, Slack and Box are the least well known; for the most part, only those students who had to use it for an on-campus job know anything about them. Canvas, while known, it often treated with an air of contempt that comes from a lack of consistency between teachers (as expressed by Emerson students in a previous article, LMS or Social Media for Class?). If the professors themselves don’t know what the tools offer, students tend not to devote extra time in figuring it out.

Interestingly, Dropbox while well known, is often seen as little more that a file sharing space. But the new “Dropbox Badge” for collaboration works in a similar way to Google’s real time group working feature.

As technology brings the world closer together, collaborating with colleagues online or working remotely have become increasingly common. For students only a few years away from leaving college, the lack of knowledge surrounding these products that are used often within the workplace can be quite a detriment. “Teamwork” now means more than being able to work with other people; it’s an expectation to strategically use the the tools available for the best results possible.

Some initiative then, might need to go into the in-school marketing of these products. Having invested in their services, it seems to be a waste if students don’t even know what they are, let alone use them for class. Granted, businesses use different, usually more complex programs, but companies have a more integrated system wherein everyone uses the same product in the same way. The next step, once the word is out, will be to teach everyone how to use it—teachers and students alike—without assuming that they will seek aid themselves. Unfortunately, with the busy schedules a college life facilitates, taking the time out to learn something when Facebook seems to work just as well never feels practical.

Read other articles from our Student Voice column. 

Suchita Chadha

Suchita Chadha

Suchita is a student at Emerson College, where she is pursuing a BFA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing for poetry with a Global & Post-Colonial Studies minor. She has been published in Verge Magazine (Canada) and Affairs Today (UK).