Online collaborative tools

online collaborative tools…a definition

Whilst most of the tools and technologies we discuss in this programme could be considered ‘online collaborative tools’, for the purpose of this module we will define them as productivity-type tools that enable collaborative working and/or sharing/shared editing of work. There are many tools available out there, this module will highlight six of them: Dropbox, Google Drive (which is a further development of what was known as Google Docs), Prezi, Slideshare and writeLATEX (online collaborative LaTeX editor).


What is Dropbox?

Dropbox is a file hosting service that enables you to save your files in one place and changes are then synced to all of the devices you set up with Dropbox (e.g. your desktop, laptop, smart phone, tablet) as well as the Dropbox website. It is also an easy way to share files with other people. To share to your device you need to download a Dropbox client or app.

For a video overview of Dropbox, see the Dropbox website

Why should I use Dropbox?

  • If I want easy access to my files anywhere, any time
  • To sync my files across all of my computing devices
  • To easily share files with people

Why I wouldn’t use Dropbox?

  • If I didn’t want to store my files/data in the cloud
  • There are secure alternatives available such as Mobilecho which is an app/service that enables you to access your h: drive from your mobile device and is available to members of Imperial.

Setting up a Dropbox account

How do I share files with other people using Dropbox?

It’s as simple as going to the Dropbox website and clicking on the sharing option.  See Sharing folders with other people for instructions (from the Dropbox website).

Google DRIVE

Google Drive has recently been released as  a further development of what was known as Google Docs. Google Drive functions as a file storage and sharing service as well as continuing to enable you to work on documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings. You can download a Google Drive client/app to enable you to edit/view content from your PC or Mac. At this stage it doesn’t look like there is any desktop client for Linux though it sounds like it is in development. The free account includes 5Gb of storage, though it is also possible to pay for additional space.

Getting started with Google Drive

All you need is a Google Account (which you automatically have if you have gmail). It is possible to set up a Google account with a different email address via  Create a Google  account without a gmail address.

See Google Drive to get started. Instructions can be found on the Google Drive website to install Google Drive on your computer, how to set up offline access to Google Drive as well as using Google Drive apps.

If you’ve used Google Docs before and wonder what is different, take a look at Google Drive vs your Documents list.

Why would Google Drive be useful for my research?

  • Collaborating with researchers outside your institution who don’t have access to the same proprietary software that you have
  • Co-editing in real time
  • Easy to use
  • Travelling around, you can access it online anywhere, any time
  • 5GB of storage is free
  • Can sync documents between different devices

Why Google Drive might not be appropriate for my research?

  • Content is hosted in the cloud, not on your local server
  • There is currently no desktop application for Linux (though this will change)

Collaboration with Google Drive

It is possible to edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations and drawings in real time. If you are editing at the same time as a collaborator, then their name will appear in a box at the top of the screen. You will see their edits as they make them, and it is possible to chat to them within the document while you are both editing.

If you want a document that has been shared with you to be synced to all of your accounts you need to add it to My Drive.

Shared collections enable you to share a group of documents (spreadsheets, presentations or drawings) or collections with a person or group of people.

Shared documents(spreadsheets, presentations and drawings) allow the document owner to give editor or viewer rights to other users. It is also possible to make a document (spreadsheet, presentation or drawing) public by publishing to the web. Owners have control over access to documents as well as being able to edit and delete folders, documents and attachments. Editors have editing rights but cannot delete folders or documents. Viewers can view but cannot edit or delete folders or documents. It is also possible to enable someone to be a commenter which allows them to comment, view and download a document or presentation.

Shared options:

  • Public on the web
  • Anyone with the link
  • Private – sign in is required – only those given permission to access can do so.
See How to share for further information about sharing.

Revision history gives a list of the dates/times revisions have been made. To see the details, click on a specific revision and it is possible to see exactly what has been changed. It is also possible to revert to an earlier version of the document.

Documents part of Google Drive in practice

Google Apps for Business
Google Docs Community on YouTube


What is Prezi?
“Prezi is a cloud-based presentation software that opens up a new world between whiteboards and slides. The zoomable canvas makes it fun to explore ideas and the connections between them. The result: visually captivating presentations that lead your audience down a path of self discovery.”
For a video overview of Prezi see:

It is possible to create a Prezi for free, although it then is hosted on the website and is publicly viewable. Otherwise there are different levels of paid for subscriptions. However there is an educational account available (EDU Enjoy) which allows you to create private Prezis for free, just use your educational institutional email address to sign up.

 Why use Prezi?
Prezi is a more visual form of presentation software. The space you work in is known as a canvas and it is possible to zoom in and out of the canvas. This enables the Prezi to have an overview ‘look’ to it before zooming in to see the detail. It makes you think in a different way about how you present information (including words, images and data).
It is based in the cloud so it is possible to access your presentations anywhere, anytime. It is also possible to co-edit and share Prezis.
Why you might not use Prezi?
 If your presentation is text heavy or you don’t want to distract your audience with too many visual effects.
Getting started with Prezi
 There is a learning curve involved when you first start using Prezi, however it is also possible to Prezify your Powerpoint presentation.
The Prezi manual includes links to guides on how to do just about anything in Prezi from creating to editing to navigation and inserting files.  Create an account and get started!
Sharing Prezis
To share a Prezi with an educational account, on the top right of the screen there should be the following options available:
  • Public & allow copy (publish on and allow others to copy)
  • Public (publish on
  • Private (only the owner, co-editors and invited viewers can view)

Click on the Edit Together option at the bottom of the screen to send a link to someone to enable them to edit the Prezi either separately or at the same time using Prezi Meeting.


What is SlideShare?

SlideShare is an online tool that enables you to share presentations. You can upload content from Powerpoint, OpenOffice and Keynote as well as documents, PDFs and videos. It is also possible to connect your SlideShare account with those in other social media / online tools such as LinkedIn and embed YouTube videos within SlideShare.

“SlideShare is the world’s largest community for sharing presentations. With 60 million monthly visitors and 130 million pageviews, it is amongst the most visited 200 websites in the world. Besides presentations, SlideShare also supports documents, PDFs, videos and webinars.”

From: Why you should use SlideShare?

It is possible to share presentations with other people, download other people’s presentations and re-use and re-mix presentations.

Re-use of content

Do remember that a condition of submitting content to Slideshare means that others may re-use your content. When you upload a presentation, it is subject to the default terms and conditions that allow for this re-use (See for further information). To have some control over how your content is re-used, you may assign other licenses, such as Creative Commons. See this FAQ about assigning Creative Commons rights.

Creating an account allows you to upload files and share them with others. The pro (or paid for) accounts allow you to take advantage of tools such as generating business leads, analytics, development and control of custom channels, the ability to upload and share presentations privately, as well as providing ad free content.

Why would I use SlideShare?

  • Free
  • Enables you to share your presentations with colleagues/potential colleagues
  • Gives people access to your content
  • Embed in other online services such as WordPress blogs, LinkedIn, websites
  • Share via social networking tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook

Why wouldn’t I use SlideShare?

  • To upload content that you do not want re-used in any way

How to upload a presentation to Slideshare

See Uploading and conversion for instructions on how to upload.

Further information about SlideShare can be found on the Getting started with SlideShare website.

write latex

What is Write LaTeX?

Write LaTeX is “ a free service that lets you create, edit and share your scientific ideas easily online using LaTeX, a comprehensive and powerful tool for scientific writing.” (from About writeLaTeX).

There is a free account option as well as paid for options which enable advanced options such as passwords and additional storage).

Why would I use Write LaTeX?

To enable collaborating on a LaTeX document with colleagues.

Why wouldn’t I use Write LaTex?

Your documents will be stored in the cloud so you need to decide if this is appropriate.


For more information see: Getting started with Write LaTeX.


Select one of the following three actions. If you have the time (or the interest) feel free to complete more than one. To complete this module you must complete one activity and blog about it.

Dropbox: Create a Dropbox account and sync your documents across your computing devices. Share a document with a colleague or co-participant.

Google Drive: Create a Google account if you don’t already have one and share some documents with a colleague. If you have the chance, co-author a document to see how it works. If you can’t identify a colleague, try one of your co-participants in the programme.

Prezi: Create a Prezi either by uploading a Powerpoint presentation you have already created or by starting one from scratch. Make sure you have checked your access settings.

Slideshare: Create a Slideshare account and if you wish upload a presentation (this is optional). Do a search for presentations in your research area. Follow a relevant researcher.

Write LaTeX: Create a document with Write LaTeX and ask a colleague to collaborate to the same document. If you are not sure where to start try one of these templates or upload a file from Dropbox or Google Drive – see upload files from Google Drive, Dropbox and more for more information.


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