Project work fully online can be challenging – especially when you have never visited the case location and it is located on the other side of the world. Thus, it is important to find functioning online working tools and methods, and also think about how to stay motivated and interested in the project. In case you are wondering how we work on our project online, I will explain here in more detail what kind of tools we are using. Of course, there are many other (similar and different) tools available, but these are the ones that we used and found useful in our project.
Online group meetings in Zoom: One of the most important things in our project work is to be able to discuss together as a group, meet our mentor, teachers, and partners, as well as some experts who can provide us vital information and new ideas for the project. For that we use Zoom, as meeting in person can be difficult – or in the case of the interaction with our Bhutanese partners – even impossible nowadays. Thus, online meetings are our main tool for discussing, planning the project, agreeing on tasks, and sharing ideas. As online interaction is not as natural as discussing in person, most important things to remember in online meetings are to keep your camera on (No one likes talking to black boxes!) and assign time also for just chatting with each other as it helps you to get to know each other better, breaks the ice, makes the atmosphere more relaxed and open, and lowers the threshold to talk in general.
Brainstorming together in Miro: During the meetings we have found it useful to brainstorm together using Miro. Even though we cannot sit together around a table and use real Post-It notes for brainstorming, Miro enables doing it online, as well as creating all kinds of different mind maps and diagrams. This has helped us to visualize our thoughts and ideas to each other as well as other people too.
Shared folders in Google Drive: Another tool that we use for sharing ideas and information is Google Drive. There we have folders for both our own Aalto team as well as a shared folder with our Bhutanese peers. Our own folder works as a space for creating documents and presentations together as well as sharing relevant information. It enables working together on the same file in our meetings but also continuing the work on the same document independently afterwards. The folder shared with our peers is used for sharing data and information as well as documents that include relevant information for the other student team.
Quick questions, comments, and discussions in Telegram and WhatsApp: To complement the online meetings, we also use Telegram and WhatsApp chat for urgent questions, quick discussions and comments, informing each other and setting up meetings within our own team or with the Bhutanese students. Telegram is used within our team and WhatsApp for communication with the Bhutanese students. The most important thing in using these chats is that the conversation is open and relaxed, and the threshold for asking questions and starting discussions is low. At the moment, this is an important aspect to improve in our project, as we haven’t been as active as planned in our WhatsApp group.
Formal interaction via email: For communicating with everyone else than our own and the Bhutanese student team, we use email. It is used for setting up meetings with our mentors, partners and experts relevant to our project, and also for information sharing between the same stakeholders.
Setting up meetings using Doodle: Sometimes it is too difficult to agree on a meeting time in Telegram, WhatsApp or email, especially if the meeting is for a bigger group, for example both student teams and the mentors. In that case, we have found Doodle useful, because there we can propose some possible time slots for meetings, and everyone can individually go and click which time slots suit them. This makes it easier to find suitable time slots for bigger meetings. However, it is also necessary to remember to give people enough time to answer the Doodle poll, because the more people involved, the longer it can take to get everyone’s answer.
As a conclusion, I could say that our recipe for a functioning online group project uses similar ingredients as “conventional” group projects, but it is based on finding online tools that support the communication and information sharing. The main ingredient is having functioning video meetings, which are then supported by different communication tools. But nevertheless, even with functioning tools, the group work won’t function without proper motivation, a lot of empathy, positive and open attitude, and eagerness to learn from each other and contribute to the project!