Some Tips for How to Work Collaboratively Online

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

This lesson was designed as a part of the MiddCORE summer 2020 and winter 2021 online cohorts. The program has always involved extensive collaborative group work, however doing this work completely online and across multiple time zones posed a new challenge. As many educators have pointed out, it is essential to provide some scaffolding and support when beginning any group-work. Too often we assume that people know how to collaborate and what we expect of them in our group work challenges. These assumptions become even more problematic when we are not physically in the same space to hear and see challenges that might be presenting themselves as groups collaborate in real time. The lesson below was designed to help support this process and give students a window into the process of “teaming online”.

The Set Up

We began this work with a reflective task that asked students to consider the way in which they prefer to work, strengths that they will bring to the group, and other information that team members should know about them. 

In Class (live) Activity

MiddCORE is still largely built on students meeting synchronously via Zoom, so the team invited me to work with the group on learning how to “team online”. Prior to the session all students were asked to complete the reflective task and bring it with them to the session. 

At the beginning of the session I introduced myself and explained my experience with working as a part of a remote team and the impact of the pandemic on our work processes. I worked to frame the discussion as not just occurring because of the pandemic, but that the impacts were definitely amplified because of our current situation. One of my goals was to make the connection that in a globalized society, it will only become more and more common for remote teams to need to learn how to work together effectively and efficiently.

Next I explained several “learnings” that I had accumulated over my time working as a part of a remote team. These considerations/topics included:

(You can click on each item to view a brief video overview of the topic.)

Some of these points directly connect to the reflective task students were asked to complete, so before breaking into groups I referred to these connections and the importance of recognizing and owning your own needs, strengths, quirks, etc. when attempting to work as a part of a team. (See point #2 in this article “Create an equitable distribution of labor and assure students that you, not they, are responsible for this aspect of the collaboration”)

The Task

I then explained that students were going to work together in their teams to establish a team agreement that would guide their work. In order to establish a successful team agreement students needed to ensure that all voices were heard in their meeting and I encouraged them to share info from their reflections to determine the best way for them to work together based on all of their individual needs and preferences. 

Before breaking into break out rooms I paused to ask for any questions, and then explained the time limit for the break out rooms, the expectation for what would be completed during that time, and how could they ask for help if they needed it. 

The Wrap Up

With 5 – 10 minutes left of class, all students returned to the main room so that we could recap how things went. We discussed general questions and whether any group felt stuck or significantly challenged in setting up their team agreement. Students were reminded they could also touch base with the faculty member or program managers if they felt like they needed additional assistance with their group. It’s important for students to know that there is help if things are really not going well in their group.

Learn more – here are some articles and resources that inspired the structure of this lesson:

Managing a WordPress Site Redesign

In the fall of 2017 Professor of Anthropology David Stoll contacted me about what could be done to redesign his professional web presence to make it appear more up-to-date. Professor Stoll’s web site is hosted on Middlebury’s WordPress server and utilized a theme called Ocean Mist. There were a few problems with this theme but the primary one was that it was not responsive. This caused related issues with mobile compatibility and menu functionality.

Publications Web Site

Original Publications Web Site Design

The first step in the process was to create a mock-up site where I could develop a prototype of what Professor Stoll’s site could look like. I have a Middlebury WordPress site that I can use for this purpose. I then asked Professor Stoll for permission to export his content and import it into the prototype site. Once the import was complete I set to work making changes. Changes included:

  • Changing the theme to Accelerate
  • Redesigning the menu to utilize a widget location (right sidebar) vs. a horizontal orientation
  • Include existing mountain image as both the header and the background to maximize the expansiveness of the image
  • Making contact information interactive (clickable link and email link)
  • Adding bio link to the menu to redirect to faculty information on the web site
  • Convert NextGen gallery (outdated) into a WP Custom Links gallery functionality
  • Enabled JetPack to utilize gallery functionality and provide the Professor Stoll with the ability to track web stats

The next step was to share the prototype with Professor Stoll so that he could offer feedback and suggestions. Beyond adding content, the professor was pleased with the site redesign so we arranged a time when it would be convenient to make the changes to the live site and moved forward. The end result can be viewed here.

Home Directory Migration Project

In the Fall of 2016 Information Technology Services with support from the Academic Technology Group set to work on a huge project: migrating 20+ terabytes of storage from on-campus network servers to the cloud. Perhaps one of the most onerous pieces of this project as well as the biggest opportunity (always be positive!) was that it had to be done by each individual user. My role in this project was largely to view the transition (and support it) for the academic side of the “house”. One of the first proactive steps I took was to reach out to Assistants to VPs in Old Chapel to explain the project, provide assistance in their transition so that they could then provide assistance to the Administrators. During this session, I was reminded of the importance of making all sorts of connections at the college and always being open to suggestions and opportunities for improvement. As we were finishing the session several of the assistants pointed out that the best way to get this information to the faculty would be through the Faculty Chairs meeting. I gladly took them up on the suggestion and was thrilled when they fit me onto their next meeting agenda.

What followed was more meetings, appointments, one-on-one and group sessions to help everyone move their data, answer questions, troubleshoot issues, and sometimes – just serve as a sounding board for frustrations. It was a big task for many and being able to provide adequate support was sometimes a challenge. I lead an initiative to provide in person group trainings by designing a web site very similar to the one that we used to launch Canvas. The Home Directory Migration web site provided users with a way to access documentation, review frequently asked questions, and sign up for work sessions.

Home Directory Migration

Home Directory Migration

Canvas Launch Initiative

When the College decided to transition from Moodle to Canvas as our learning management system (LMS), we knew that a unified communication and training plan would need to be put in place quickly. My role in this effort was to take the relevant information from the pilot and the most important communication points for the launch and aggregrate that data in one place. Hence our Canvas WordPress site was born.

I designed this site with the user in mind and considered what the most sought after pieces of information would be. The site included a section to request a consultation on Canvas, tips to avoid student confusion, ways to request help with migrating a Moodle course to Canvas, as well as a registration link for Canvas training sessions. The training sessions proved to be very popular and I was able to alter training content and presentation order based on the response of earlier training session (an example of putting formative feedback into action!).

As the transition drew to a close my next to final step was to transition any help info into our ITS Wiki so that content was fully searchable for users. Soon we will take the WordPress site offline as the last of our “transitioners” finish their migrations.

Support as Project Management

In the summer of 2017 I was asked to serve as the “point person” for Professor Kirsten Hoving’s DLA project “Land and Lens“. Since this was my first time serving in this role, we pretty much set the rules as we moved along. My first role was one I had performed earlier in the year when I matched Kirsten with a digital media tutor named Kristin Richards ’17 who assisted in the design and customization of the WordPress site for the project. Since Kristin graduated in May, we needed to find another tutor to help Kristin as she finished her project. Rachel Kang ’19 easily stepped into this role and did a fantastic job.

Project Tracking for Land and Lens

Project Tracking for Land and Lens

Kirsten asked to meet on a weekly basis where we would review progress on the site, questions about the design/development, to-do items, etc. As the meetings took place I found myself serving in a quasi-project manager role as I helped to determine what work needed to happen where, who we needed to contact about what, and what were reasonable goals to attain within the following week. This was all tracked within a Google sheet where Rachel could check off items as they were complete. This became especially important as we changed the URL for the site which resulted in a lot of broken links and various other minor issues. They were not difficult fixes to complete, but it did require a tracking mechanism to make sure each one was addressed.

The final project is featured as a part of a museum exhibition described here.

Tracking Lab Stats: My First Infographic

My first infographic

Make room on the fridge – I’ve got something to post! Today I felt like I finally had success working on an infographic workflow. This has been a hot topic with the digital media tutors and one I’ve been trying to figure out through a variety of methods. My goals were:

  1. Locate a design component that was relatively easy to use and did not require a steep learning curve.
  2. Being able to output the result in a format that students could take with them. (One of my goals with everything digital!)
  3. Integrating data sets from Excel
  4. Being able to interact with the data would be frosting on the cupcake – but I wasn’t counting on that one. (Spoiler alert – I got FROSTING!)

So what did I do/try?

Thanks to one of our super librarians (thanks Brenda!!) I was notified that had a group of tutorials on infographics. I set to work watching and settled on “Creating Infographics with Illustrator”. Using the graphing function within Illustrator I was able to come up with the primitive version below….

My first attempt using Illustrator's graphing capabilities

My first attempt using Illustrator’s graphing capabilities

Did I mention that I’m not a designer? Ok – good, just checking. 😉 So although I found this quasi-functional, it seemed to require a higher level of design expertise to incorporate multiple infographic elements. (As a side note I thought it would be a cool idea to try to make the graph at the bottom of the page mimic the Green Moutains with the time starbursts starting as sun in the morning and moving to a moon at night. However, I quickly determined that was going to take more time that I feasibly could devote to trying to figure something out. It did sound like fun though.)

My next stop? Piktochart! I noticed this tool being used in the lab this semester by a few students and it was already on my radar from a few posts here and here. (Thank you Edudemic!)

I had already crunched the numbers by exporting the data collected on a Google SS via a Google form to an Excel spreadsheet, so I had segregated and totaled the data that I was targeting. Piktochart offers a few free templates, however I decided to go with a blank template to see how difficult it was to start from scratch. By adding blocks I was able to create different sections of data and a header for the chart. Since my main focus was data manipulation my end product is very chart heavy b/c I wanted to see how the different types of charts displayed on the screen. Curious what this non-designer, multi-color loving, tech-tinkerer created? Check it out below. BONUS – I was able to embed it in my WordPress blog using iframes…although I’m not sure how stable this method is. (Functions on hosted WordPress NOT on :’-)

It’s not perfect – I know, but it does represent what I think is a workable workflow that does not require a learning curve the size of the Grand Canyon…or even Middlebury gap for that matter. It’s do-able, interactive (5 stars there) and web based; which are all items that I think will be seen as beneficial. But I’m still curious.

Are you helping students to create infographics? What tips do you have to share?






Served as Administrator for an institution wide (Middlebury & Monterey) applicant tracking system. Trained, supported and provided documentation for internal and external users as well as approvers. Organized and facilitated transition of 20+ active staff postings without interrupting searches or hiring timelines.

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