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Studying Online: Collaborative Learning

Collaborative Learning

As part of an assessment you may be asked to work with other students on your course. Or, you may just wish to keep in touch with friends. At the moment, with social distancing rules in place, it is difficult to work with others. However there is a range of collaborative online tools which can make working with others easier. Some of these tools are listed below. Please take note of the advice listed in the 'Important Security Considerations' box.


You should only be working collaboratively with other students when the assessment is for a group project. The rules on academic offences still apply, regardless of whether the work is being done on campus or online. You should not collaborate with other students on individual assignments or assessments. Doing so would consititute an academic offence.

For more information on academic offences and how to avoid them please consult - 6H - Academic Offences: Policy and Procedure for Taught Awards

You can also explore the resources on plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Working together online

Synchronous meetings mean you will all be logged in talking at the same time. Technologies like Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and Google Hangouts support this. To make the most of these meetings, everyone will need speakers and a microphone. If you choose to, you can also share webcams which can make communication feel more natural and human. If you have people in your group who are shy, they may just want to text type which is also fine. 

Asynchronously meetings mean everyone will contribute at different times. Technologies like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage support this. Other students in your group may have a preference for these kinds of meetings, especially if they have work or caring commitments. 

Creative Commons License   adapted from University of Hull Remote Learning Skills Guide

Important Security Considerations

IT Services have issued the following security advice for using Zoom. The same principles can also apply to any meeting tool.

Protect Yourself

 Only register and access Zoom™ through the official Zoom™ website

  • Only download official Zoom™ apps or plugins from the to avoid introducing malware
  • Consider the data being presented and avoid displaying or discussing BU Confidential or Restricted material. 

Meeting Hosts

  • Ensure meetings are configured to require a password or PIN to join
  • Disable sharing or forwarding of invites
  • Review your participants list before starting a meeting to screen unauthorised attendees
  • Disable file transfer capabilities

Everyone (Hosts and attendees)

  • Do not accept file transfers without asking the host to verify
  • Be aware that any content shared or discussed can’t be assumed to be secure
  • If using a webcam, be aware of what is behind you
  • Do not record or take images without the express permission of the host and other participants
  • Do not share your entire screen, share only the application needed to avoid disclosing other open items on your desktop or in the background
  • You are advised not to join a Zoom meeting where a password has not been provided
  • If you join a meeting and it has no ‘waiting room’, attendance will be at your own risk
  • Disable session/presentation recording unless specifically required and delete recordings when no longer required
  • Prevent instances of participants displaying inappropriate content by restricting the use of cameras by participants. The host can then decide who can use their camera and microphone by clicking “Manage Participants” from within Zoom™Setup a notification when someone new enters the meeting lobby, and you can then choose whether to admit the person to the meeting or not. 

Online collaboration tools

Tool Advantages Disadvantages
BU Email Everyone already has an account. Even if you do not know everyone's email address, you can look them up on the global address book in outlook web. Not everyone checks their BU emails. It can be difficult for group conversations and its hard to share files.
Facebook Messenger

Offers instant communication between the group. Can also facilitate group video calling. Very easy to share photographs.

Not everyone will want a messenger account. It can be frustrating to find everyone. 
Whatsapp Offers instant communication between the group. Can also facilitate group audio and video calling.  You will need to exchange phone numbers and everyone will need a mobile phone. Not as convenient when sharing files, especially if used on mobile. 
Google Hangouts Offers messaging, audio and video calling. Can also share your screen with others in the call.  Requires everyone to be connected at the same time. 
Skype Great for text, audio and video calling. Can seem a little restrictive compared to other available tools. 
Zoom Offers professional online conferencing allowing users to share audio, video and screens.

Limited to 40 minutes for group meetings after which it will disconnect.

Creative Commons License   adapted from University of Hull Remote Learning Skills Guide