5. Platforms for collaboration

In the BIM-Hub project, students were free to use whichever platforms they wished for their asynchronous working but were assigned GoToMeeting for their synchronous meetings. All students used email for lengthier communication, most used Dropbox for sharing and storing information and all used Facebook for communication that required a faster turnaround. The following guidance records the students’ responses about the technologies themselves. The skills they acquired to use the technologies are covered in sections 6 and 7.

5.1 Most students find that GoToMeeting is an effective platform

GoToMeeting has the functionality that the students require for conducting meetings with design elements. Sharing desktops was particularly important for them. They did not use the webcamera functionality at all, mostly because they felt it was unnecessary, though some expressed discomfort with having their faces appear online.

5.2 Impose a minimum standard for hardware for videoconferencing

Though few teams experienced problems, the hardware provision was occasionally of poor quality. Students should use good microphones, good webcameras and make sure they have a good internet connection.

5.3 The wifi availability in universities is sometimes substandard

Again, in the majority of institutions the internet connection was of sufficient quality. However, students reported that in one of the libraries the wifi was too poor to hold a videoconference. Be aware that facilities may in places be substandard and identify these areas. Ideally the project can be a means to highlight deficiencies in the IT provision in institutions.

5.4 Ensure compatibility between the software the different institutions are using

Learning from each other regarding the software used by other disciplines and institutions is a valuable opportunity of collaborative projects, however this needs to be anticipated in order to effectively encourage this aspect. The practicalities are that, where this is not done, students will be forced to use the lowest common denominator between their available packages, or waste time redoing designs. Ideally a high end package should be chosen and disseminated to all students, as the most recent version.

5.5 Be aware of the specific affordances and constraints of the technologies the students will be using

The table below describes the experience of students at Loughborough University with regards to their various technologies.

Technologies used by students at Loughborough University

Use reported by Used for Why used? Challenges with use
Facebook Three of the four groups Everything: file sharing, work updates, problem-solving, general arrangements Easiest platform. Everyone uses it. People not using it enough. People reading comments but not responding.
GoToMeeting All four groups Meetings: Problem solving, designing – sketchup, updates, hosting meeting Module requirement. Told to use it. Lagging. Visual issues. Sound issues – feedback. Screen share lag. Connection/speed issues. Echoes. Poor use due to not knowing it. Made computer crash. Good but determined by strength of connection. When two meetings were arranged simultaneously. Determining the host.
Dropbox All four groups File sharing and organisation. Keep track of work completion. Single portal for work storage. Used for shared storage space and all access to files. Free. Easy. Everyone uses it. Keeps track of work. Good for “live” docxs. Wrong formats. Got busy/cluttered. Dropbox got full. Not everyone used it. Not enough storage space. Two people editing one document simultaneously.
Word One group Used for writing reports Slow or crashes with documents of that size
Email One group Communication Time difference for response time
Sketchup, AutoCAD, AutoRevit, ArchiCAD, Candy Three of the four groups Sketchup used for diagrams/models at concept stage. All used for diagrams. All Drawing/graphical communication. AutoRevit used by Canada AutoCAD Not used by all. Difficult to use. AutoRevit not compatible with AutoCAD sometimes. All: Different preferences and competency levels. All: Compatibility. Training. Ability to use software within group.

5.6 Let students “try before they buy” with the videoconferencing platform

Students had two comments about virtual meetings; one of these was that meetings would be more effective if there was a preparatory period of trial sessions and tutorials (described as “try before you buy it!”).

5.7 Be aware that videoconferencing presents particular challenges for the minority of students who feel the absence of face-to-face social cues more keenly

Suggest that they use webcameras to support their online interactions. Multiple monitors can be used; one for holding webcamera images to support online presence, another for the applications being observed.

Some students will always report dissatisfaction with meeting using videoconferencing, even if no, or few, technical problems are encountered. This is usually less of a problem with self-selected participants, though some may not be aware of this antipathy before they start. This is not usually a reflection on the type of platform selected, it is due to the mode of meeting being online. These are often students who are particularly adept at reading body language and managing face-to-face interactions, so feel the loss of their usual advantage when in an online environment. A fraction (usually estimated at about 25%) do not experience the sense of projected presence that is usually enabled through technology (Heeter, Ganesh). Using webcameras may make some students more self-conscious however.