Collect documents from others in a group (e.g. assignments)


Email is a common way to share files, but there are other technologies emerging that may be compelling alternative to email, particularly if one or more people want to be able to collaborate or comment on documents at various stages of completion.  Indeed, more and more of what used to be done by means of creating files on your computer desktop and then sending these files to others is now being done directly on web sites.  The advantage of working on the web is that the work is accessible from any computer connected to the web.

Perhaps the best example of this move to the web is Google Docs.  On the surface, Google Docs is a lot like Microsoft Office or Apple's iWork.  However the big difference is that a given Google doc is not a separate file stored on a particular computer.  It is simple data that is accessed through an application that is runs over the web instead of one that runs on your computer.  This means that everyone accesses the document in the same way instead of everyone needing to have their own desktop application....

What you need:

To collect documents you need a place where these "documents" can be stored.  This place needs to also store information about who created the document and what group their document is associated with.  Email does a fairly good job of this, since it records who sent you the document and allows you to organize the emails with attached files into folders. However there are limits on the size of documents that can be attached to an email....  The deeper challenge is making sure you can access the contents of the document.

Microsoft Word has long been the most widely used application for "word processing" or the creation of documents that consist of primarily "formatted" text.  Over the years, MS Word has had many updates that have added new features and functionality.  Problems sometimes arise when a document created in one version of Word is opened in another version.  If the document contains features from one version that do not exist in another version, these features will obviously not be accessible in the version that lacks them.

How you do it:

If you are comfortable with email and its limitations, simply tell others to send you their documents as email attachments.  If the documents are primarily formatted text and you have a recent version of Microsoft Word, then you should be able to open most text documents that are sent to you.  If you have problems opening a document in your version of Word, make note of what version you have and ask your contributor (student, colleague, collaborator...etc) to save their document in a format that is compatible with yours.

If you want to access and organize your "documents" via the web or provide ongoing feedback about a document as it is being drafted or you want to collaborate with the document's author or group of contributors, consider Google Docs.

Tips and suggestions:

If you are using email to collect documents:

  • Ask your contributors (e.g. students, colleagues... etc) to include their name in the document filename
  • Agree on a format for contributions (e.g. assignments, proposals, reports... etc)
  • ...

If you decide to use Google Docs, see: Share documents/presentations for collaborative editing