If there’s one thing that keeps me going through the mundane day-to-day, it’s Discovery. I love discovering new stuff, figuring out how they’re meant to work, and exploring how they can work with other stuff. These days, most of my discoveries have to do with apps and most of my exploration has to do with workflows. Because, hey, if you can let the system do the boring work, why not?
In my little experiments to determine the best workflow, I’ve stumbled upon a great combination of apps for managing projects, teaching Project-based learning (PBL), or mentoring groups.
In the deluge of apps upon apps, these 3 work like a dream combination:
Moxtra + Pocket + Google Drive = Magic
(I’ve been using this to mentor project groups, but it’ll work really well if you’re part of a group too!)
The 3 apps tackle 4 common complaints in project management:
- I’m drowning in research! (a.k.a. organising all the rich content out there)
- We have about a thousand versions of work to keep track of because we keep emailing newer versions of the same document
- We can’t meet because so-and-so is sick/out of town/in a different timezone
- We communicate on WhatsApp, do the work on Microsoft, minutes are so passé, my email inbox has 5000 unread messages and most of them are one-liners, blah blah blah (a.k.a. I need my project(s) to live in one place!)
#1 – I’m drowning in research!
One of the best things about learning today is that there’s easy access to a whole treasure trove of information. But that’s a double-edged sword because you can easily get lost in all those words and hyperlinks and citations…
Pocket is one of my all-time favorite Read Later apps, and I particularly like it for projects because of the tagging feature. You can easily label each article/page with all relevant tags and it’s really easy to find them again when you need them.
Plus, saving websites is super easy:
- When you come across a website you like, just copy the URL and open the Pocket app and voila! there’s a prompt to ask if you would like to save it; or
- The Save to Pocket browser extension is so well integrated that you don’t even have to leave the webpage to save it. You can even tag the page straightaway!
I could go on and on about how wonderful Pocket is, but I’ll save that for another post.
#2 – We have about 1000 copies of the same document!
Project v.1… Project Draft v.1.1… Project v.2.1.2… Project Final v.3000…
When it comes to co-editing documents, few solutions are as easy to use as Google Drive. The seamless integration of Google’s suite of productivity apps and the handy and intuitive comments feature makes this the default collaborative platform for many people I know. You have full control over privacy and editing rights, and there’s even a feature for peoples’ edits to be marked as Suggestions. I thought that was nice.
Google Drive is also great for people juggling multiple projects because you can sort and color-code everything into folders; Drive documents can easily be sent as attachments in Gmail; Google Sheets is pretty powerful for a free spreadsheet app… I could go on.
Only catch is: tables don’t render properly in the iOS app, which makes editing a pain on the iPad. And I love tables, so…
Many of my students no longer work on Word documents when it comes to project submissions. They work together on the same Google Doc, edit that, then download it in whichever format they require. The formatting for exported documents is so much better now, so there are few issues with this process.
#3 – It sucks that not everyone can be here
#4 – I need my projects to live in one place
Projects often involve various documents and countless conversations, and it’s tough to keep track of everything if your documents are in Dropbox, your chats are in WhatsApp, and other details are in your inbox.
Collaborative apps like Slack and Moxtra are great for this purpose. I like both for team collaboration, but I’ll focus on Moxtra as that’s what I’ve been using in my groups. Here are some features of the app that I’ve found useful:
- The Record function to record meetings and real-time annotations on documents so absent team members can watch the meeting at their own convenience;
- A complete suite of annotation functions on the web app (the mobile apps are slightly more limited, but still comprehensive) make it easy to markup shared documents for future reference (you can’t edit the actual document, as far as I know);
- You don’t have to open a video conferencing app like Skype or Google Hangouts because they have their own VC function called ‘Meet’;
- The Binders concept is especially useful for teachers mentoring multiple projects;
- To-Dos are great to keep track of deadlines and tasks.
There are a couple of downsides: namely, the austerity of the chat function, and the limited number of integrations compared to Slack.
Workflow in action
How does this combination actually work? I’ve primarily been using it in the classroom and this is how the process typically occurs:
- Collaborate on document (Google Drive)
- Upload for checks (Moxtra)
- Consult, Meet, Annotate (Moxtra)
- Setting of tasks/deadlines (Moxtra)
- Research, Archive, Tag (Pocket)
I imagine that it’ll work in much the same way if you’re managing a project outside the classroom context too. Doesn’t that work like a dream?