Which Tech Tools Can You Use to…

People all over the world are doing some very rapid tech upskilling right now. Zoom is suddenly ubiquitous, and even committed technophobes are starting to use Microsoft Teams.

For research students now working from home, there are two things you’ll probably need to do online throughout the lockdown: videoconferencing with your supervisors, and sharing documents for review.

If you already have the tools you need to do that, great! If not, here’s our quick overview of the various tech tools you can use, and their pros and cons. Each link takes you to more information about these tools and how to use them.

So, which tech tools can you use to…

Videoconference with your supervisor?

*Widely used already
*Free accounts include features needed for small meetings
*Admins can enable screen sharing and document transfers within meetings
*Need a paid account for meetings of 3+ people over 40 mins
*Some users report pixellated video quality
Microsoft Teams *Already widely used by AUT staff
*Contains lots of features besides videoconferencing
*Can share documents
*Access included with Office365 (which all AUT students can get for free)
*The user interface takes a little getting used to
*A complex tool to learn if all you want is video calling
Skype*Widely used already
*Can share your screen and share large documents
*Some users find that video/audio freezes frequently
*Skype-for-Business Online users: note that this is being replaced by Microsoft Teams
Google Hangouts*Simple to use
*Good for groups
*Easy to send invitations via email
*Doesn’t offer much file sharing capability
*Requires all participants to have Google accounts
Facebook video calling *Easy to use if you only want video calling (no confusing ‘bells & whistles’)
*Minimal set-up – one click from FB Messenger chat
*Requires all participants to be Facebook friends
*Not commonly used for professional purposes

Other options: WeChat, Viber, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Slack video calling

Share documents with supervisors / colleagues

Good old email*Easy to use
*Supervisors / colleagues can use their existing email accounts
*Typically doesn’t mess with formatting or references
*Keeping the email trail gives you a record of versions and edits
*You have to collate edits from multiple supervisors
*Potential for confusion if multiple versions are in circulation
*Not practical for large file sizes
Google Drive *Already in wide use
*Allows edits from multiple people in the same document
*Version controls colour-code the changes made by each person
*Powerful search capabilities (you can search the title, text, and descriptions of all your documents)
*Documents are auto-saved
*15GB free storage
*Requires everyone to have a Google account
*Gets unwieldy if lots of people are editing
Dropbox*Already in wide use
*Allows edits from multiple people in the same document
*Generally fast to sync documents
*Previous versions of documents are saved for 30 days on a free plan
*Intuitive user interface
*Can mark files for offline access
*Requires everyone to have Dropbox
*Version controls are a little less detailed than Google Drive
*Only 2GB free storage; less than many competitors
OneDrive*Access included with Office365 (which all AUT students can get for free)
*Allows edits from multiple people in the same document
*Already built in to Window 10
*Offers a ‘Personal Vault’ – giving extra authentication options for restricting access to sensitive files
*Keeps a version history on each file, and gives the option to restore to a previous version
*Search functionality is not as powerful as in other tools
*Synchronisation between web and app can be slow

Other options: Box, Citrix ShareFile, Hightail, Zoho Docs

IMPORTANT NOTE: Take care when storing / sharing your reference library. Many reference management systems (including EndNote) are not designed to be used with cloud-based services like Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Docs. This is because the method used by cloud services to synchronise files can corrupt your reference library. You can safely store a back-up version of your library in the cloud, but the version of your library with which you are actively working with should be stored on your computer or a local drive. Here is EndNote’s advice on storing and synchronising your reference library.

Are you using any other tech tools that we should know about? Share them in the comments!

About Anaise Irvine

Dr Anaise Irvine is the Editor of Thesislink and leads the Researcher Education and Development team at Auckland University of Technology. Her PhD research analysed how contemporary films and novels represent genetic engineering as a social justice issue. These days she works with researchers at all levels to improve their research skills, and the most obscure of her own research skills is being able to turn novels into phylogenetic trees!

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