Get It Done Online

Web 2.0 collaboration tools can help smooth out funding efforts.

Your district needs to write or update a plan for categorical funding. The guidelines mandate evidence of collaborative writing. A committee is formed, but scheduling multiple face-to-face meetings to accomplish this task is proving difficult. How can this problem be resolved without relying on one or two people to do the bulk of the work?

Increasing numbers of free, Web 2.0 tools make it possible for busy educators to work collaboratively online, at their convenience (for insight about how Web 2.0 tools can transform schools, see "A Day in the Life of Web 2.0").

Establish an online community. When traditional meeting time is limited, you need a reliable, easy-to-use tool for general, asynchronous communication between meetings. Online communities typically provide shared calendars, to do lists, and a means for sending messages to group members. AirSet is a free online tool that allows users to set up invitation-only groups. AirSet's ability to keep groups private as well as its other features make it an excellent choice for this kind of project.

Use a wiki for initial writing. Word processors make it easier to engage in collaborative writing because files can be shared. However, anyone who has attempted to work with several authors knows that before long it's difficult to keep track of multiple versions of a file. Create a wiki, a Web site that allows users to asynchronously add and edit content posted online, to write the initial drafts of the plan. PBwiki, an educator-friendly free resource, offers password-protected wikis, so only members of the committee can make changes.

Use a Web-based word processor for final edits. Word processing programs that educators are used to running on PCs now have free online counterparts. These "Webtop" applications provide the same functions and also allow multiple users to collaborate on creating, refining, and updating Web-based files simultaneously. Writely, a free Webtop word processor recently acquired by Google, has the look and feel of a traditional word processor, but invited collaborators can view and edit documents.

Susan Brooks-Young is an educational consultant and writer.