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Software for collaborative learning

To produce good work, we need to have a conducive environment, a growth mindset, and the right tools. Here are some thoughts on tools after a year of teaching online, and half a year with the site I designed for my students.
Site as community garden
For my courses, I have the sites I made, and forums on extensions to the sites. I like that this gives the feeling of ‘place’ and how the sites have grown, like community gardens, over the year as they became filled with student writing. But the forums are an important part of it, as they allow faster and shorter communication to take place – at some point, I would like to learn how to embed the forums on a ‘page’, unified by the sites’ aesthetic.
Cultivating aesthetics – also in video delivery
Of course, UX is important… Even for me as an educator. I don’t see why I wouldn’t include my ‘logo’ in the corner of videos – except to do this means dealing with video that needs to be rendered and then compressed, which takes time – and all of my CPU.
Video delivery needs to be dynamic: some weeks, video lectures will do; in others, it is better to hold a video conference. Actually, I am now contemplating replacing video lectures with recorded livestreaming as I am sure at least a few students would watch it live, and I would like to see their interactions in chat.
Looking at what is available
So I looked into software services (‘Zoom alternatives’) for video and collaborative work. There are great ones that let you embed or at least leave a customized link leading site users to a customized room, replete with logo. There are others that allow recording, video conference options, and livestreaming – though services that provide livestreaming are not as common.
However, while the services I looked into were somewhat privacy conscious, full interaction with their sites required running all kinds of extra sometimes questionable code and even Google captchas.
In general, as most software is geared for business, the suite of products I found attractive are too expensive for a teacher paying out of pocket.
I was surprised to find some software sites that were not very well organized: tutorials on avoiding the ‘infinity mirror’ of screen share not appearing in the most prominent troubleshooting page; pages with a jumble of software without any semblance of the narrative journey for different persona profiles and practical product combination scenarios; illogical interrelation between pages (e.g. totally missing a menu that unites all related topics to a certain page or product: some product specifications were not visible through a consecutive sequence of links, but had to be found on a different page).
But worst of all are ‘free trials’ that ask for credit card numbers, then no option from the customer dashboard to cancel the trial. Subsequently, needing to run all kinds of code to be able to fill out a contact form (as no customer support email is visible) only to then have to have not one but several interactions with a person to get the trial cancelled. I suppose this is possibly normal for business customers, but for a teacher with shallow pockets, the experience was unnerving.
My wish list
Ecologically-friendly and privacy-conscious hosting. I love my current host but the two features listed here are compelling.
The possibility to ‘brand’ videos (imagine being saved the hassle of rendering and compressing) – whether pre-recorded, live recordings of video conferences, or live streaming.
A digital whiteboard app for brainstorming. A marketing company recently released free and open source code for one, but I don’t know to integrate that into my CMS.
If you have any suggestions, I would greatly appreciate hearing about them.

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