Information on Collaboration Tools for Working from Home
Table of Contents
In the current Corona-related situation the need for collaborative tools is on the rise, especially as many are working from home. This page will guide you concerning tools available at the Univ. of Cologne.
Further information concerning general services of the RRZK during the current situation can be found here: Current changes in RRZK services
Synchronous and near-synchronous collaboration
Face-to-face communications and meetings, be it lectures, oral exams, official and professional meetings, are an important part of everyday University life. Such meetings are near impossible at the moment. Especially lectures, webinars, public University and internal meetings, which would be quite difficult to hold if relying solely on E-Mail, chat or telephone conferencing, are more easy when using the proper video conferencing tool.
The UzK follows the lead of many other universities by providing Zoom licenses. Zoom proved to be most powerful VC tool during the first phase of the current situation.
You can get your personal Zoom license by logging into the UzK’s Zoom Portal with your UzK account. This is the same account that is used for KLIPS, ILIAS, your “@uni-koeln.de” mail address and so on. You can not use Verwaltungs-, WiSo- or other accounts.If you want to use Zoom with the web client or the mobile app, choose “Login via SSO” and enter “uni-koeln.zoom.us” as corporate domain, then continue with your UzK account.
Further information on using Zoom in a UzK context can be found at the Zoom-FAQ along with helpful tips and tricks.
Please read and comply with the notes on data security and privacy for hosts and moderators.
In case of further questions regarding the access to Zoom please contact the RRZK-Helpdesk (rrzk-helpdeskuni-koeln.de).
For meetings of a sensitive character you can also use DNFconf, which is free of charge for university staff and lecturers. No further registration is required; but the massive increase in usage during the current situation may hinder flawless usage. The DNF provides two flavours of the service:
Chat and E-Mail
The e-mail service provided by the RRZK is a very stable one. Nevertheless, in these times it would be prudent to use available and easy-to-use solutions like mailing lists as a consolidated way of e-mail communications to avoid sending multiple mails when one is sufficient. Also please avoid sending massive mail attachments - to exchange data in an easy and secure way, please use other services provided at the UzK like Sciebo, SoFS, BSCW or Gigamove.
The RRZK also provides a RocketChat server. This is an easy way to supplant the need of daily face-to-face communications. There is a fine new manual.
To use RocketChat, please log in here using your UzK credentials:
Only employee accounts are eligible. Besides text, you can also send small files (RocketChat is no data management tool; please use it only for small files!). You can use RC either in your browser or as a desktop or mobile app (server name in the mobile app is tortilla.rrz.uni-koeln.de) which you get at the usual places like Playstore or Appstore for free. The desktop app is available from RocketChat’s website. With the desktop or mobile app you can also initiate video conferences with other RC users; using this feature in a browser is not recommended. Again: RocketChat is a chat system, the video conferencing feature is meant as a quick tool for seamless communication, not as a replacement for a fully-fledged video conferencing system.
Collaborative document editing
If you use Sciebo, there is the integrated OnlyOffice app to collaboratively edit Office documents - concurrently and synchronously from anywhere, within your browser. If you work with multiple participants, you see multiple cursors and are able to keep a versioned, consistent document, which is much safer and easier than sending it back and forth via e-mail. The only requirement is for all participants to have writing permissions on the document’s folder. For this, everybody involved needs a Sciebo account which you can obtain by registration with your UzK account and then setting a separat Sciebo password.
If you need to collaboratively and simultaniously edit non-Office files and documents, you may consider using Git. Git may require more extensive knowledge of working with computers. Further information on this can be found under Special cases of collaboration.
For taking notes collaboratively, where a full-featured text processing suite like OnlyOffice might seem fulsome, you may choose to use a "pad". See the section about Taking Notes together.
The online tool Mural provides a collaboration platform for digital whiteboards. Mural can be used for workshops, planning or brainstorming together. You can signup via your university account. Institutions can collaborate via central workspaces. Mural boards can be designed variably using various templates.
Further information on setting up and using Mural boards and workspaces can be found on the portal pages for digital teaching at the UzK.
Taking notes together
Via the Hedge-Doc-Pad (provided by GWDG) you can record shared notes and texts, for example during a meeting. Using a Markdown editor, headings can be formatted and the text can be styled. This allows for clear texts to be written collaboratively, without the overhead of a full-featured online word processor.
Several people may edit the text simultaneously via a shared link. All data is downloadable as formatted text and as HTML. The pad is compatible with all popular web browsers.
You can access this service via Shibboleth authentication. That means you may login using your Uni Cologne account (student account or employee account). On the login screen, there is a separate section for shibboleth access. Click on "Federated Login" and choose "Universität zu Köln" from the list of institutions.
While sharing with others in Sciebo is essentially limited to other universites in Northrhine-Westphalia, you can work collaboratively in HedgeDoc with academic colleagues from a wide range of institutions (in Germany and worldwide). For futher information about using HedgeDoc, e.g. how to restrict access of notes, see the instructions on HedgeDoc usage at GWDG.
Daily communications aside, which may easily be supplanted by RocketChat or similar tools, there may be the need to engage in long-term consistent remote project management. For these needs, the RRZK provides a Redmine server. Redmine is a flexible project management web application.
At first glance, Redmine looks quite spartan, but further investigation will reveal a plethora of clever, seamlessly interacting project management tools. It can’t hide its origins in software development when it comes to terminology (“versions” instead of “milestones” for example), but it offers granular, hierarchic control over work packages and to-dos. It helps to read up on it here before jumping straight in.
Responding to e-mail requests collaboratively
To manage and collaboratively share the workload of requests via e-mail, the RRZK provides the OTRS ticket system. Via OTRS, requests can be commented on and answered by multiple persons synchronously and asynchronously. The OTRS ticket system gives a transparent history of communication concerning topics and requests - and it works straight in the browser.
For sharing data in general, without the need to collaboratively edit the same document at the same time, there are several services available to UzK account holders. Details on these services can be found here:
- SoFS (online storage - only for students, guests and employees of UzK)
- Wikis (shared documentation with very shallow learning curve)
- BSCW (sharing documents, provides access for non-UzK personell)
- Gigamove (single-use short-term data sharing service, e.g. for files too large to send via e-mail. One of the parties involved in the data exchange, either sender or recipient, must be an account holder at UzK.)
- Sciebo (see above)
For further and more complex data sharing topics it might be helpful to consult the University’s Research Data Team's website.
Sign documents digitally: electronic signature
With a real electronical signature it is possible to sign a digital document. With an electronic signature, your identity can be prooven.
For certain documents (e.g. application for guest accounts) we require at least an electronic signature. As for now, you may sign those documents by using e.g. the touchscreen of your tablet or your computer, unless it is requested otherwise. XODO is a free app you can use for this procedure. It is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android and iOS.
You can use our short introduction into XODO to learn how to sign a PDF with your digital signature.
Sign documents with a certificate: advanced electronic signature
The more advanced and more recomended way of signing a document is the use of a "real" electronic signature, by using a certificate. You can use a S/MIME-certificate to sign your PDFs. Have a look at this to learn more about how to apply for a S/MIME certificate and how to use it. Since your real identity is checked during the application process, the signature of a document by using a certificate is approved as advanced electronic signature according to the eIDAS regulation.
To learn how to use your certificate to sign documents in Adobe Reader DC with windows, have a look at:
Special cases of collaboration
To work collaboratively on files other than office documents and text notes, it might be useful to employ Git. Git is a versioning system which keeps a full history of edits, supports branching in case there is the need to fork off different versions from a single point onward, also supports merging of different branches and a sophisticated user and access control system. Conflict resolution is dealt with in the form of difference editors, and keeping a special branch for production-level versions of files. Git is commonly used for software development, but also quite common for other kinds of digital data, for example 3d models. At RRZK, Git is fully integrated into the Redmine project management software.
Teaching personell may also reach out to students of specific lectures via KLIPS and ILIAS. Use this! Teaching material for lectures should always be provided via ILIAS. Concerning the recording of lectures, please read this.
If you have any questions or problems, please contact the RRZK-Helpdesk