One of the new programmes included with the Office 2007 System is Groove. It allows you to setup a collaboration environment which is off line, and synchronised across different computers. You can do things like create a shared file folder, which can be used by anybody who has been allowed, whether or not they are on the same network. Which means that you can share files between personal and college computers, or with students who want to continue working on their personal computer.
All of this is designed to be very secure (MOD-type-secure), and none of the data is stored on a server somewhere (unless you want to set it up that way).
I can imagine two reactions to this - "nightmare" or "great". Let's put "nightmare" to one side, because there's no reason to think that students will do anything sillier with this than they would with USB Memory Sticks, CDs and emailed files. So what about the "great"?
There are a number of unique circumstances within colleges that Groove could be used for. Almost 80% of your students are part-time, according to the DfES, which means that as well as being "students" they have another role - as employees etc. If you've got part-time students working on projects, who are also in employment, or you've got a project involving college staff as well as the private sector , then one of the frustrations can be sharing information. How do you easily share between two PCs on two completely different networks? Especially if you want the data available when you're offline? Groove can provide a way to overcome those barriers. You can simply connect them onto a Groove workspace, and they synchronise together over the web, regardless of the network and security infrastructure. And the security aspect ensures that the information isn't available to anybody who simply has a URL handy for a web server!
In Australia, a pilot in schools has been going on a for a while, using Groove to collaborate between teachers and students at school and from home. The reaction has been very positive, with pupils and parents liking the discussion groups it provides - because the only people able to participate are those invited into the Groove workspace - in this case limiting it to school users. The other big thing that they've liked it for is the easy ability for staff in different schools to collaborate on projects. Traditionally this has been tricky, because each school network has its own security setup, and so collaboration has had to be in a public space somewhere (with all the hassle that entails).
Like most of the new Office 2007 applications, you can download a free copy of the Groove trial from the Office website