Asking Here: Open Tools For Collaborative Slide Making and/or Annotating

If you send me an email asking a tech or resource question, I will always suggest using this community space because (a) there is here individually and collectively much more expertise than me and (b) more people can learn from it.

And I then will put the question you email me out here! I hope you are okay with this @BarbaraClass since I cannot fully answer your question!

Barbara asked:

  1. Do you have an open tool to advise to co-create in real time one slide on-line?

First, I am not sure if “open tool” means open source or just openly available? It’s pretty easy for question 1 to suggest Google Presenter.

And also, if you are talking about co-creating in real time a single slide, isnt that something more like a shared online whiteboard? That’s along the lines of Jam Board, which is going away. Or Miro, or maybe many more online whiteboard tools I hope others will suggest.

  1. Also an open tool to annotate a slide presentation in a collaborative mode which allows synchronous multiple connections?

Hah, I would like to know myself. I’d imagine you’d need something to manage access, hand out via a special link, or something like Mentimeter (not sure if it has an annotation mode, mostly polling).

My only old school approach, and far from ideal, is making use of Flickr, which ha a feature where if you are logged in (requires having at least a free account), you can drag on a photo to create an area to attach an annotation like note. Long ago I had done some presentations where I shared each as an image in an album. In theory you could then set this up to allow viewers to add annotations as notes that appear when you hover on the areas with a note attached.

As an example, I looked at a really old one I had done as a means of sharing the “slides” and just added two notes on the first “slide”. There are two note areas on this slide

A flickr photo with note annotated "note" areas, one shown open

But I do not think this is the kind of approach that would work more in a presentation mode.

So I hope someone else can be more helpful, and give Barbara some suggestions. And this is proof that I am hardly the best single expert source.

You might consider NextCloud Office. It’s open source. Nextcloud Office - Self-hosted online office suite

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For whiteboards, is FOSS and quite good.

In terms of structured platforms, OnlyOffice also works as well as Google or MS.

Another approach is to use markdown to create slides (so just simple text for collaboration). A radical open format approach :wink:

I use MARP, but there are many others.

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Oh wow wow and wow, thanks Tel- I am loving Excalidraw! Hey @BarbaraClass I think this can be your answer for a collaborative visual editor/editor


Agreed on using the forum. In fact, your rationale is exactly what I’ve been using with students since 1999! :wink:

Also agreed that whiteboarding might fit the use case. In the UX world, lots of people use Figjam, Miro, and Mural. People in the Microsoft ecosystem might even use Whiteboard. In the “open as available for free”, there are some options (including Alphabet’s Jamboard). More interesting, though, are open solutions, not tied to such corporate interests and datagathering practices.

As it turns out, I’ve recently done a quick software evaluation exercise focused on whiteboarding. Apart from Excalidraw, we tried tldraw and aka (in whiteboarding mode). During that experience, design students had quite a few points of criticism to make, which was expected. One consideration to keep in mind is about what you can do with the content and comments once you’re done.

Since we’re talking about slides, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention RevealJS. It’s a Javascript framework which allows for the easy creation of slides using the John Gruber’s Markdown language. @paulhibbitts mentioned Reveal during our convo with @bgray, yesterday. Works well with Obsidian’s nonfree-yet-somewhat-open Markdown-based personal knowledge management tool. My personal favourite is, a freemium online service from the dev behind Reveal.js.
At the core of it all is a “workflow” (or even “playflow”, in some contexts) which ties different tools through simple formats and diverse use cases. Those are very relevant for Open Educational Resources. If memory serves, @Mackiwg and others have developed such workflows. Some people even create whole published books with such tools. (Bernard Pochet has information in French about his method.)

So, back to Barbara’s enquiry/quest/request…

In a separate message, we also discussed Padlet. There are F/LOSS alternatives, of course. In fact, Padlet is part of a whole catalogue of software solutions that teachers will readily use with students. There might be several things to consider, including privacy laws (Quebec’s Law 25 is stricter than EU’s GDPR). And accessibility. And language support. And file formats. And reliability. And adaptability. And usability. Even legal restrictions based on international sanctions. Those of us who’ve worked in the public service probably realize how tricky these things can get.
Part of the problem we all have is that we all make such decisions “on the fly”.

Ok, stepping away from the soapbox…

There’s a need for software solutions which enable realtime collaboration in many different ways. We used to do these things with Wikis, which aren’t realtime in the same way. Even chats and quizzing could get into this broad frame.
Wait! There’s more!

For instance, the whole “quick response systems” category from Clickers to Menti/Socrative/Slido/Kahoot!/Poll Everywhere/WooClap… Tried some of the F/LOSS options… with limited success. I mean, they work. It’s just much more convoluted than it could be.

Deep down, what I tend to find is that some of the most appropriate solutions come from things people already use. Including, yes, some kind of LMS. Open Ed Tech’s @moodler (also OEG board member and, obviously, the OG Moodler) might have deeper insight on this, including about platforms like Matrix and the use of chatbots.
So, in this case, it could be about co-creating and annotating interactive content more generally. Wish H5P afforded realtime collaboration. And/or ways to use Open Annotations with such interactive content.

During this here OE Week full of wonderful activities about the many dimensions of Open Education, it can be fun to dream up what our open tooling might mean for deeper collaboration.

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Ha! Speaking of Excalidraw…

As I was getting ready to create a “freeform diagram” for a competency framework in UX design, I initially thought about using Figma, which I use with my main client. First thing is, I don’t have my own Figma plan, at this point. Second thing is, I’d rather play with something more open than that.
So, I decided to try things in Excalidraw. As a generic suggestion for technological appropriation, starting with a small practical project often works well.
In this case, it allowed me to explore the web app’s affordances in a realistic way. (A bit like authentic assessment!)
Doing so, I’m noticing that it’s the right balance between ease-of-use and a decent feature set. Honestly, this is relatively rare in most pieces of software… and it’s even rarer in the F/LOSS world.

I’ve registered for the free trial of Excalidraw+ and might end up paying monthly for the service (7USD/month). I might also check what I can do with a local instance of Excalidraw. Sounds like it can prove quite beneficial.

Then… I was on a (peer-)mentoring session through a videoconferencing platform used by a group of User Experience experts and, funnily enough, it has a plugin to integrate Excalidraw during calls! Honestly, it works waaaaay better than MS Whiteboard in MS Teams. (Haven’t tried whiteboarding in Zoom, in a while. I’d be surprised if it’s that seamless.) It doesn’t sound like Google Meet can include Google Jamboard (or other whiteboarding solutions).
(Wonder if Big Blue Button and Moodle could also integrate Excalidraw…)

And then… noticed a video about Excalidraw which demonstrates integration with Obsidian! Now, that opens up some interesting possibilities.
Again, the Obsidian Personal Knowledge Management System isn’t itself F/LOSS. As part of what makes it open is a modular system allowing community plugins (which are themselves F/LOSS). It’s also more open than other solutions because it uses Markdown files (which are plain text files in a welldocumented format, allowing for a lot of interoperability, including with slide presentations).

Speaking of file formats, it’s useful to know that Excalidraw exports as SVG. Not only does it help with interoperability, SVG is actually a very interesting standard. While we think of it for static (2D) images, it also affords some interactivity, as in a slideshow for the Web Annotation standard. Because image elements are distinct in the code itself, it’s also possible to annotate them individually, opening up some really nice possibilities.

All this to say… Like Alan, I’m making more discoveries around Excalidraw.
Glad we can… draw that particular sword from the stone.

For what it’s worth, BigBlueButton already includes an integrated collaborative whiteboard by default… The next version, BBB 3.0, will apparently replace that BBB-specific whiteboard with version 2 of tl;draw to offer greater capabilities.

Anybody done a feature comparison (and a community robustness analysis) between Excalidraw and tl;draw? Even if one is currently more feature rich than the other, if you have to choose, the one with a stronger community is usually better to invest time & energy in.

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I can’t say too much in depth about either, I’ve explored only at the dabble level, but they both offer impressive features, primary are no login needed to use, and you can import media to annotate and export results.

Here is my spending 5 minutes in tldraw (I tried a few insert embed features, it brings in frames like a YouTube featured image, even an Excalidraw link)

The primary difference I can see is that Ecalidraw can be set up for collaborative annotation. I’m sure there are more differences, but both look like very useful tools.

Later: I imported this image from tldraw into Excalidraw, which is now open for annotation!,au_CA6TRdlp3jzJvj-xn0g

Actually a better use of the tool might be to set up a comparison chart, and invite this community (or the few people in this thread) to do some collabronotation on it. Anyone want to set that up?

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Did a more extensive exploration of Excalidraw+ and I might even prefer it over Figjam, in certain contexts. Only tried tl;draw briefly (with design students “kicking the tires” and finding the lack of obvious features rather daunting). Not ready to do a full feature comparison, especially in learning contexts. In fact, I find the overall UX to be more important than the feature set, especially if we can integrate more than one tool in the same workflow (or “playflow”, in certain contexts).

Community robustness analysis would be great. Some technopedagogical team should take that on!

I don’t have strong opinions on this sort of functionality as I don’t often use it, but I want to point out a consideration: sometimes a software project (whether open source or proprietary) that is less feature rich right now will rapidly surpass a more mature, more feature rich (right now) app because of some combination of the following qualities - the project:

  • has a more robust underlying coding model, or
  • is developed with a better toolset (i.e. coding technologies), or
  • has a more ambitious and capable development team.

It’s important to consider all these elements - which provide an insight into a project’s ‘trajectory’ - rather than just a current ‘snapshot’ of functionality when selecting a tool.

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