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April 28, 2012

Group Projects Made Easier with SkyDrive–A Students Perspective

Pamela Nguyen is an upcoming graduate of New York University and founder of Surviving College, a blog dedicated to helping students navigate the ins and outs of college. She is constantly on the lookout for nifty tools that will make a busy (and poor) college student’s life much easier. A self-proclaimed interior design junkie, Pamela also runs the interior design blog, Redesign Revolution.


I can hear a collective groan throughout campus when a professor utters the phrase “group projects.” You might recall the graphics and memes depicting the expectations versus reality when faced with a group project that is worth 50 percent of your grade.


Image 1: Snapshot of one of my marketing classes at NYU.

As a business student at New York University, I have had more than my fair share of group projects. Last semester alone, I had three back-to-back group presentations that followed up with group papers all in the span of two weeks. No fun. What I’ve learned is that doing collaborative projects where formatting is incredibly important – the combined power of Google Docs and Dropbox just wasn’t cutting it. Attempting to create Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, budgeting reports, or 50-page-long papers via these avenues always ends up failing for me.

What are the problems I have with Google Docs?

  • Formatting is compromised whenever you switch between Google Docs and to the desktop version of Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint.
  • Google Docs is essentially a bare bones version of any Microsoft Office app, with little capability to deal with flashy things (sometimes you need flashy things in your PowerPoint presentation!).
  • You never knew what was edited when you opened up a collaborative document.

Image 2: One of my PowerPoint slides on the desktop application vs. Google Docs conversion.

What are the problems I have with Dropbox?

  • It is so easy to use up the 2GB limit, though I have a 4GB limit from referring my friends.
  • The problematic number of conflicting files your group can generate from working on the same document simultaneously.
  • You can’t collaborate on a project live.

Typically the way my group project collaborations have gone in the past has been like this:

  1. Create a barebones PowerPoint presentation on Google Docs.
  2. Fill out the basic information on Google Docs.
  3. Download the file.
  4. Format the file on the desktop version of Microsoft PowerPoint.
  5. Share file on Dropbox.
  6. Get multiple conflicting files when everyone decides to edit and save at once.
  7. Sigh collectively.
  8. Resort to editing and emailing back and forth for the subsequent hours right before the PowerPoint presentation is due.

And when you have to resort to emailing back in forth in groups of 4-8, you can’t help but wonder if there’s another option out there that can override these issues. Lo and behold: this is where Microsoft SkyDrive comes in.

Why I couldn’t resist signing up for SkyDrive:

  • With 7GB of free storage space in the SkyDrive, I wouldn’t have to be careful about moving around other files to make room for my multiple group projects.
  • SkyDrive has Microsoft Office fully integrated online through the Office Web Apps (Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote), so I wouldn’t have to worry about formatting issues when switching between the cloud and my desktop.
  • People can work on papers simultaneously, no conflicting files involved.
  • On the Microsoft PowerPoint Office Web App, there aren’t those annoying formatting errors that you get with Google Docs.
  • When someone makes an edit, you are notified of that edit the next time you save/update your document.
  • You don’t have to make a new account when signing up for SkyDrive – just register your Gmail or Yahoo account, no problem!
  • You don’t have to have the latest version of Microsoft Office, and you won’t have to save your files in other formats for others who have older versions of Microsoft Office – now they can use the Office Web Apps in SkyDrive!

Image 3: My same presentation on Skydrive’s PowerPoint Web App.

Frustrations, be gone! I can only rejoice about the hours saved with my latest PowerPoint presentation, now that I no longer have to format and re-format between Google Docs and Microsoft Office. Now, if only I can get my group project peers to make the switch…