Zoho is a company that offers a slew of web-based applications designed to help people collaborate, communicate, and create. Some of the collaboration and communication tools Zoho offers include chat, document sharing, desktop sharing, and wiki applications all under one roof – they even have email service. On the creating front, Zoho offers web-based apps for creating presentations, spreadsheet, and written documents. Free, web-based applications are popping up everywhere on the internet, but few companies are offering an entire suite of them – Zoho does. I took interest in the “shout box” feature of the chat program because it allows you to embed the widget right into your web page so that visitors to the site can communicate with each other. This could be used as a virtual lobby where students can interact with each other while they wait for an available advisor.

The chat widget below is designed for one-on-one communication with visitors to the site. Distance advisors can tend to particular students while students wait in the virtual lobby. For very student who types something into the chat box, the advisor will receive an individual dialogue box on the other end, allowing one-to-one communication. Combining these two types of chat boxes may help students feel less bored or impatient while they wait to chat with an advisor because they can communicate with each another in the meantime. Additionally, the advisor can send a message to everyone in the virtual lobby without having to respond to every student individually. You can simply say “Thank you for waiting as I meet with other students” or “As I meet with other students, please be patient and I will be with you shortly” or something to that effect. Simply letting students know that you are there can enhance the chat advising experience.

Honestly, Zoho offers way to many free applications for you not to check it out. They even offer free CRM software! Students can benefit from knowing about this resource too because they can generate presentations, spreadsheets, and documents in MS Office file formats (PPT, XLS, DOC) and export them to their computer. I don’t know about you, but I have spoken to a few students who relied on trial versions of this expensive software only to let the free trial expire and find themselves in a crunch because they could not complete or submit their assignment. Perhaps you will find other ways that Zoho can be useful. The pro version of the software offers more features, but I thought it would be worth highlighting some of the freebies.

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