I have some experience with hosting reading groups/journals clubs in an off-line setting. Usually we meet every week in a room and discuss the paper for that week. However, recently some colleagues and I (~7 people) are trying to catch up on a specific topic quickly, and we want to hold a short reading group/journal club. Unfortunately, some of my colleagues are at other universities, and cannot physically attend meetings.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for tools to hold an online reading group?

My first instinct was G+ Hangout (especially with the new beta features they are making available right now). Skype is also an option, but last I checked required a fee for group video chat.

The preferred features are:

  • Talk to (and preferably see) each other
  • Have access to some sort of shared whiteboard
  • Easy to use and set up
  • 2
    Google+ seems to work okay, at least for seminars. Feb 15, 2012 at 14:46
  • Some of the answers to my question on MathOverflow can be applicable. In particular, there are several links to online whiteboards, real time collaborative document editors, and/or mathematics enabled chat. Feb 15, 2012 at 14:50
  • @WillieWong I was at IQC when those started, but unfortunately never came out to the conference room to see a Q+ Hangout (I think they projected it so that many people could participate from one location). My bad on passing up a great opportunity. I am just worried that the more interactive atmosphere of a reading group might require different tools. Feb 15, 2012 at 14:51
  • True, the one possible downside to G+ hangout is that if multiple users started talking at once, the "autofocus" of the camera to the speaker gets confused. For seminars this is much less an issue; it will be okay also if you strictly enforce a rule of one person talking at one time. But this detracts a bit from the reading group environment. Feb 15, 2012 at 14:58

4 Answers 4


There's an online Astronomy Journal Club hosted on Wordpress.

Here's my main advice: make the process as frictionless as possible. Grad students tend to have very busy lives, and journal clubs will inevitably have high dropout rates unless they have some motivation (even through guilt) to stay in and to continue participating. Keep them updated through some service that they'll constantly check even if they aren't doing science (emails end up annoying people, but Facebook, Reddit, and Google Plus might work).

It's also probably easier to convince people to set an online journal club when the journal club is about some specialized subject that only a small number of people at any particular university know about (and if they have a strong urge to talk about the subject with people from other universities).

Finally, if there's an academic conference for grad students (for my area, for example, it would be AbGradCon), discuss it with people there! Journal clubs are an excellent way to keep in touch with grad students at other universities.

  • 1
    I've tried the wordpress route for our in-person reading group but it is almost impossible to get people to contribute. I definitely agree that you need to keep things frictionless and somehow appealing. Mar 4, 2012 at 22:10
  • Yeah - what about a Facebook group? Or Facebook/Wordpress integration if that is still possible? Mar 5, 2012 at 1:20

Google+ comes with great communication tools called Hangout. Shared documents and even presentations can be achieved with. There is no real setup process involved but getting an account at Google.

Another option could be Moodle which has more features on relevant for teaching courses online and maybe less emphasis on direct communication.


You can find many softwares or online services for that purpose : blackboard IM, tinychat, etc.


Shepherding this is a lot of work. Most such efforts die on the wine because the initial enthusiasts get bored/overwhelmed. Find a solid group of people willing to work together on this, keep the organization flat (not "I started this, so I'll decide what software to use" or so). Keep it simple, no fancy, complex interfaces. No big hassle to set up, use a simple package running (hopefully) under your control on department servers.

You might start by (mis)using the pages used for classes to hand out material, assigments, and class discussions. Everybody involved should already know how to use this. See where this leads, if it outgrows your initial system, you'll know in more detail what you require, and have something to show to convince the department to chip in by e.g.funding a couple of students to help with the day-to-day management (two at least, with overlapping longish tenures, you do not want to train the helpers for a term just to get new ones when they are starting to get the hang).

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