Collaborative data-driven activities


Summary

The Department of Sociology designed wikis for collaborative work in between fortnightly seminars to maintain engagement throughout the Social Interaction and Conversation Analysis module.

Keywords: audio, wiki, collaboration, group work, module design, formative tasks, assessment & feedback.

Aims and Objectives

With students meeting every other week for seminars it was important to maintain engagement throughout the running of the module by providing structured tasks for students in the periods away from class time. The tasks gave students the opportunity to become familiar with data sets, actively applying the analytic methods covered in the weekly lectures.

Independent learning was combined with collaborative activities, building group working skills and reducing anxieties about developing analytic skills. Activities were designed to address a range of skills in working with data sets, including identification, analysis, and provision of peer feedback, which in turn led to greater understanding of the subject.

Overview

The VLE was used as a space for online activities to be carried out by the students in some of the weeks between the bi-weekly seminars. The activities built on material previously covered in lectures and fed into subsequent face-to-face seminars.

For the tasks, the student cohort was split into pairs / threes and each group was given access to private wiki spaces to be used for the online activities. The wikis were pre-populated with clearly defined spaces for student input, and explicit instructions were provided to guide the tasks through a number of stages each providing an opportunity to practice different skills:

  1. Students individually listen to audio files and read transcripts provided through the VLE to identify 4 examples each of a particular concept. Identified examples are entered into the wikis for stage 2
  2. Students collaboratively negotiate the best examples from those entered into the wiki.
  3. Students individually provide further analysis of 2 of the selected examples and provide feedback on the analysis of their partners
  4. Students individually make comparative analysis of the selected examples
  5. Students collaboratively define and develop a handout to support their face to face presentation of their findings in the seminars

Detailed feedback was provided to the entire cohort on the outcomes of the presentations.

Methodology

Academic staff defined the pedagogical aims and approaches for the module and then approached the E-Learning Development Team to advise on technical implementation through the VLE. Wikis were chosen as spaces for student collaboration for their ease of deployment by teaching staff, ease of editing by students and transparency for both parties.

A template wiki was built to structure and guide the tasks which was negotiated and refined to simplify the technical process and make the activities as clear as possible. Once templates were agreed upon, these were copied multiple times and adaptively released to create private spaces for student groups.

The VLE was introduced to students at the induction lecture with a demonstration of how to edit and contribute to wiki activities. Clear guidelines and rationale for the task were provided through the VLE along with supporting learning materials.

Reflections

Use of the VLE proved very effective in simplifying the structure and delivery of a range of resources including lecture notes, reading materials, data sets (including multimedia resources) as well as spaces for student activities. This was not only useful to staff for making them available to students but also supported easy access for teaching purposes in face to face sessions.

Although staff felt that the collaborative components of the tasks brought their own set of pedagogical benefits, student reaction to managing the group work process through the VLE was mixed:

“Group work like this needs everyone to co-operate. If people in the group don’t do their part on time or early enough it’s unfair and stressful for those who want to get it done to have to hang around and wait.”

“It’s a good way to do group work, as members of the group can communicate more easily, making it easier to get work done on time to a high standard.”

Although there were some misgivings, student reaction to the online tasks was generally positive (62.5% would like to see the VLE used for this type of activity in the future, on a likert scale of 1-5 the average response to question about how helpful the VLE was to support the exercises was 3.6.). It was noted that students were far more engaged and better prepared for face to face seminars following online activities. Feedback that was provided following student presentations, although generic to the cohort was still identified as useful by students.

Transferable lessons learned

Student engagement with online activities was encouraged by:

  • Providing structure and direction for the online activities the design of the tasks was simplified and refined over a series of iterations to maximise engagement with, and minimise confusion about, independent learning.
  • Creating a direct link between the tasks to the module assessment students could choose to develop the work undertaken in the online activities into a summative assignment.
  • Creating direct links between online activities and presentations in face to face seminars from where feedback was derived.
  • Peer pressure and support associated with collaborative activities: they didn’t want to let each other down.

Next steps

Case study last updated: May 2014

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