Short case study: Collaborative study and knowledge sharing


Yorkshare can be used to host online tools to support collaborative working. Tutors can set up dedicated group spaces with tools such as blogs and wikis to facilitate group work so that students can collaborate on tasks, study activities and writing projects. They could use the tools to prepare for the delivery of face-to-face seminar presentations, generate assessed reports or develop revision materials to be shared by all study groups. Instructors and peers can also use comment facilities to offer feedback, suggestions and support.

Case Study Overviews

New Media and Society (Sociology)

Students were allocated to workshop groups and worked together in wikis to prepare presentations to deliver to the rest of the class. Peers from other groups used the comments feature on the main wiki page for each group to give feedback after the face-to-face workshop. As well as the wikis, a course blog was created to be a reflective journal for the class. It enabled each student to create multiple journal entries which were visible to all. Students could include web links within an entry to point to interesting articles, websites etc. On each entry there was a comment space, to encourage students to discuss the ‘new media’ themes presented in the blog entry. The cohort also collaborated in a whole group wiki to create a glossary of new media terms. The wiki was named ‘Mediapedia’ (in reference to Wikipedia). Students were able to select a concept and then create a web page definition, which they linked to the concept on the main page. This became a student-created just-in-time support site.

The virtual presence of the instructor within the module site was a motivating factor for students to participate online, and a key factor in the early stages of the blended module in encouraging students to use new tools and engage with the VLE.

Evolutionary Ecology (Biology)

This module utilised eight group work areas, consisting of group wiki and blog tools, which were configured using adaptive release group membership rules, so that the areas were visible and accessible only to group members. The blog was intended to help the group communicate in the preparation of a weekly report. The wiki was also restricted to group members and used for collaborative report writing and the presentation of the weekly report, of which there were eight in total. Each report had a separate wiki page, and was expected to be a short summary of 350 words with references. A wiki tool (read-only) was used as an online ‘Text Book’ to present the group reports to the class, which were organised into nine chapters, reflecting the organising themes of the course. On a weekly basis, the course instructor uploaded the group reports to the online Text Book with some brief comments added to the entries, serving as commentary and feedback.

Students were expected to spend an average of no more than 2-3 hours working on the group report each week, including time for literature searching, reading, writing and editing. Each group then nominated a representative to make a short presentation in class, outlining the topic that they had researched for the online textbook, which was built up over the duration of the course. The group presentations were intended as ‘tasters’, to let the class know what they could expect to read about online. At the same time, the presentations enabled the instructor to address any problems or difficulties that had been encountered during the week’s research activities.

Students quickly got used to the technical aspects of the collaborative tools, which they had been shown as part of an induction session. Students encountered greater challenges in acquiring the learning competencies to provide feedback on each other’s work, to edit and critique contributions from group members and engage in collaborative writing. The course instructor’s role was crucial in tying together the online and class-based learning processes, making sense of the learning outcomes emerging from the online work and linking them to the theoretical concepts presented in the course lectures. The visibility of the instructor was important for the online activities in monitoring and acknowledging student efforts and providing feedback where appropriate.

Next Steps

Case study last updated: December 2008

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