In the last senior class that I taught I assigned a team project. I wanted the final product that each team would create to be available to the students after they graduate (i.e., something they could add to their professional portfolio) and something that other students in the program but also graduates could have access. But primarily I was searching for a tool that would allow them do independent as well as collaborative work and would permit me to facilitate and assess both of these aspects. I ended up using the Projects feature of Wikispaces. Since the reactions from the students satisfactory and the end product were well developed, I wanted to explain this Wikispaces Projects function that was designed especially for K-12 and Higher Education instructors.
Wikispaces as a Collaborative Learning Tool
One of the goals for my students was as future educators to become more digitally literate especially with respect to the use of social media in the classroom. Of course, when I explained some basic instructions about the project and the Wikispaces online collaborative tool that they would use to design and present their product I received questions such as “Why are we going to be graded on something that we will have to learn in order to create this product?” and “How are we supposed to learn to function this tool by ourselves?” I knew I had to be both firm and supportive in my response. So I said that as future educators you will need to seek out for new tools and invest time in learning how to use them. I added that I had pulled together some resources that would help them learn about the Project function of the Wikispaces and I demonstrated the basic steps for creating their team’s page (check out the Wikispaces blog for more information). At the end of the semester, most of the students commented that this had been the most enjoyable and creative assignment they had completed for my class.
The Projects Feature
The Wikispaces Projects function is an online collaborative tool that facilitates both independent and collaborative work and supports the development of Wiki team pages along with a main home Wiki page for the class project. In essence any team content that members of a team create (that is, pages and files) are grouped together, separate from the main area of the wiki. That way, students in teams can do their group work completely independently from other teams. The wiki organizer (i.e., the instructor or teaching assistant) decides who can modify content and have access to a team’s project page. There are several options that the organizer can change at any point:
- Public to wiki: All wiki members can view and edit pages
- Protected to wiki: All wiki members can view pages, but only members of this team can edit pages
- Private: Only members of this team can view and edit pages
- Custom: Define custom permissions (only available to Super-plan wikis or wikis on Private Label sites)
My choice was the protected Wiki mode and my students were able to develop the content of their page, add to each others’ work, reorganize the content, and even return to add more information. Also, they were able to communicate via instant messages or emails with each other and me in the Wikispaces platform. Non team members at the end of the project were required to leave comments to at least two other team pages so that a conversation could be developed around the different topics that each team investigated and presented.
The Role of the Instructor as Facilitator
The Wikispaces Project feature is an online collaborative tool that promotes self-directed and project-based team learning and supports the instructor’s role as the facilitator. Students are responsible to design their home page and complimentary pages while the instructor can constantly view any modification and addition made to a page, and even check who has contributed what and when. Moreover, the instructor can review the content as developed, can prompt teams on next steps, and hold the teams accountable to deadlines. In essence, this Projects feature in Wikispaces can resolve two of the primary challenges of team project-based and problem-based learning: (a) Members’ contribution and (b) Time management.
Authentic learning experiences that are project-based or problem-based as well as collaborative are essential for the preparation of undergraduates for future careers that require effective decision making, innovative, thinking, collaborative work, and networking skills. The Wikispaces Project feature is a tool that has the potential to support instructors in their efforts to design and facilitate such authentic and meaningful learning experiences. Students feel accountable for the independent and collaborative work they do and for the digital pages they create. Their work is no longer simply required “coursework” but it becomes their contribution to the digital learning society.
What are some of the online collaboration tools that you have experimented to promote team learning, project learning or problem-based learning? How effective were they?
Feel free to visit https://teachingnetwork.wikispaces.com/Welcome+to+the+Teaching+Network to have a look at the Wiki pages that my students have created. Note that you will need to create a Wikispaces account to be able to access the student made Wiki pages.