Pedagogy specialists including Armstrong & Hyslop-Margison (2006) support democratic collaborative activities as a positive predictor of student satisfaction. This transfers to online and hybrid (blended) courses. A sense of democratic community within an online course encourages engagement, which can promote higher-level thinking. This raises the question: How can instructors create successful collaborative learning communities online?
This article outlines our use of a strategy we call the Best Post Wiki (BPW) designed to engage students in smaller learning groups within a larger class. We deployed this particular wiki assignment in a hybrid class of 180 developmental psychology students.
Though traditional course alignment is a tripartite structure consisting of learning objectives, content, and assessment. eLearning adds technology as a fourth dimension. Kennewell (2001) suggests analyzing the technology affordances, meaning the technology’s actual capabilities relative to the technology maker’s intentions for its use. We compared the affordances of wikis to course outcomes and then solidified alignment to the final product. For instance, primary course content objectives included applying basic developmental psychology concepts and recognizing cultural influences on lifespan development. Since wikis are collaborative digital workspaces, learners contribute and edit content in a collection of pages, much like a virtual scrapbook. Wiki pages display digital “scraps” of a topic and students’ perspectives as they contribute original and curated written content, pictures, videos, and links.
Students engaged with their assigned group for the entire semester for each BPW. They responded both individually and as a group to weekly prompts designed to encourage thinking critically about the course material. Each group had a page under the weekly wiki, and each member was responsible for creating his/her own page with unique information. Then, collaboratively, group members used all of the contributions to select, arrange, and construct the absolute best answer for the prompt. This was the Best Post production to represent the most coherent perspectives of the group’s contributors in terms of understanding the content.
The BPW permits secondary behavioral objectives, such as collaboration without silencing contributors. Contributors are not shut down by compromise; instead, a wiki displays each perspective on an individual’s page and also allows a democratic space for the best contributions selected among the group. This is how we define successful collaboration.
Prompts to Encourage Higher-Order Thinking Skills
There were a wide variety of prompts exploring different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. At the level of analyzing, learners researched how two cultures viewed death and dying. The group pulled from the information that each individual member had gathered to compare and contrast the cultures. We reached the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy—creating—in our study of adolescence. Individual team members found information about successfully parenting teenagers and shared it on their individual pages. As a group, they created a page that served as a public service announcement for parents of adolescents that incorporated visuals and videos.
We know many students don’t enjoy group projects. In order to encourage equitable contributions and ownership, groups assigned rotating roles. For example, leaders guided members as needed, such as asking teammates to find particular types or sources of information. Organizers managed logistics and details, reminding the group of deadlines and contacting group members if an individual contribution was unclear. Editors polished material on the group page for stylistic consistency, professionalism, and clarity. The structure confirmed strengths, but also offered growth without being punitive.
For faculty, the BPW was easy to implement and grade via rubrics that assess individual contributions and the group synthesis. We believe the BPW is flexible enough to be used in classes of varying size and across disciplines.
Armstrong, J., & Hyslop-Margison, E. (2006). Collaborative learning and dialogue: Democratic learning in adult education. New Horizons in Adult Education and Human Resource Development, 20, 6-15.
Kennewell, S. (2001). Using affordances and constraints to evaluate the use of information and communications technology in teaching and learning. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 10,101-116.
Stacy E. Greathouse in an instructional designer at Texas Woman’s University. Lisa H. Rosen is an assistant professor at Texas Woman’s University.