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Enable Student Collaboration (Peer and Group)

The online environment is an opportunity for students to interact and collaborate with each other. Student-student interaction, if well structured, can be a positive experience for students and can offer opportunities for students learn and to get to know other.  The ability of the on-line environment to monitor student activity also gives academic staff an opportunity to ‘see’ what goes on in a group interaction, a task that is more difficult to monitor in the face-to-face group work equivalent.  See Assessing Group Work - Including Online

Which Tools and Techniques: Blogs, Wikis or Online Discussions?

You should consider first what is the best tool for collaboration online for your context. The University of Missouri (2013) sets out the common tools used in the Blackboard environment, and the focus of each approach. Interestingly, Wikis focus on a collaborative product and closer to a more student-centered collaborative approach than the other formats. 

Table 1: The difference between wikis, blogs and online discussion.

Features/Teaching ImplicationsDiscussion BoardBlogWiki
Purpose/Focus Topic-driven, class-centered, discourse-facilitated Author-centered Document or deliverable-centered
Tone/Writing Style Similar to class-room discussion;conversational;Socratic method;formal Similar to personal journal;reflective or conversational;informal Similar to group project;likely formal.
Narrative/Entry Display By topic or thread;chronological Typically reverse chronological;most recent entries appear first Pages typically appear alphabetically.
Editing Options Personal post may be edited; no group/collaborative editing Personal entries may be edited Collaborative editing
Feedback/Comments Comment/reaction driven Allowed and encouraged but not necessary Allowed but focus is more on collaborative editing
Grading Options Forum posts may be collected and graded per student; directly linked to the Bb Grade Centre Blog entries may be collected per student assessed;directly linked with Bb Grade Centre Wikis may be assessed; directly linked with Bb Grade Centre.  The tool provides a History feature allowing for an analysis of individual contribution
Challenges/Limitations With many students the conversation may become unwieldy. Response driven format requires continued attention and presence. Blogs are inherently more user-centered, so other students may not regularly access and comment on others' posts. Collaborative editing does require user responsibility.  Students need more sophisticated skills in using certain features.

-Student self-introduction to establish a sense of community

-General module questions and comments

-On-going threaded conversations on module readings and topics highlighting diverse points of view

-Personal journal: record, share and reflect on field experiences and research activities

-A structured venue for writing about module readings

-Coordinate, compile, synthesize and present individual or group projects or research

-Build and share group resources and knowledge

-Peer review, feedback or critique

UCD or International Case Study Deakin University, Online Discussinos in Maths Teacher Education UNSW First Year Architecture. Using Blogs for Peer Feedback and Discussion. UCD Stage One Geography Showcase

Adapted with permission from University of Missouri (2011) Faculty Guide To Teaching and Learning with Technology.


In all of these collaborations, structuring the peer and/or group-work element is essential. You need to consider starting well, setting ground rules, online netiquette, appropriate self, peer and staff assessment approaches.

These collaborative activities can be assessed for student participation and/or quality of contribution. There are also some useful case studies of students benefitting from low weighted grading for participation in un-monitored discussion  (for example, Baxter, 2007 a) A Case Study of Online Collaborative Work in a Large First Year Psychology Class).

Jacques and Salmon’s (2007) book gives a comprehensive overview of group work both from a theoretical and practical approach for both on-line and face-to-face contexts. It also includes ideas for setting ground-rules.


Case Studies, Virtual Classrooms and Other Interactions

Other forms of collaboration online are:

Case Studies

These allow authentic descriptions of practices and the on-line environment allows for the ease of presentation of multi-media case studies. One example of how to develop case students can be found on  


Virtual Classroom:

This is a space within Blackboard where one may engage with students virtually.  It provides a synchronous forum for discussing, sharing, reviewing, and collaborating with peers (and tutors/facilitators). It offers the ability to bring in visiting experts without the need for travel or access to video conferencing equipment. It can provide a complete archival record of all interactions within a given session, aiding review and reflection.  For teaching staff who intend delivering webinars or online lectures via the virtual classroom it may be useful to review the 'Guidelines for Delivering via the Virtual Classroom' This resource offers practical guidelines to assist one in  planning, designing and delivering online lectures effectively. 

How do I use these Interactive Tools in Blackboard?

For some useful video tutorials on how to set up blogs, discussion forums, wiki, etc.,  see Blackboard’s website.

In addition UCD IT services have develop some videos on
•    How to Create a Wiki
•    How to Create a Journal
•    How to Create a Blog

What are some useful readings in this area?

Discussion Groups

Laurillard, D (2012) Teaching as Design Science: Building Pedagogical Patterns for  Learning and Technology. London: Routledge.
In this book, her recent chapter on  ‘Learning through Discussion’ give some of the theoretical and recent research in this area. She addresses the idea of quality learning and in addition give some ideas for peer moderation, which is useful in the large class context. 

ASU’s College of Extended Education Distance Learning and Technology. Moderating Effective Online Discussions – 39 Tips


Wikis in Plain English –This is a very simple overview on wikis.

Wikis in University Teaching and Learning - Richard Buckland UNSW

‘STOLEN’   This document sets out some of principles of good wiki design.


Kerawalla et al . (2009)  An empirically grounded framework to guide blogging in higher education, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25, 31–42.