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Teaching and Learning Showcase
Using Wikispaces Classroom for Student-2-Student Dialogue

Module Title:

Social Work Research Methods I

Module Coordinator:

Dr Niamh Flanagan

Module Code:


Target Audience:

50 Year 1 Postgrad Social Work Students on the Masters in Social Science (Social Work)


Dr Elaine Wilson & Dr Hilda Loughran

Time and technological restrictions along with a need for privacy led to the adoption of an innovatative approach to teaching survey research using Wikispaces Classroom, a social writing platform for education.

This 12-week module covers research methods such as interviews, observation and focus groups from weeks one to six, survey skills in week seven, followed by documentary methods, data mining, randomised controlled trials and systematic review.  Ironically, time constraints and heavy curriculum demands, often limit, or even exclude the opportunity for students to experience hands-on empirical research. By taking maximum advantage of what educational technology has to offer, the module was able to offer students the opportunity to gain some hands-on experience by undertaking a survey of their year two peers and presenting findings using Wikispaces Classroom.

While primarily used as a tool for data presentation, Wikispaces Classroom offers two key advantages over the existing VLE in UCD and generic blog sites.  Firstly, Blackboard, doesn’t allow interaction across modules. As this project called for year one and year two students to engage in a student-2-student dialogue, it was necessary to move outside Blackboard’s facilities.  Wikispaces Classroom provides this functionality.  Moreover, given the sensitive nature of many social work topics, students needed a private and protected environment where they could “have a go” at presenting research findings without feeling that they were in the public domain.  Wikispaces Classroom’s invitation-based access provided this functionality.


Undertaking research and appraisal of research remain key tenets in social work practitioner’s evidence-based practice. This module aims to equip students with a working knowledge of basic research methods and skills to critically appraise literature on which their evidence-based practice relies.

The students do hands-on empirical research using survey research, one of the research methods taught in the module.   The year one students undertook a survey of year two students’ experiences on their practice placements, a core element of social work practice training.  The survey afforded first-year students the opportunity to:

  • Learn about and experience the survey research process
  • Garner insight into the experience of social work practice placement
  • Engage in a dialogue with second year students about what facilitates learning on placement


The Innovative Approach:

Ethical exemption was secured in advance so that students could design and run the survey in the knowledge that they were operating within ethical guidelines.    

Working in teams of five, students firstly blogged critical reviews of literature.  During a survey design workshop the teams identifed themes and devised the survey.  The survey was field-trialled and launched using Survey Monkey, an online survey tool.  The module coordinator imported the survey data into SPSS and ran data tables.  The students were then provided with the data and the tools to analyse it during an analysis workshop.  Niall Watts from UCD Media Services provided brief training on the Wikispaces Classroom at this workshop.  Students experienced few real challanges in learning to use the tool.  Indeed the intuitive nature of Wikispaces Classrom was one of the factors in the success of the approach.

Students posted their survey findings on a team page within the project’s Wikispaces Classroom.  As they drafted their interpretation of the data, they were able to work online and interact with each other privately within their teams.   Once the teams  had finalised their pages, links to these  were included in the staff-developed home page and summary pages. Initially the Wikispaces Classroom was opened up to the participants in the module so students could view the work of other teams.  Peer respondents from year two were then invited to visit the Wikispaces Classroom, to review the findings and comment, thus engaging in dialogue.


A baseline measure of research confidence was conducted at the start of the module. When the same confidence measure was administered at the end of the semester, it revealed advances in students’ self-reported confidence in survey research (91%).   

In addition, Wikispaces Classroom as a tool facilitated some very useful student-2-student dialogue bringing to the fore some real issues about UCD’s social work placements.  This was a tangable benefit and provided insight into some things that might otherwise have gone undetected.

It is planned to use Wikispaces Classroom in the coming years and to build on this model.  

Proposed Amendments: Timetable clashes with respondents’ dissertation submissions, while unavoidable, resulted in understandably limited dialogue. Plans are underway to engage with other peer-group partners outside the school next semester. The online but private nature of Wikispaces Classroom allows for application of the project beyond the confines of a university- based VLE allowing for global use.  It is planned to use this in collaboration with students in different universities in Ireland and abroad.

Publications:  Team pages were combined into a poster for submission to relevant conferences. This was presented at the Irish Association of Social Workers Annual Conference, 2015.  The Module Developer and Placement Coordinator are also working on an academic paper on the substantive issue and the pedagogical process.

Survey outcomes: Over and above the valuable information that students gleaned from the survey results, findings on the substantive issue offered learning opportunities for university staff and placement personnel. As such ethical approval has been received for staff to rerun the survey on new cohorts of students in order to continue to monitor and learn from students’ experiences on placement.