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Supporting Group Collaboration in Your Courses

May 6, 2008 by Doug Worsham

With a new DoIT Engage award program and an innovative new LSS service, now is a great time to explore how instructional technology tools can support and expand the role of group collaboration in your courses.DoIT's Engage Adaptation Award is focused on working with UW-Madison instructors to assess and evaluate technology-enhanced collaborative group work to develop best practices for instructional use. The competitive awards provide $1200 and up to 12 hours of consultation for 2008-2009 timetable courses, and are focused on five overlapping themes:

  • collaborative writing
  • student critiques
  • student reflections
  • group presentations
  • group problem-solving

At the same time, L&S Learning Support Services has developed a new platform for online interaction and communication called L&S Collaborative Sites. L&S instructors who apply for Engage awards may elect to use an L&S Collaborative Site in addition to the cash award and consultation time.LSS has piloted the Collaborative Sites platform in several L&S courses and created several custom online learning environments that support multiple types of interaction, including group authorship and consensus building, class glossaries, knowledge repositories, course portfolios, student journals, and literary analysis sites.Examples include:

  • Chicano Studies/Sociology 470: Alfonso Morales' students worked together to create a course portfolio, including a glossary of key terminology, responses to course readings, and posts on topics and issues in the course. In an end of semester survey, one student wrote that the Mexican Migration Portfolio (MMP) "gave students a chance to interact with one another at a different level of discourse. Class discussions are valuable but much of the thinking is off the cuff, whereas on the MMP questions and responses can be more thoroughly thought out."
  • East Asian Languages and Literature 371: "The Garden" is a collaborative online reading notebook, built around a central metaphor of the course text - a garden. Rania Huntington's students built, cultivated, and maintained the interactive space while they explored Hong Lou Meng's classic of Chinese Literature, Dream of the Red Chamber. Huntington says, "It's the most fun I've ever had teaching with courseware."
  • Italian 203: Renée Anne Poulin and Tom Cravens combined elements of blogging, photo-blogging, and social-networking software to facilitate communication between students and with instructors outside of class time. In an end of semester survey on the "e-Diario" project, 100% of survey respondents said that the project helped them improve their Italian writing skills, 94% agreed that the project helped them make comparisons between their own culture and Italian culture, and 84% of respondents said the site was easy to use. (Response rate was 86% across five course sections.)

A limited number of Collaborative Sites will be available to L&S instructors for Fall 2008 courses. Preference will be given to instructors that receive an Engage Adaptation Award.For more information:

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