How to build a group environment from social tools?

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How to build a group environment from social tools?


Blogs in education links:

Example: Blog course in primary education[edit]

The primary tool will be blog reading and blog writing. Using Google Reader, I will be asking students to start “sharing” articles from blogs they find interesting, challenging, controversial. In their blogs, I’ll be asking them to make bi-weekly entries about “what’s got me thinking” lately. As they read through blogs (and I will ask that they subscribe to a few mainstream news feeds, too), I want them to write about the articles/events/issues that got them thinking, or upset, or worried, or questioning over the last two weeks. I also want them to keep a (or other) link archive of websites and articles that may want to pursue further (tagged “research” or something like that). Finally, I want them to contribute to the class wiki on a page called “possible research paper topics” where they submit annotated entries on issues they have found interesting (with links back to their relevant blog posts and/or link archive tags) Example: Learning environment at iCamp trial 1 course: shared weblog

Participants for iCamp Trial 1 were selected among the partner institutions. Four partners (Tallinn University from Estonia, University of Science and Technology from Poland, Kaunas University of Technology from Lithuania and Isik University from Turkey), belonging to the iCamp consortium, were involved in this field trial. From these universities 8 international groups of master and doctoral level students, enrolled in a methodology course of social science, participated in the experiment. Each group consisted of four members, who established teams through their own initiative. iCamp facilitators were the instructors from the consortium institutions. They were responsible for technical support at places and pedagogical support to the specified teams.

Learning in iCamp trial took part as the ordinary Instructional methodology courses, which were held in the participant institutions. However, the learners could voluntarily choose the iCamp collaboration challenge as a possible learning option for obtaining the competences of instrument development. The general task of cross-cultural learning-teams was the development of a joint artefact (questionnaire) for investigating phenomena related to e-learning. The tools and systems used in the first trial were selected by iCamp project team recommended for the students, however, learners could freely decide their application according to their free choice in groups. Students started their activities of specific courses within closed learning management systems belonging to the universities. Consequently, the groups augmented their learning environments with social software in order to be able to cooperate over the borders of institutionalised systems and work on a joint artefact.

During the first week the activity took place in distributed spaces tagged together by the centralised demand from the trial facilitators. Learners at each site were instructed to create weblog accounts in to present themselves to the international participants.

All the participants of the trial were supposed to create accounts for the social bookmarking service and to use the common tag „iCamp1“ for all the links published on this service that were related to the trial. This was required to indicate the weblogs of participants and to collect them in the common virtual space where they could select partners to form cross-cultural learning groups. They tagged their weblogs with, thus creating the common working space from where the participants from four countries could get in touch with each other.

Students were encouraged to visit peers blogs and comment them for establishing the international teams with four members. This was realised as the learner-centered initiative. By the end of week several teams were formed and announced in individual blog spaces. From this point on, after one of the team members had created the shared weblog for the team, the activity was shifted from the individual to the collaborative spaces.

The tools of group spaces provided various types of communication (Flashmeeting, Skype, MSN, e-mail) and content generation and sharing options (

The learners centred around a joint weblog initiated by one participant. This participant took leadership in this group from the very beginning of joint actions, stating that it was time to start discussions about the project. He published in team weblog the links to the web-pages. The learners started to use the weblog as the area for shared social and process regulation. Few students took responsibility for technical arrangements in weblog. The learners maintained social atmosphere by publishing positive comments on each others suggestions. The team members attempted to establish Skype meeting to meet face-to-face. Chat was used to discus the content-related issues, also referring to the web-based artifacts about questionnaire development. Learners prepared a short feedback report of the content related issues talked in chat and published it in weblog. They also indicated to the web-documents related with this content. was used for preparing joint artifact.

Example: Monitoring homereading[edit]

Instead of spending class time pretending that students have read the material, teacher asks them to blog while they are reading to encourage active reading, but also to provide them some space to be comfortable as writers. Teacher gives them some guided questions, and she grades them only on the depth of their responses. They receive 2 points for every original post and 2 points for every comment they make on the posts of others.

Example: Laura Gibbs, Univ. of Oklahoma[edit]

I have many different blogs I use in conjunction with my online courses, but probably the most important is my CLASS ANNOUNCEMENTS blog.

I blog one set of announcements every day, and the students can see the blog at the course website (via javascript), in Bloglines feed reader (they all use Bloglines for their class blogs), inside Desire2Learn (our course management system - I use javascript to make the announcements display there), or by email (I use Feedburner which allows students to subscribe to the announcements by email if they prefer - some students, especially older students, rely on email a lot).

So I update the daily announcements every day in ONE place, and the students can encounter the announcements in FOUR different places: this really works! my students actually know what’s going on as a result. plus I can include links, images, etc. I always include at least one image to make the announcements fun and/or nice to look at.

here is the raw blog:

here it is displayed at the course website:


  • Group aggregator to monitor personal weblogs and mashed feeds of the group

Example: Distributed course environment in Tallinn University master level Educational Technology course[edit]

For the course, distributed communal environment was developed, which consisted of the course weblog (, social bookmarking tool (, slide repository (, casting tool (, wiki for course reflection (, synchronous communication tools (;, and common aggregator (

The course weblog (see was maintained by two facilitators. The primary function of the course weblog was organizing learning materials and assignments, and serving as the information channel between students and the facilitator. The learning materials were presented at separate pages of the weblog. Facilitators could edit each page, while students could add comments. This enabled to make additions to the learning materials if needed, and adapt them to the learner’s needs. The cast feeds from social repositories of educational materials like and were integrated to the learning texts at weblog pages. Learning resources situated at different repositories and web were additionally linked to the sidebar of the weblog. The general course administration and facilitation posts were made in course weblog blogroll. Students could comment each post. Weblog sidebar provided links to the course monitoring tool in, course wiki for collaborative writing in, and the collection of social bookmarks for the course in

The course aggregator in ( served as the second central place, integrating different distributed software with feed and mashup technologies. The course aggregator brought together the feeds from course weblog and students‘ weblogs enabling mutual monitoring between students, as well as, between the facilitator and students. Different widgets from enabled to embed to the aggregator a public forum, a page for announcements, access to the synchronous chat tool, the tagcloud feed from the page of social bookmarks of the course, and the mashed course tag feed from different students‘ social bookmarking tools. Thus, the aggregator served as the central tool of the course management and monitoring of each other.

Students were asked to enter to the learning process with a set of individual tools from which the weblog and social bookmarking tools were required. It was not requested that the students must make a new weblog for the course, instead they could enter to the course with their excisting tools and filter the certain postings in weblog or socila bookmarking tool with the course specific tags. This approach was taken to encourage students to use the tools that they previously had used for personal knowledge-building and knowledge-management purposes, and teach them new practices how these tools could be used as part of their learning or work processes. During the course students were asked to present the completed assignments and their reflection about their work in personal weblogs. This enabled to monitor their development in between contact days, and give suggestions how to improve their learning environment- and activity pattern designs. Weekly basis facilitators provided individualised support and feedback to the students‘ weblog posts, commenting these. The other students were encouraged to monitor their peer’s progress and comment their assignment posts as well.

Every student initiated his/her own social bookmarking account in, where they tagged course-related materials with the course tag. Also facilitators tagged the materials, which were relevant to the course, with the common course tag. The addresses of the students‘ weblogs were collected as following: each student bookmarked the webpage address in his or her personal social bookmarks account using the common course tag. The mashed social bookmarks‘ feed collected all the weblog addresses, which could be seen from the course aggregator. The facilitators added students‘ weblog feeds to the public aggregator page.

During the course the set of tools and systems for social publishing (for instance; pbWiki), synchronous communication (,, tools for creating visual models (,, creating and storing knowledge artifacts (,,, and aggregation tools (, were introduced to the students.


  • Group wiki for group tasks

Example: Collaborative authoring in wiki[edit]

Example: Project development with peer feedback[edit]

Wiki makes it easy for students to write, revise and submit as assignment, since all three activities can take place in the wiki. A student can be given a wiki page to develop a term paper, and might start by tracking their background research. This allows the teacher, and peers, to see what they’re using, help them if they’re off track, suggest other resources, or even get ideas based on what others find useful. Next, the student can draft the paper in the wiki, taking advantage of the wiki’s automatic revision history that saves a before; after version of the document each time s/he makes changes. This allows the teacher and peers to see the evolution of the paper over time, and continually comment on it, rather than offering comments only on the final draft. When the student completes the final draft, the teacher and peers can read it on the wiki, and offer feedback.

Example: Group authoring[edit]

Using a wiki “pulls” the group members together to build and edit the document on a wiki page, which strengthens the community within the group, allows group members with overlapping or similar ideas to see and collaboratively build on each other’s work. It also allows all group members immediate, equal access to the most recent version of the document.

Example: Track a group project[edit]

Considering students’ busy schedules, a wiki is very useful for tracking and completing group projects. It allows group members to track their research and ideas from anywhere they have internet access. Give each group a wiki page in which to write the paper itself, and give each member of the group a separate page to track his/her research and ideas for the paper. The “paper” page lets you see how the group is working collaboratively to construct the paper, and the individual pages let you track how each group member is developing his/her contribution to the paper, and gives you a place to leave feedback and suggestions for each student. If you use the individual pages this way, you may want to restrict view access for each student’s indvidual page to only you and that student.

Example: Data Collection[edit]

Because of its ease of editing, a wiki can be very useful for collecting data from a group of students.


  • Videos to reflect task processes (combine with mashup tool weblog or wiki)

Social bookmarking tools[edit]

Network of personal bookmarks of the group