Teach the Earth > Undergraduate Research > Role of Technology > Social Media > Collaborative Projects

Collaborative Projects

Collaborative projects allow groups of people to work together to create online content. Two types of collaborative projects can be particularly useful for undergraduate research: Wikis and Social Bookmarking. Wikis are essentially collaborative websites while Social Bookmarking allows users to collect and rank online content.


On Wikipedia, anyone can modify the content of articles by adding, removing, or changing text, images, and links. Although Wikipedia may be the most popular example of a wiki, public accessibility is not a wiki requirement. Private wikis in Confluence or your course management system can provide valuable online collaborative spaces for research groups.

How wikis enhance undergraduate research

Collaboration - Wikis allow researchers to share data files, edit documents, and discuss content. The online collaborative space serves as a central location for research documents, so individuals no longer need to clog their email inboxes with large data files or wonder if the file they're working on is the most recent version. Because the collaborative space is online, wikis are especially powerful collaboration tools for researchers who are working remotely. Students, advisers, and project faculty from an REU group might use a wiki during the academic year to share data and figures. Students working together on a research project for a class might use a wiki to create their final presentation.
Resources - Researchers can work together to build and share collections of internet links, citations, and articles. For example, students can develop a group annotated bibliography in which each entry consists of a link to an article, a summary, and a short description of how the article will be used in their research. Faculty can create a list of relevant online databases, which students can add to as they progress through their research. These types of resources have the potential for long-term growth; the next class of student researchers can start on the annotated bibliography or the list of online resources where the previous class finished.
Archive - When a research group uses a wiki as a central repository for information, all of that content is automatically archived. Attached files, lab methods, and meeting notes can all be available long after a student graduates. Most wikis record the history of the site, so that previous versions of text and data files can be recalled if needed. The organization and search capabilities of most wiki software help users manage files for large research projects.

Where to start

Contact your instructional technology department to see if they already support a common wiki platform, like Confluence. Most online course management systems (e.g., Moodle, Blackboard) have a wiki function. There are also online wiki tools available, like Wikispaces or Google Sites. Choose a platform that is intuitive with streamlined and familiar editing features, then create a site. Determine privacy settings and invite users to contribute content.

Consider Privacy - Privacy settings offer wiki administrators absolute control over who can edit and view content. A public wiki with research resources may be intended for researchers at large. A private wiki with confidential data files could be limited to individual researchers. A faculty member might have a private research wiki and designate specific pages to be viewed and edited by specific collaborators. Consider the privacy and availability of student work and unpublished results.

Organize the Space - A wiki can be easily overwhelmed by large amounts of content. Collaboration works best when users know where to locate and add content. Designate spaces for writing and editing text, uploading data files, creating a bibliography, recording meeting notes, etc. Providing individual members of the research group with their own spaces will encourage them to store their most recent versions of files on the wiki. Before individuals leave the research group, have them provide a table of contents that describes all of the files in their space.

Stay Connected- Make collaboration more efficient by promptly responding to updates on the wiki. Subscribe to individual pages to receive notifications of updates. Develop a habit of adding notes to uploaded files and modified pages.

Examples of geoscience wikis

Screen shot of The College of Wooster's private geology wiki, courtesy of Meagen Pollock. Click on the image for a larger version.

  • Geology Wikia - Geoscience's version of Wikipedia. Lend your expertise to this resource by contributing content or editing articles.
  • The College of Wooster Geology Wiki is private, but the home screen is shown in the image to the right. The wiki is generally organized by project. In the expanded Iceland Project, there are pages that contain travel information, writing spaces for research students, an annotated bibliography, data files and photos, and files related to specific subprojects. There is also a methods page so that all researchers have access to standard operating procedures and a group calendar so that students and faculty can keep track of deadlines and progress.
  • Looking for an easy way to share files with your research group? Try Google Docs or Dropbox.

Where to find more information

Social Bookmarking

Social Bookmarking allows users to collect, organize, share, and discover online resources. Individuals create profiles on social bookmarking sites then save and tag web pages. Other users can visit the social bookmarking site and search for public bookmarks by popularity, keyword, or user profile. Two of the most popular social bookmarking sites are Diigo and Delicious.
Image by Kevin Lim. Some rights reserved.

How social bookmarking enhances undergraduate research

Resources - Social bookmarking allows users to create profiles and organize and share their collection of particularly useful web pages. Faculty advisers can share their bookmarks with student researchers. Students can develop a collection of bookmarks for a research project. Visitors to the social bookmarking sites are not always required to create a profile to search for online resources. A quick search on delicious for sites tagged with geochemistry produces a list that includes the primary geochemical databases and several geochemistry courses.

Connections - Web sites are often tagged by multiple keywords, allowing users to discover connections among topics that may not be obvious. By viewing links by user, individuals with similar research interests can connect online. Users can subscribe to one another and stay updated on new online resources. Bookmark and tag your own online publications, blog posts, or other online content to enable researchers to find it more easily.

Where to start

Choose a social bookmarking platform and create a user profile. Most social bookmarking sites will install a shortcut button on your browser. Find web pages and save them through the social bookmarking platform. Describe and tag the sites. Share your bookmarks. Search the tags for topics of interest. Find users with similar interests and subscribe to their bookmarks to see their online resource collections.

Tag Well - Poor use of tags results in a disorganized and irrelevant collection of websites. There are no formal rules for tagging, but there are some useful strategies. Reduce redundancy (choose basalt or basalts, but not both). Generalize your tags (choose geochemistry instead of 206Pb/204Pb isotopes). Use only 2-3 tags per site. Consider using popular tags but always make sure the tag is appropriate. Limit your bookmarks to sites that are valuable.

Subscribe to Other Users- Once you find a user with similar interests, subscribe to their social bookmarks RSS feed. You'll be notified when they discover new online sources. Develop your network by searching for the user on other social networking sites (like Twitter) and connecting to their network.

Consider Your Public Bookmarks - Remember that making your bookmarks public means that anyone can see the web pages that you save. You may not want to share your bookmarks for job posts or new research directions. Use the privacy settings to control who can see your bookmarks.

Examples of social bookmarking sites

Where to find more information

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