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.
Examples of geoscience wikis
- 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
- Wikis Part 1 and Part 2 - The Chronicle of Higher Education blog ProfHacker gives an overview of the benefits and challenges of using wikis, as well as a list of useful tips and resources.
- Google Docs and Collaboration in the Classroom - Another ProfHacker post with excellent links on collaborative writing with Google Docs and wikis.
- Wikify Your Course - EDUCAUSE Quarterly article describing different approaches to using a wiki in the classroom.
- WikiMatrix - allows users to explore and compare wiki platforms.
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.
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.
Examples of social bookmarking sites
- Delicious - a well-established and widely used social bookmarking site.
- Diigo - a social bookmarking site with additional annotation capabilities and special educator accounts.
- Scrible - an NSF-funded web annotation service that allows users to make notes on web pages and share annotations.
- Most Popular Social Bookmarking Sites - a continuously updated list of the 15 most popular social bookmarking sites maintained by eBizMBA.
Where to find more information
- Social Bookmarking Even When You're Not Social - a Chronicle of Higher Education Profhacker blog post on the different uses for Delicious.
- Classroom Collaboration Using Social Bookmarking - EDUCAUSE Quarterly article about using Diigo for collaborative research.
- 7 Things You Should Know About Social Bookmarking - EDUCAUSE pamphlet that gives an overview of social bookmarking, including the benefits and challenges.