Teaching with Technology Home » Using Blackboard Wikis to Promote Student Collaboration

students collaborating1Students learn best when they are actively involved in the learning process. Collaborative learning – also known as cooperative learning, peer learning, reciprocal learning, study circles, learning communities, and work groups – promotes active learning through a process of shared creation and/or discovery, one that allows two or more students to gain more knowledge and understanding collectively than each student could gain on his/her own.

Collaborative learning allows students and faculty to share responsibility for learning. It also helps prepare students for workplaces that increasingly value self-motivated, self-confident, team-oriented employees. Nowhere is this more important than in the Interprofessional Education (IPE) program, where students from different health professions programs learn to work together to provide team-based clinical care.

John Tegzes, MA, VMD, DABVT, is Professor of Veterinary Toxicology and Co-director of Phase 1 of the doctoral program in the College of Veterinary Medicine. He also co-teaches first and second year courses in the IPE program.

“In the first year we had the case-based course with dedicated time scheduled within all 9 programs. In the second year of the course we had 6 of the 9 programs participating but no scheduled time. So we really had to create for them a curriculum that could be self-paced and student-directed in terms of the time they wanted to meet.

“So we started to think, ‘How can we encourage/enforce that collaboration among our students without scheduling any time together?’  And wikis were a tool we accidentally discovered within Blackboard that just worked amazingly well for this. 


Course Design 

Roughly 700 students representing 6 programs are participating in the second year of the IPE curriculum. The goal of the program in the Spring semester is to promote collaborative team-based care using a society-focused, rather than patient-focused, approach. For this reason, natural disasters are used as the backdrop for each of the modules in IPE 6100, Patient Centered Care – An Interprofessional Approach IV.



The course consists of 5 modules (and a Table-top activity),


Each module of the course begins with a pre-recorded presentation created with Camtasia Relay. From Dr. Tegzes:

“We really strived hard to make this student centered, so the students could decide how they wanted to learn the content. So we had Camtasia narrated PowerPoints, we had the PowerPoint without Camtasia, we had a transcript of the PowerPoint presentation so the students could just read it without looking at any slides, and then we provided the papers the content was based on. So if they just wanted to read the literature, they could do that.  They weren’t required to complete any other activities there, just learn the content.



“Ultimately, the goal of IPE is foster collaboration, not to encourage students to learn in isolation. So once students learned the content, they then had to answer a question or solve a problem. What we did through the wiki is give them the after report from a natural disaster, starting with Katrina. We actually gave students the CDC after-report, and focused their attention on 1 or 2 pages of a 70-page document, a self-report explaining what the federal government did wrong. What we asked the students to do was to apply the tools presented in the content part the module to explain how they would respond if Katrina happened today.”

A description of the wiki “problem” assigned to each group is shown below.



Five students who had never met each other were then assigned to each group.

blackboard-ipe-wiki-teams“We purposely didn’t even tell them what program they were from, because we wanted to force the issue that they needed to find each other. We got lots of questions, like “I don’t know how to find this student”. So we had to say, ‘Well, you’re smart, you know how find each other on the Internet, so think about how you would find a student in our campus community.’ And lo and behold, they started to find each other and communicate asynchronously. They asked if they need to get together to do this, and I said, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?’. So again, we allowed them to choose whether they wanted to do the whole thing completely electronically, or get together in a room and do it together. The choice was theirs.”



A writing rubric was developed to outline expectations for the wiki assignment. One of the criteria for group evaluation was that the students had to share the workload and participate equally. The instructors wanted to make sure that no individual student would make a disproportionate contribution to the group effort,


Wiki Collaboration

Each group was responsible for 4 modules, or 4 wikis. The following illustrates how one of the teams – Team 007 Alpha – interpreted the assignment.



The following is an excerpt from Team 007 Alpha’s wiki for Module 1, which shows what the group members collectively typed up.  As you can see, it’s a single document, fairly long and detailed, that shows how the five student members of this group responded to one module.


Grading the Assignment

Each wiki has a Participation and Grading section, where the instructor(s) can see the students who were assigned to this group, the number and percentage of words each modified, and the number and percentage of page changes each student made.

screen cap - IPE6100 "Participation Summary" 

In the right-hand panel, the instructors can edit the group’s grade, assign points for each of the modules, and provide feedback to each of the groups. Dr. Tegzes:

“All of the students received the same score for each wiki they did, regardless of whether they participated or not. Again, we wanted them to understand that this was a group project, and if one member of the group falls off, the whole group suffers because of it.”


Managing the Process

Dr. Tegzes acknowledges that the collaborative process did not always go smoothly.

“At the beginning, we got some pushback from the students because, remember, a wiki is a document that can be edited by anybody at any time. We started to get feedback from students saying, ‘A student in my group just changed everything I wrote. Tell them to stop.’  I said, ‘No, you tell them to stop if you want them to.’  

“By the end of the semester, [the process] seemed to go really easily. We hardly heard any buzz anymore, and the students started to understand how to work together, how to figure it out, how to communicate with one other, and to let each other know they were going to edit each other’s documents. As we started to read through them you could see the groups that continued to have trouble right up to the end; some of them just didn’t hit it off, didn’t figure out how to do it. For others, it just seemed to go very naturally. And that was our goal—to get them to understand that patient care is complicated, that they need to work together as a team. If one member of the team falls off, the patient suffers.”


Lessons Learned

Dr. Tegzes cautions that facilitating collaboration activities with 700 students can be demanding.

“We had 121 groups throughout the semester. So it’s quite an undertaking for a couple of faculty to manage over the course of the semester. But we’re really proud for how well it worked. The Blackboard Wiki tool worked really well; it was incredibly easy, It took very little effort to put it together, very little effort to grade. We rarely came across any technical issues, which were easy to resolve through IT. And it was an excellent way to collaborate, to communicate asynchronously.“

Tegzes also admits there was a lot of pain on the students’ part.

“I don’t think they liked it, but I think it accomplished the goals we were setting out to do.

“I think students despised it because it’s hard.  We’re forcing them to do something that’s uncomfortable, in the sense that they’re used to being passive learners — coming to class, getting the content, taking an exam – and what we were asking them to do was to collaborate, asynchronously, in randomly populated groups of five students, using an unfamiliar tool (wikis).

“You kind of have to wean students into this type of collaborative format – we didn’t. We didn’t have a lot of class time or contact time to prepare them. We just sent them off and told them ‘Here’s what you’re going to do, and you’re all smart, and you’ll figure out what a wiki is’.

“It’s been a little bit of an experiment. But I think the progression has been beautiful –students used [the wikis] really, really well. They all panicked the first week or two, but after that it seemed to go very seamlessly, from our perspective at least. They may not have loved it, but it did the trick.”

To learn more about Blackboard’s Wiki tool, see our Features and Products section

jtegzes-thumbJohn Tegzes, MA, VMD, DABVT, is Professor of Veterinary Toxicology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. He also Director of the Interprofessional Education Program at WesternU. Dr. Tegzes can be reached at  jtegzes@westernu.edu.

If you or a colleague is doing something unique with Blackboard, we’d like to hear about it and share it with the rest of the WesternU community.  Please contact edtechrnu.edu


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