Online Collaboration Tools

students working at a computerThere's no question that students' writing improves most when they have frequent opportunities for practice and feedback. But instructors sometimes struggle to find ways to provide those opportunities, especially in large courses. One method that many U-M instructors use to good effect is structured peer review. These three faculty members--featured in CRLT's recent Occasional Paper about Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs)--have made creative use of OCTs to facilitate collaborative writing as well as timely, frequent, low-stakes peer feedback: Read more »


A provocative essay in The Ann by U-M business professor Scott Moore analyzes the disruptive impact of internet technology on higher education and asks, "Will the Wolverines remain the leaders?" According to Moore, the traditional model of education is shifting, and students will have far more choices as to how (and where) they learn. He predicts a future where education is a partnership between .edu, .com, and .org, where credit hours are replaced by certificates earned via competency exams, and where an increasing number of educational experiences happen away from campus. To remain leaders and the best in such a future, the university and faculty must experiment with emerging educational methods and technologies, and adopt those that foster transformative educational experiences that are relevant for students, parents, and future employers. 

photo showing a traditional classroom and a flipped classroom

As Moore points out in his article, CRLT is partnering with faculty and administrators to develop creative approaches that will enable U-M to navigate this changing landscape. For example, an experiment with new educational technology now in progress at U-M focuses on incorporating Online Collaboration Tools (OCTs) in and out of classrooms. As the campus began widespread use of Google Apps for collaboration over the past year, CRLT gathered early adopters to share ideas about how to best use these tools for education. To help spread innovations far and wide, CRLT distributed an Occasional Paper on the topic and organized a Provost’s Seminar on Teaching last November, both of which featured U-M faculty who had successfully used blogs, wikis, and other tools to promote student reflection, to facilitate collaborative authorship, to improve student teamwork, and more. Scott Moore was one of the featured speakers at the Provost’s Seminar, where he described how his students’ blog posts reached an audience of over 40,000 readers--the kind of transformative experience that makes a U-M education relevant in a changing higher ed landscape.  

Professor Jeff RingenbergFollow this link to a short video describing these teaching strategies.

Jeff Ringenberg, School of Engineering, teaches Engineering 101 which has 675 students and an instructional team of approximately 25 GSIs, graders, etc. Due to the scale of the course, Ringenberg has employed a variety of Google Apps efficiently manage this large number of students and instructors.

ENGIN101 uses Google Docs to (1) create and update course policies for the instructional team, and (2) create and edit instructions for student projects and labs. The ability to collaborate asynchronously on the same document has been a particularly useful feature so GSIs can create the instructions, but Ringenberg can give feedback.

ENGIN101 uses Google Spreadsheets to track grading. Multiple users can edit the spreadsheet simultaneously, which minimizes the time and file management required for data entry. The spreadsheet for this courses has multiple tabs, one for each assignment, which are referenced by the master gradesheet to calculate the students' final grades. In addition, Ringenberg has written numerous formulas that allow for question-by-question analysis of students' performance on assignments. Read more »


Follow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Professor Benjamin PaloffBenjamin Paloff, LSA-Slavic Languages and Literatures & Comparative Literature, teaches a comparative literature course where students learn to identify structural components of poetry, such as rhythm and rhyme, that influence the reader's interpretation of the poem's meaning. Students often struggle to extract these elements, so Paloff makes the concepts more concrete using highly visual examples and practice. Using SiteMaker, a customized webpage and database creation tool, students collaboratively edit webpages to build a library of annotations of poems.  Paloff provides tailored feedback on students' annotations to facilitate revisions.  Students can select any poem and view its annotations for a number of literary elements. Consequently, the library created by students serves as the basis for class discussions of the literary elements and interpretations of the course material.  Read more »


Professor James MorrowFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

James Morrow, Political Science, teaches a large introductory lecture course that employs a team of GSIs who lead weekly discussion sessions of 20-30 students on assigned readings and lecture content. Training GSIs and coordinating teaching across sections can be challenging in large courses. Likewise, maintaining and sharing institutional memory of successful and unsuccessful teaching practices is difficult, especially given rapid turnover of GSIs across terms.

Consequently, Morrow used the wiki within CTools to collect and archive effective instructional materials and lesson plans for GSI discussion sections. Weekly course meetings with GSIs can include group reflections on instructional practices and updates of wiki content. GSIs in physics have used a similar approach to document and share common student problems and effective teaching practices within and across terms in gateway lab courses.