Online Collaboration Tools

Professor Joe BullFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Joe Bull, Biomedical Engineering, teaches an “oldschool, chalk and blackboard” lecture course, introducing biomechanics to 95 sophomores. The course emphasizes quantitative problem-solving techniques to help students learn to think like biomedical engineers. Many students use office hours as a critical support mechanism. During a term with demanding travel obligations, Bull did not want to decrease his accessibility to students or the quality of student-instructor interactions. Thus, on several occasions, he used Google+ Hangouts to hold virtual office hours from another continent.

First, Bull added his students to a Google+ “circle,” a private group within this social networking application. Circle members can share documents and create and join hangouts of up to ten participants. A Hangout enables video and audio web conferencing, as well as text-based chat, and it also allows participants to share screens and files. Consequently, Bull could create a Hangout and hold office hours at the usual times with any students who wished to join online. Read more »


Professor Robin QueenFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy. 

Robin Queen, Linguistics, lectures to about 150 students in a 300-level linguistics and anthropology course on language and social conflict. To increase student interactions with peers and internet content related to the course, she instituted a blog for each discussion section of 25 students. Queen and her graduate student instructors provided a weekly discussion prompt and seeded blogs with initial posts, to model ways of meeting the desired criteria. Students were randomly assigned two dates when they had to post. Students could either use the prompt to frame their post, or they could post on a topic of their choosing. To earn a “B” grade for blogging, students also had to comment on peers’ posts twice a week. More extensive weekly commenting could earn an “A.”

GSIs monitored and graded blog posts and comments based on content, instead of assigning conventional essays. Queen’s GSIs reported that the effort of grading blogs was comparable to grading conventional essays, but that the degree of student interaction and exchange increased dramatically. GSIs also used blog discussion threads as primers for their weekly discussion section activities.


Photo of Mika LaVaque-MantyMika LaVaque-Manty,  Political Science, teaches lecture courses with 100-300 students and several GSIs. He has used Google Docs to foster and monitor small group discussions during class. Students are divided into groups that are either pre-assigned or based simply on where they happen to sit.

Depending on the number of groups and the purpose of the assignment, they may work on a single Google Document or generate one for each group. In either case, only one student in a group serves as a “scribe,” although other students may view the shared document. This way, a student’s lack of a laptop is not a problem, and the number of documents remains manageable. In cases where the entire class works on a single document, the instructors create it, share it with the students, and divide it into sections so that a manageable number of groups (3-5) works on each section. They can then project the collectively produced document so that the class can debrief it together. Read more »


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

Photo of professor Melanie YergeauMelanie Yergeau, English, teaches in computer labs to help integrate technology into her teaching. The twenty-five students in her disability studies course participate in blogging and commenting activities, both in and out of class, supporting student dialogue and critical engagement with course content. Blog posts contain reading responses composed across a variety of media.

For example, during one class, groups of students use digital cameras to create short, impromptu YouTube videos about disability, normalcy, and the built environment on campus and then integrate them into blog posts that are compliant with web accessibility requirements. In another assignment, students synthesize their learning through “carnival” blogging: blog posts that synthesize and link to other blog posts on controversial course topics.

Using students’ carnival blog entries as a starting point, Yergeau invites authors of external blogs to interact with her students on the class blog, creating a dialogue not possible in the context of the traditional classroom.


Photo of Mary RuffoloMary Ruffolo, School of Social Work, coordinates an advanced course on clinical practice in which 20 graduate students are concurrently placed in field internships. The class meets face-to-face only once per week, so she uses a blog to facilitate continuous learning and exchange among students. For example, students sign up for a number of weeks to post reflections on challenging clinical experiences as they relate to the weekly course readings. Students also exchange and reflect on the resources and tools used in their fieldwork.

Due to the blog, students report increased engagement and improved dialogues with peers during their fieldwork and class meetings compared to writing traditional reflection papers. The blog enhances Ruffolo’s classroom teaching because she draws from the material to prepare lectures and discussion activities. The blog also facilitates her oversight of the integration of classroom and field internship learning by enhancing student-instructor interactions.