Online Collaboration Tools

Professor Trisha WittkoppHere is a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Trisha Wittkopp,  Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, teaches genetics to hundreds of students in a large lecture. She uses personal response systems (clickers) to increase interactivity, assess student learning, and address student confusion during class. Nevertheless, between classes, questions remain, and many students have similar questions.

To avoid responding individually to each student, Wittkopp employs Piazza, a discussion forum designed to crowdsource answers to students’ questions. Instead of sending individual e-mails, students post their questions on Piazza, where they can be answered by one of their peers, a graduate student instructor (GSI), or Wittkopp herself. This reduces the number of redundant questions and shortens response time. Students collaboratively edit answers to questions as they would on a wiki, eliminating the need to read through long, threaded discussions or chat transcripts to find the correct answer. Read more »


Chad HershockRachel NiemerInstructors in lab courses often find it difficult to simulate and discuss all phases of scientific inquiry during a single class period. For instance, individual lab groups may not be able to replicate experimental trials sufficiently in the time allotted, requiring instructors to compile data sets across lab groups before students can properly analyze and interpret results.Google Spreadsheets can circumvent this logistical barrier by allowing instructors to crowdsource the data aggregation and “cleaning” during class.

For example, Chad Hershock and Rachel Niemer, CRLT, teach a short-course for postdocs on college teaching in science and engineering.  During a unit on converting traditional, “cookbook” lab exercises into inquiry-based activities, postdocs work in pairs to complete a sample lab protocol. All the pairs then enter their data into a single Google Spreadsheet, so that the class compiles a robust class data set in real time, without any cutting and pasting across files.  Read more »


professor Margherita FontanaFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

In intensive clinical courses, dentistry students frequently request study guides to organize and digest the deluge of content. Margherita Fontana and Carlos González-Cabezas, School of Dentistry, crowdsource this task via Google Docs as a learning activity to prepare students for exams. They assign groups of 10-15 students to each of ten major content areas.

Groups create their own Google Docs and work together to write the best possible exam questions (two per student) aligned with the learning objectives in the syllabus. To earn credit, questions must go beyond regurgitation of facts and require the evidence-based application of key concepts. The instructors provide a few questions as models. Groups share Google Docs with instructors, who provide feedback. After students revise their questions, instructors compile them in a new Google Doc that is shared with the entire class. Read more »


photo of professor Melissa GrossFollow this link to a short video describing this teaching strategy.

Students of Melissa Gross,  School of Kinesiology, use 3D animation and motion capture technologies to study the biomechanics of human movement in a studio course. Students’ group projects are presented as narrated movies and include animations to illustrate their research findings (e.g., differences between a healthy knee and a reconstructed knee climbing stairs). Read more »


Photo of professor Robin FowlerHere is a short video on this teaching strategy.

Robin Fowler, College of Engineering, co-teaches Introduction to Engineering, a course in which student teams design, build, and test products for professional scenarios (e.g., Company X needs a remote-operated vehicle to investigate subglacial life at the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica). Teams need to apply course concepts to evaluate competing designs relative to client-generated objectives and constraints. However, teams often pursue suboptimal designs due to poor group process.

To enable more equitable and conceptually sound design decisions, Fowler shifted team meetings from face-to-face discussions to synchronous, text-based online discussions, during which team members are geographically dispersed. Fowler creates a Google Doc for each team, including each student’s individual project idea and a decision-making matrix to be completed as a team. Students simultaneously access these materials and negotiate decisions at preordained times using the commenting and chat features in Google Docs. Read more »