Hannah Lavery and Lynda Prescott, The Open University

In the 30-week, 60-credit module ‘Voices, Texts and Material Culture’ at the Open University, students are required to engage in online collaborative work. A number of wiki activities are embedded within their study of the module, and are linked to the second and fifth of six assignments. Academic skills training is therefore provided alongside the core teaching material. Linking reflective writing tasks to the wiki activities develops academic skills that will be key to students’ successful completion of undergraduate study, as well as fulfilling learning objectives relating to employability.

Level of Difficulty


Writing Components

Reflection, individual, group, essay, wiki


Asynchronous forum, wiki, email

Group size

Small, medium


1. Provide students with the opportunity to enter information to a ‘practice wiki’ near to the start of module.

2. Assign the student groups for the assessed wiki activity at least 3 weeks in advance of the assignment deadline. Allocate students to their own thread in an asynchronous forum area, and encourage initial socialisation through an icebreaker activity.

3. The assessment task should allow students to select four extracts from a range of resources to produce a 1000 word essay in response to a broad topic (relevant to that stage of the course).

4. Students submit the essay exactly as produced by their group as their ‘Part 1’ for the assignment. They should also submit a short 100-word self-evaluation of their contribution to the group work activity in Part 1. For Part 2 of the assignment each student selects a further, related text and writes an individual 500-word commentary on the use of sources in the collaborative task.


Asking students to collaborate for the completion of an assessed task is a new experience for many. Relatively few students have required additional support to handle the technical ICT skills, but a larger number report struggling with the teamwork aspects of the task. This can be exacerbated when working at a distance and through asynchronous fora. Tensions can arise if group members do not feel that everyone is contributing equally to the task, and may resent that all members of the group will receive the same grade, regardless of perceived ‘effort’. Tutors need to be prepared to handle these issues as they arise. The emphasis on reflection and self-evaluation included in the tasks (and in the weighting of the various components) can reassure students that the value of their individual engagement with the task will be recognised and rewarded. Students should be encouraged to consider the wider benefits arising from engagement with the activity, especially in relation to meeting learning objectives relating to team work, communication, and practical ICT skills, all of which are highly valued by employers.

Useful resources       

An account of a large-scale collaborative assignment at the University of New South Wales argues for the value of wikis as transparent and versatile tools for group work and for their advantages in terms of fair assessment: Caple, Helen, and Bogle, Mike. “Making Group Assessment Transparent: What Wikis can Contribute to Collaborative Projects.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 38, no. 2, 2013, pp. 198-210. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2011.618879

This article includes a framework for assessment of a collaborative project, balancing assessment of individual contribution, group interaction, and final product: Putro, Iwan Handoyo, Carbone, Angela, Sheard, Judithe Irene. “Developing a Framework to Assess Students’ Contributions during Wiki Construction.” Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology, vol. 148, 2014, pp. 123-131. http://crpit.com/confpapers/CRPITV148Putro.pdf

There are short, online modules hosted on Futurelearn, intended to develop students’ digital skills, including reflection and collaborative working. For instance, ‘Learning online: learning and collaborating’ from the University of Leeds: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-and-collaborating

A succinct website from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching offers examples from different disciplines of working with wikis, and useful links to further resources: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/wikis/