Case study: Content system for group projects in Aerospace Engineering

aircraft detail - by uggboy on flickr - 5566283661 - Creative Commons attribution only

Origin

Department of Aerospace Engineering
Faculty of Engineering
University of Bristol

Part of the IeLS Project

Tools used

  • A shared file space
  • The wiki tool on Blackboard

Contact

Objective

  • Provide an online collaborative space for student group design projects
  • Allow academics to determine what each student contributed to a project

Background

For their group project, students have to work together to design a spaceship, a fixed wing or a rotary wing craft (plane or helicopter). This requires intensive planning and collaborative work over several months. Students are also required to keep a design journal.

Blackboard has a number of features that support collaboration, including the recently launched Content System. The Content System allows users to upload files using a web interface and to grant permission for other users to view and/or overwrite these files.

What was done

6 groups were setup within the course and students assigned to them.  Each group was given:

  • a private journal to keep their individual design journal in (Learning Objects Blog)
  • a group wiki to plan out their work (a few pages were pre-created to give students idea of how to use and a link to "Wikis in plain English" to explain concept)
  • a folder on the content system to store the files they are working on

Students used the Wiki to plan out their work. The work was developed in the group folder and when done the academic could see individual contributions to both the wiki and the files.

Outcomes

82.5% of students said that the content folder aided collaboration and 61.4% said that the wiki did. This is despite 61.4% of students encountering some problems with the content folder.

The academics found advantages with the system. In the weekly progress meetings students used the files in the group folder to demo their work: it was useful as academics can ask to see particular documents and the students always had them.  Also being able to monitor which students were using the system enabled them to give timely reminders to those students who were slower to engage.

One of the key findings of the project is the importance of providing enough space for the students to store their work, the initial allowance of 150MB per group was used by the busiest group within 7 weeks.  Even though the space was quickly increased when the students requested it, running out of space was raised as a problem by a significant number of students in the survey. A few days without being able to upload files can prove very stressful for the groups. 

One of the 6 groups moved to using Google docs for their collaboration space as it allowed simultaneous working on a live document and easier editing by multiple users. Although this gave the group a better workflow care should be taken when allowing students to do this as evidence of student work is held outside of University control and so is not archived at the end of the course.

In the final feedback on the projects by external assessors all 6 groups were judged to have collaborated well on the design process.