A wiki-based collaborative learning environment for senior design courses

Wu Yunfeng and Wu Ye
Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications
Beijing, China
Zhou Yachao
Tsinghua University,
Beijing, China
S C Ng
The Open University of Hong Kong,
Hong Kong SAR, China

Learning technologies are increasingly influencing the nature of teaching and learning. Web-based learning technologies offer powerful possibilities for learning activities outside the classroom, both in preparation for in-class activities and in following them up. In senior design courses, the authors use the powerful wiki-based 'TikiWiki' content management system (CMS), which includes a variety of features -- groupware, a wiki system, a file gallery, workflow and a calendar -- to manage a community-centred mentoring environment that capitalizes on local expertise to create a sense of online collaborative learning among students. The wiki feature provides the Web-based system with a wide range of additional ways of organizing and looking at collaboratively developed data (including forums, articles and blogs), which makes it the most effective tool yet created for online teamwork and collaboration.

The instructors can first post a few open-ended, real-world problems for project choice by the students on the courses, and then get them to self-assess their project proposals in the form of in-class brainstorming discussions and idea exchanges via the Web browser. The instructors can also deploy the teamwork assignments according to students' analysis and conclusions from previous discussions, and help coordinate the team members involved in each project in response to students' requests. The supporting materials such as a bibliography and technical resources are downloadable in the file gallery, and some illustrations and running examples of experiments are visible on the webpage. The groupware feature of 'TikiWiki' enables interactive activities by means of interpersonal communication and data sharing. The 'TikiWiki' system also contains a workflow feature which can help the instructors coordinate progress on each ongoing project by judging the mid-term results. Students are required to submit their final reports in accordance with the deadlines indicated in the calendar function of 'TikiWiki'. Finally, the whole project documents, including the workflow implementation, mid-term and final reports, and instructors' comments, are posted on the webpage, and a post-project meeting is scheduled for students to summarize the strengths and weaknesses of their designs, and also share their project experiences for future career development.

Mentoring using 'TikiWiki' has been fruitful: our students have won the first and second prizes in the Myron Zucker student design contest sponsored by the IEEE Industry Applications Society in 2005 and 2002 respectively. In summary, a Web-based educational environment using wiki involves a significant shift away from conventional instructor-driven mentoring to a community-centred collaborative learning environment in senior design courses. Students are able to develop the ability to work effectively in teams, with an improvement in their project management skills of scheduling, design collaboration, conflict resolution and technical writing.