Managing team work in a large subject using wikis

In the subject ‘Organisational Behaviour’ Valerie Cotronei-Baird has been using wikis to manage group work since 2009. This is a large second-year undergraduate subject in the Management and Marketing department in the Faculty of Business and Economics. It has approximately 1000 students taking the subject each semester.  Wikis were introduced to provide students with a virtual space whereby members from each team can also remotely work together in the research, development and completion of a team-based assignment submitted elsewhere.

Learning about teamwork is one of the core subject objectives and thus the team-based assignment provides students both the opportunity to gain theoretical content knowledge and practical experience of teamwork.  Furthermore, teamwork, communication skills, working collaboratively in a virtual environment and using online communication tools are core skills in today’s workplaces.  Team based assessment gives students the opportunity to develop these essential workplace skills.

To manage a group task in a large subject requires careful design of the activity to avoid the many issues that can arise with group work. Valerie’s design has achieved this.  By week three of the semester, students form assignment teams of four or five people from within their tutorial group. They complete the Team Assignment by week nine of the Semester. All members of an assignment team receive the same mark for the assignment which contributes 30 per cent of the overall individual mark of the student. The assignment requires that each team acts as a consultancy team, with members working collaboratively to solve an organisational behaviour problem. This requires analysis of the case study problems and provision of a set of recommendations to solve the problems identified and analysed in the case. One question on the final exam that contributes to 25 per cent of the exam result requires that students reflect on their team-based experience using team, virtual team and leadership theory.

To assist the teams in the planning of their project the LMS Wiki tool is used. Each team has access to their own team wiki space. Only the students in the particular group and the tutor are able to access, add information, upload documents and comment within the wiki space. The tutors have been trained to be team coaches via a specific tutor training program focused on motivational and consultative team coaching (Sargent, Allen, Frahm & Morris, 2009). Since leadership and management of virtual teams are just as critical for virtual teams as it is for face-to-face teams (Bell & Kozlowski, 2002), the tutors are provided with additional training on motivation and consultation of virtual teams.

A crucial part of this learning activity is the ‘team contract’. By week 4 each team must upload a ‘team contract’ to their team wiki page. This allows the tutor to read over the contract while it is being prepared, give feedback and advice. On week 4 of semester students are informed that the wiki page is now a private workspace and that the tutors will only access the pages if they are invited to do so by a team. Many student teams invite their tutor into their wiki space to receive feedback and/or enter into dialogue with their tutor who acts as a coach/facilitator. The student teams are not assessed on their wiki use, it is there to support the students’ completion of the team assignment.

Observations by Valerie and feedback from the tutors indicate that the use of the team contract and the provision of a virtual space for team planning, which is not accessed by teaching staff, has resulted in higher quality work. Teams have their own conflict resolution process which has resulted in a smoother management of the group work.   Students feel the wiki is a useful tool for sharing information, ideas, providing each other feedback and a useful way to communicate with team members.

One student’s comments reflects much of the feedback:

It acts as a common portal for team members to communicate and it prevents any complications that arise from the confusion of sending emails to each other. It facilitates any changes to the report by different people on the team.

Screen Shot of Wiki Text

References

Bell, B. S., & Kozlowski, S. J. (2002). A Typology of Virtual Teams: Implications For Effective Leadership. Group & Organization Management, 27(1), 14.

Cotronei-Baird, V. (2011, December). Examining the role of team wikis and team collaboration: A student perspective. In 25th Annual Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management Conference (pp. 7-9). http://www.anzam.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf-manager/353_ANZAM-2012-337.PDF

Sargent, L. D., Allen, B. C., Frahm, J. A., & Morris, G. (2009). Enhancing the Experience of Student Teams in Large Classes: Training Teaching Assistants to Be Coaches. Journal Of Management Education, 33(5), 526-552.

Resources

LMS Blogs and Wikis Workshops: http://lms.unimelb.edu.au/support/events/

LMS Wiki Guides: http://lms.unimelb.edu.au/teaching/communication/blikis/

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