Harnessing developments in technology and merging them with new approaches to teaching: a practical example of the effective use of wikis and social bookmarking sites in 3rd level professional education

Avril Behan, Dublin Institute of Technology
Frances Boylan, Dublin Institute of Technology

Document Type Article


While innovations such as Problem-Based Learning and elearning have informed pedagogical practice on the Geomatics honours Bachelor of Science degree programme at the Department of Spatial Information Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Ireland, few attempts have been made to date to harness technological developments and merge them with new approaches to teaching.

However, the recent conceptual change in authoring and usage of the World Wide Web from relatively static to fully interactive (Read-Write Web) provided an opportunity to embrace a change in technology as a means of modifying teaching practice to create a more student-centred environment.

This paper describes a project currently running at the DIT, with 2nd year students on the aforementioned four-year honours degree programme in Geomatics, where the students are required to use Web 2.0 sites for social bookmarking (www.delicious.com) and wiki creation (www.pbwiki.com) to enable collaborative research and writing, in the context of a module on introductory level remote sensing. No prior knowledge of wikis or social bookmarking sites is expected and instruction in the usage of these tools is an integral part of the task.

The students have been divided into small groups of four or five, given specific and independent tasks to accomplish, and given full autonomy in how elements of the task were subdivided. This particular arrangement has resulted in the emergence of a number of interesting organisational strategies within the groups, the practical details of which will be discussed during this paper.

Through appropriate weighting of this task within the overall module students have been given the opportunity to become accustomed to the new form of teaching and learning, with its potential for confusion or misinterpretation caused by unfamiliarity, without needing to worry about potentially significant assessment penalties. The usage of online sites, which are accessible to the students only through unique logins or identifiers, has made individual assessment within groups significantly easier and more successful than was previously possible.

Initial student feedback has been very positive, indicating that this method of learning is seen as interesting, challenging and effective, and that it is very fair in ensuring that non-contributing group members are not carried; a matter which is of significant concern to many hard-working students.