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The key to productive online collaboration: Students' perspective on effective teamwork tools

Wolf, K. and Archer, C. (2013) The key to productive online collaboration: Students' perspective on effective teamwork tools. In: Teaching and Learning Forum 2013: Design, develop, evaluate - The core of the learning environment, 7 - 8 February 2013, Murdoch University, Murdoch, W.A.


Collaborative work is an important part of tertiary education. However, as students spend less time on campus and institutions increasingly cater towards online and external studies, teamwork has gradually shifted into the online learning environment. This change is reflected in the business environment, where graduates are already working as part of progressively more dispersed, often even global, teams.

Online collaboration provides both advantages and challenges, much of which depends on the ability to select appropriate teamwork tools. Scholars have traditionally focused on investigating the collaborative benefits and associated shortcomings of one particular tool, such as wikis (e.g. Elg, Ghauri & Tarnovskaya, 2008) or blogs (e.g. Luca & McLoughlin, 2005; Wolf, 2008). This study takes a close look at the full suite of online tools as selected by students. Project participants were provided with some initial guidance and a brief introduction to online tools, but in the end selected those media that they perceived as most suitable for their teams' requirements. An additional challenge in the context of this study was the geographically dispersed nature of team members, which put an additional emphasis on cultural inclusivity. As students explored the online environment, not a single tool stood out. Instead, the authors found that the most effective teams had chosen a toolbox, consisting of traditional communication channels such as emails, but also file sharing, direct messaging and social media. We conclude that existing familiarity and access are particularly important in the context of short term projects, such as university assignments.

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