NUWiki allows students to collaborate on class projects

Natalie Tapaskar

Wikipedia is still off-limits as an academic resource in most classes.

Still, some professors and a Northwestern University Information Technology program are trying to copy the online encyclopedia’s methods.

NUIT’s latest creation for Blackboard, NUWiki, is software that allows multiple users to create and edit Web pages from separate computers, much like the well-known Wikipedia.

Launched during fall quarter on an experimental basis, NUWiki is a tool for “collaboratively building an information resource on course topics,” said Brian Nielsen, NUIT Director and project manager for the new program.

Students are able to create articles, which can then be viewed and edited by their classmates. NUWiki tracks all revisions of documents and students may revert back to old editions of their documents easily.

“In the past, professors haven’t had a good way to handle students signing up for projects and office hours,” Nielsen said. “Now it can be done simply and cleanly.”

NUWiki was implemented in five classes during Fall Quarter and has been added to an additional 10 this quarter.

“It wasn’t that useful of a tool,” Weinberg freshman Hannah Polus said. “My class never used the editing capabilities of the program. We basically just used it like a blog.”

Professors, however, had requested a tool that allows students to share their work and make the learning process more collaborative.

“I haven’t yet had a chance to check it out, but I mainly like the idea that it will make the students’ work less privatized,” said art history professor Christina Kiaer, one of the professors who added the application this quarter.

“They will do most of their writing for the course as (Web pages) on artists or specific issues, and that means that all the students’ work will be shared with other students, rather than just handed in to me.”

In order to facilitate an easy transition to using NUWiki, NUIT has held workshops for professors and has plans for some type of instruction for students as well.

“It’s not immediately intuitive on what you can do and how to do it,” Nielsen said. “Also, very few students have seen the program, so we want more feedback from students and faculty before moving ahead.”

As with all new software, there are limitations in the programming. If multiple students attempt to work on the same document simultaneously in different locations, not all the changes will immediately appear.

In the fall, one class chose to write a screenplay collaboratively, but only two of the students actually posted items using NUWiki because of confusion about the program. Students also fear they will step on each other’s toes as they edit their classmates’ documents, Nielsen said.

“I feel as if I wouldn’t want other people to edit my essays without my permission,” Polus said. “If it is a group project, I feel like this would be an easy way for one person to take over.”

NUWiki, intended to make working in groups more comfortable by eliminating the need to meet in person, could have unintended consequences.

“It’s really impersonal for groups to have to work on projects separately in their rooms,” Polus said. “I feel like I already spend enough time on Blackboard.”

Reach Natalie Tapaskar at [email protected]