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Visualising student discussion and collaboration

Wednesday 3 July: Conference day one, 2:30pm – 3:00pm parallel session



Room 5 – 301-G050 Lg Chem



Damon Ellis
The University of Auckland, New Zealand



In many higher education settings, learning designers collaborate with academic staff to develop course materials, assessments, and activities that promote student learning. An important component of this collaboration is the evaluation of the results of this collaboration and its impact on the course (Seeto & Herrington, 2006); this informs iterative learning design and also facilitates the lecturer’s ability to responsively adapt their planning to the needs of the specific cohort.

A wide range of methods support this evaluation: student surveys (including feed-forward and formative evaluations), evaluation of student outputs, click analytics of learner behaviour, peer observation of teaching, and lecturer reflection and self-evaluation.

Most of these evaluation methods carry an implicit focus on students as individuals. However, many designs for learning are based on principles of social constructivism and situated learning–discussion and collaboration being two key examples. These designs would benefit from evaluation methods that also examine interactions and interrelationships between students in a way that informs the teaching and learning design of the course. This presentation focuses on two evaluation methods of such design.

The showcase describes the creation of two professional learning communities at the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland. These communities—comprising both lecturers and learning designers—aim to explore and implement tools that visualise group behaviours and dynamics in a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

The first community focused on visualisations of online written collaboration outputs via document history analysis: the DocuViz and AuthorViz tools (Yim, Wang, Olson, Vu, & Warschauer, 2017). The participating lecturers and learning designer used these tools to understand and discuss, in regular meetings, the collaboration dynamics of the students. The second community–which is currently underway–focuses on visualisations of online discussion structures via social network analysis: the Threadz tool (Eastern Washington University, n.d.).

The presentation will include reflections from the participants on the means by which learning designers and lecturers enrich each other’s understanding of underlying patterns of student collaboration and discussion though use of these visualisations, and change their subsequent practice. In particular, lecturers adapted their learning task design and teaching / facilitation strategies; the learning designer adapted their approach to co-design and community development with lecturers; and both have discussed turning the tools over to students, to improve student motivation, participation, self-regulation, and reflection.



Eastern Washington University. (n.d.). Threadz. Retrieved from
Seeto, D. & Herrington, J. A. (2006). Design-based research and the learning designer. In L. Markauskaite, P. Goodyear & P. Reimann (Eds.), Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (pp. 741-745). Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press.
Yim, S., Wang, D., Olson, J., Vu, V., & Warschauer, M. (2017). Synchronous collaborative writing in the classroom: Undergraduates’ collaboration practices and their impact on writing style, quality, and quantity. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (pp. 468–479). Portland, OR: ACM.


Presentation topic

Academics – Changing Academic Practice

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