Using DokuWiki to support student group literature review projects

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This article describes the methods used by Dr. Ron Elcombe (Mass Communication) to implement a wiki-supported, group literature review project in his MCOM 400 - Mass Communication Theory course and is intended for instructors interested in replicating the activity in their own courses. Ron's experiences with course wikis are referenced in his fall 2010 Faculty Exchange interview. Ron assigns groups of MCOM 400 students to one of several, predetermined topic areas. They work together throughout the term to summarize the current state of the literature in their area, integrating it with a similar review in their textbook: Bryant, J., & Thompson, S. (2002) Fundamentals of Media Effects, McGraw Hill, New York, NY. Ron describes the purpose of the project to his students as using an inductive process to essentially update the textbook for the course. Ron had 25 students enrolled in MCOM 400 in Fall 2010 and picked seven topic areas, resulting in groups of three to four students each. Students progressed through the project in stages, using a wiki to collaborate on each stage.


  • Develop instructional strategy and design. Ron introduces the project briefly in his syllabus and more formally in class during Week 3. He divides the project into several stages: gathering and reviewing literature (Week 4-6), analyzing this literature for conclusions, generalizations, and trends (Week 7-9), and comparing these trends with a similar analysis conducted years earlier by the course's textbook authors (Week 10-12). Final papers are due Week 13. In the first stage, students are required to use the wiki to compose four journal article synopses. Ron asks students to identify the problems or issues addressed in the article, describe briefly the methodology and findings, and evaluate how these findings fit into the general topic. Ron distinguishes between an article synopsis and a review, asking students to refrain from offering personal opinions about the value of the research or conclusions contained in the article. Students then review each others' synopses and begin to develop a summary. They compare and contrast their summary with a similar review in their textbook. Students are advised that all group work must be conducted using the wiki. They then use the wiki to write the final summary.
  • Establish a DokuWiki site. Ron uses a wiki tool called DokuWiki that must be installed on a network server by TLT prior to the start of the term in which it is to be used. Although he requires a separate DokuWiki site for each section of the course, all project teams within that section share the same site. Once a DokuWiki site is established, administrative control can be passed to the instructor. If you would like to try DokuWiki, advance notice is required. A new site can be established at any time, just contact TLT.
  • Assign students to groups and add instructions to the DokuWiki home page. Ron asks students to rate their preference for the seven topic areas and then tries to assign students to groups based on preference as much as possible. Instructions are then added to the main DokuWiki home page. Permissions are set such that only the instructor and selected TLT staff can edit this page. On the main home page of the site, Ron describes the journal synopsis activity and the data analysis activity...

Each person will post four (4) journal synopses of articles published in peer reviewed journals on their respective topics in each of the next three weeks. Postings are expected on at least three (3) separate days. The week runs from Monday at 00:01 hours to Sunday at 23:59 hours.

For the next 3 weeks, the data you have collected needs to be discussed and collated into some meaningful format. You are looking to discover similarities, differences, agreements, contradictions and trends. There are four dimensions to use in comparing the data. These dimensions include 1) Statement of problem, 2) Methodologies 3) Findings and 4) Significance. You will recognize these as the four sections of the Journal Synopses. The goal of this analysis is to make sense out of the body of research that you have just read. To accomplish this task, all communication needs to be conducted within the confines of the Wiki. Pretend that you are all on opposite sides of the planet and you can't meet face to face. To accomplish this task, one or more new pages will need to be created. It is expected that you will participate in this discussion on 4 different days during each week.

  • Create start pages for each group in the DokuWiki site. A new DokuWiki page is created for each topic area. Groups use them as their team home page for their projects. All members of a specific group can edit their start page and create as many sub-pages as desired. Links to these start pages are added to the main DokuWiki home page for easy access. Students navigate to the DokuWiki home page and then to their project page. Permissions are set such that students can only access the start page and corresponding sub-pages of their group. They cannot view other groups' pages. TLT can assist with this permission setup and the instructor can adjust it as needed.
  • Create student accounts on the DokuWiki site. Accounts are then created manually for students on the DokuWiki site. TLT can assist with this process. Students are assigned a username and password. The password is then changed by students when they access the site for the first time. All permissions are assigned and checked.
  • Link to the DokuWiki site from D2L. Ron adds a News item to his D2L MCOM 400 course home page that includes a link to his DokuWiki site.
  • Plan for student support. In the past, Ron has arranged for TLT staff to conduct in-class demonstrations of DokuWiki during the third week of classes. This is something that TLT is happy to do, but it must be arranged well in advance of the term during which you plan to use this tool. Please contact TLT if you are interested in this student training option.


  • Ron spot checks the DokuWiki site during the semester. He also allocates time during class for project teams to interact and ask questions.
  • Students are asked to direct any technical problems related to their use of the DokuWiki site to TLT currently.


  • Ron grades the final papers, assigning the same initial grade to each member of the project team. He then reviews the user history in the wiki, attending to the quality and quantity of each student's participation. He looks for students who "disappear" during the project, demonstrating relatively long periods of inactivity. He also looks for students whose contributions far exceed those of other team members. He adjusts individual grades accordingly. These trends are fairly easy to detect using the data provided by the User History module in DokuWiki.

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