Conference PaperPDF Available

Online Learning Community Software to Support Success in Project Teams

Online Learning Community Software to Support Success in Project Teams
Brian Thoms
Department of Computer Science and Information
California State University, Channel Islands
California, United States
Evren Eryilmaz
Department of Business Education and Information and
Technology Management
Bloomsburg University
Pennsylvania, United States
Abstract—In this research we explore aspects of social
interaction and community as they relate to success in project-
based courses. Using specialized online community software
consisting of social networking technologies and project-based
wikis, project teams are able to collaborate and interact as they
progress towards project milestones. Our study underscores
the importance of sustained engagement as a means for
fostering high levels of community and how these levels relate
to project motivation and, ultimately, project success. Guided
by a theoretical model that explains how individuals
collaborate within online communities, we measure member
perceptions of the software before and after our intervention.
Survey results found that online learning community (OLC)
software can successfully support learning and social
interaction. These results are supported by a social network
analysis (SNA), which shows high levels of individual
engagement across the project lifecycle.
Keywords—Social Networking; Online Learning
Community; Wiki; Project Management; Capstone Project
It is easy to take the World Wide Web for granted, which
turned 25 in March of 2014. And it is easy to forget that, for
most of the 21st century, electronic peer-to-peer (P2P)
communication occurred through postal mail and land-based
telephones. This was true for the average person as well as
individuals pursuing advanced education. Today, while these
forms of communication are pervasive as ever, they are no
longer the primary means of P2P for certain demographics,
such as digital natives, or those individuals having grown up
with internet technologies.
It is estimated that 86% of digital natives participate in
some form of online social networking (OSN), with some
estimates as high as 98% [1] [2] [3] [4].
In this research, we leverage this population’s technical
prowess for social media to implement online learning
community (OLC) software, which increases interaction,
enhances levels of community and supports learning. More
specifically, we implement OLC software in senior-level
information technology (IT) capstone courses, which require
students to work in project teams and construct a final IT
artifact. We measure our interventions through survey
research and a social network analysis (SNA) to discover
how OLC software, comprised primarily of OSN
technologies, provides students with an enhanced project
space; one that fosters higher levels of interaction and
learning and strengthens course community.
The rest of this paper is structured as follows. In Section
II we establish the conceptual background for academic
communities emphasizing the role online community
software plays within project-based course communities.
Section III provides a theoretical framework that bridges
constructivism, engagement theory and social presence
theory. Section IV focuses on the design of the OLC
software. Section V highlights the research methodology.
Section VI describes the results of this research. Section VII
provides comprehensive discussion and analysis of our
results section. Section VIII identifies the limitations of this
study. Section IX is the conclusion section followed by
references in Section X.
A. Academic Communities
When individuals enter college, they join the college
conversation, and intrinsically become a part of the academic
community. Academic communities can be classified as one
subset of what Lave and Wenger [5] have coined
communities of practice. In such communities, individuals
work together towards common goals, collaborate on
common problems, share best practices, support one another
and share in a common identity. Thus, successful academic
communities, as suggested by Adams and Freeman [6], help
to sustain engagement and collaboration among individuals
whereby knowledge building becomes an intrinsic function
of the community itself.
B. Project-based Course Community
Courses can be considered a more specialized form of
academic communities [7]. In this research, we focus our
attention on specific types of courses, capstone courses and,
in our case, team-based project courses.
Within the IT industry, team-based projects are
recognized as a core component of effective undergraduate
education [8] [9]. The inclusion of team-based projects into
the undergraduate experience is largely influenced by
industry expectations that graduates exhibit high-levels of
problem solving, oral and written communication, teamwork
and project management skills [10] [11].
One way for students to prepare to meet these
expectations is through capstone projects. Capstone projects-
based courses are valuable ways for students to prepare for
17Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
careers in their respective industries. While there are many
approaches to this type of experiential learning, one
approach considers individuals working within project
teams, which allows individuals to build critical team-based
skills and learn how cooperation and group dynamics plays-
out as they work towards the completion project milestones.
This notion is supported in Lainez et al. [12], who state that
capstone projects in IT should deliver important skills such
as 1) a basic understanding of business processes, 2) a
product development with high-quality concerns, 3) know-
how to conceive, design, implement and operate medium-
size complexity systems and 4) communicative,
initiative/leadership teamwork, analytical and problem
solving and personal abilities. Furthermore, Ayas and Zeniuk
[13] state that learning within project teams can be
instrumental in building communities of reflective
And these experiences are well received by students.
Dunlap [14] discovered that engaging students in learning
and problem-solving activities reflects the true nature and
requirements of workplace communities and help students
feel better prepared to work effectively in their profession, a
viewpoint is supported by students [11]. Furthermore, Clarke
[15] identified that industry-aligned projects increased
student confidence and allowed students to explore areas of
IT not covered in the curriculum.
Ultimately, within IT capstone courses, students are
presented opportunities to consolidate their understandings
of “systems analysis, software development lifecycles,
specific software design support tools, entity relationship
modelling, entity life histories, database design, web site
design, or web server programming” [16]. Furthermore,
when students engage in experiential learning, they become
active participants in the learning process, constructing their
own internal knowledge through both personal and
environmental experiences [16] [17]. Lynch et al. [19] found
that capstone projects provide students the opportunity to
build, not only technical skills of the discipline, but the social
aspects of systems development as well.
As a means to facilitate project communities and senior
capstone courses, we incorporate an online learning
community that allows students to participate across multiple
dimensions of the project lifecycle, while also working
towards project milestones.
C. Online Learning Community Software
Thoms et al. [7] [19] [20] argue that OLC software,
constructed from underlying OSN technologies, offers
benefits over traditional learning management software
(LMS) within higher education. As touched upon earlier,
project-based courses can be seen as niche types of
communities. In such communities, individuals take equal
ownership in content production and work towards
developing a unique voice.
OSN technologies include a large array of Web 2.0
technologies such as asynchronous online discussion boards,
blogs and wikis along with peer-to-peer networking and file
sharing to name a few. These tools empower individuals to
take ownership of their content while also making it easier to
communicate and interact with other members of the
community. Thus, constructing an OLC that more closely
resembles OSN environments makes sense, since the
overwhelming majority of individuals within higher
education (i.e. digital natives) are already competent with
these technologies. With roots firmly planted in OSN
technologies, OLC software offers the greatest potential for
facilitating a communal space, while also facilitating
knowledge construction and learning in a higher education
setting [7] [19] [20].
To help guide the design and construction of an OLC to
support our project-based needs, we follow a holistic
theoretical model represented in Figure 1. The model
considers, at its core, 1) the individual, 2) how individuals
engage in online media through technology and 3) the
overall sense of online community that results from active
Figure 1. Theoretical Model for Online Learning Communities
A. Individuals (Constructivism)
Prior research has traced the roots of online communities
to constructivism [21] [22] [23]. Consequently, at the center
of our model we place the individual. Constructivism states
that learning stems from the interactions and experiences of
the learner [24] [25]. We believe that these interactions and
experiences can be directly influenced by a user’s
engagement with OSN technologies. OSN technologies can
be configured to facilitate many different types of
participants. Largely linked to the work of Piaget [25], who
first theorized that learning can be based on the interaction
and experiences of the learner within a specific context,
constructivism provides a holistic view of individual learning
and how individuals interact within larger groups. Hagstrom
and Wertsch [24] state that constructivism encourages,
utilizes, and rewards the unique and multidimensional
characteristics of the individual throughout the learning
process. Additionally, Squires [26] states that constructivism
18Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
focuses on individual control, with individuals making
decisions that match their own needs. While constructivism
began as a theory of learning, it has progressively been used
as a theory of education, of the origin of ideas, and of both
personal knowledge and scientific knowledge [27]. Specific
to this research, our OLC is comprised of individuals, who
occupy a shared space, whereby she or he is influenced
heavily by interactions with technology and others.
Consequently, it is not unlikely that individuals will
experience the community in different fashions.
B. Technology (Engagement Theory)
Research has linked student engagement to grades and
motivation [28]. Thus, getting participants engaged in course
project objectives early on can be tantamount to the project’s
success. Engagement theory states that individuals must be
meaningfully engaged in project activities through
interaction with others, which can be facilitated and enabled
through specialized technologies [29]. Dalsgaard [30], whose
research is supported in Waycott et al. [31], argues that
social software can be used to support the constructivist
approach set forth in the previous section. Social software
engenders a cooperative approach to learning and work
towards the establishment of a cohesive community. In this
respect, social software can refer to any loosely connected
application where individuals are able to communicate with
one another, and track discussions across the internet [32].
Consequently, the development of OLC software must
consider the individual’s point of view in such a manner that
they are provided with a certain level of control and
autonomy within the community. Once again, social
software supports these philosophies and makes participants
the locus of control within a self-governing environment.
C. Community (Social Presence)
We introduce Social Presence Theory to understand the
manifestation of our OLC as a dynamic and vibrant
collaborative project space. Social Presence Theory looks at
the degree to which an individual’s perception of the online
community, affects his or her participation [33] [34]. When
an individual believes that others are interacting and
exchanging information, that individual may be more
inclined to engage themselves. As discussed in Garrison et
al. [35], alternative methods for enhancing social presence
must be explored to help substitute for the lack of visual cues
individuals receive in face-to-face settings. Research by
Richardson and Swan [36] identified that a student’s
perceived level of social presence directly relates to their
perceived learning. This suggests that increasing levels of
community can yield higher levels of learning. OSN
technologies work well in this regard and have successfully
helped enhance social presence through peer feedback [37]
and individual profiles and avatars [38], both of which are
implemented within the OLC designs we investigated.
Additionally, Thoms [39] discovered that OSN technologies
can foster higher levels of course learning through openness
and collaboration and can align very well with course
learning objectives.
Together, these three theories provide a holistic model
that considers course community, individual learning styles
and how each can be influenced and enhanced with
Just prior to the Web 2.0 revolution, Preece [40] stated
that OSN developers can control the design of OSN
software, but it remains difficult to control social interaction
across the software. This statement implies that not all social
technologies will yield the desired level of interaction
intended by their design. After the Web 2.0 explosion, an
influx of new social software presented software developers
with a treasure-trove of open-source plug-and-play
technologies, which have now become staples of popular
OSNs. These technologies include filesharing, blogging,
status updates, tagging, social bookmarking, and individual
and community profile building.
Elgg is an OSN engine and is currently used as the
primary engine across numerous online communities. The
software provides a wealth of social technologies and has an
easy-to-use and customizable interface, which can mirror the
look and feel of any organization. A default installation of
Elgg provides features such as discussion boards, blogs, file
galleries and peer-to-peer (P2P) networking capabilities.
Elgg also offers the ability to create sub-communities, a
crucial feature that allows academic instructors to implement
multiple communities within a single Elgg installation. Sub-
communities allow instructors to separate courses, while
allowing students to interact with peers outside their
respective course community. Additionally, Elgg allows
restrictions across multiple levels, including individual-level,
community-level and logged-in-user-level restrictions,
making it a choice system for project-based communities,
who may wish to limit the availability of project information
to the larger course community.
Illustrated in Figure 2 is the user landing page for a
typical Elgg community, in this case, the community is the
capstone course homepage. Within this environment,
members are also able to add customizable modules to the
homepage that presents them with real-time community
activity. By default, users are presented with active content
from across the site, which can be filtered by user or date.
Rather than be reactive, our OLC is proactive, and a greater
emphasis is placed on content creation, content
dissemination and user-interaction.
19Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
Figure 2. OLC Landing Page
A. Collaborative Writing Software
The primary artifact within a project-based OLC centers
on the analysis and design of project objectives. As a shared
artifact, collaborative writing software functions as a
mechanism to support information sharing and group
knowledge construction. As one subset of collaborative
writing, wiki software utilizes Internet-based technologies to
facilitate the collaborative writing process by keeping track
of page creation and page edits. Not only are wikis an
effective mechanism for obtaining information and
knowledge, such as with Wikipedia, the world’s largest
encyclopedia, they are also an effective technology for
facilitating virtual collaboration. Wikis provide a shared
dialogue and centralize information among collaborators in
group projects. Additionally, wikis allow members to engage
in group learning and share in knowledge construction
within a virtual community [41]. These notions are
paramount for project teams working collaboratively towards
shared goals and shared understandings. Additionally, a wiki
can provide project teams with a level of coordination and
synchronization not afforded by other means.
Figure 3. OLC Wiki Page
Wiki technology was developed prior to the Web 2.0
explosion and, thus, limited collaborative writing to early
HTML-style markup [42]. Today, wiki-technologies allow
collaborators to breathe life into wiki-documents through
multi-media and allow editors to embed files. Illustrated in
Figure 3, today’s wikis are no longer syntax-based, with
difficult HTML-style markup notation. Current wikis embed
rich-text editors, which allow novice web users to
participate, a notion that is particularly important for student
groups, many of whom have limited experience with wiki-
technology. Recent research by Xu [43] implemented wiki-
technology in project-based computer science courses,
highlighting how wiki technology helped tcentralize and
capture all project activities through wiki pages created by
both the instructor and students. Additionally, Popescu [44]
discovered that wikis also helped students to find interesting
information; by reading other teams' wiki pages, students
could check their progress, see how they compare with
others teams, look for inspiration and models and discover
different ideas and approaches. A limitation identified in He
and Yang [45] is that a wiki should not be a tool that aims to
supplant communication channels and works best when
additional modes exist. This limitation is accounted for in
our OLC since the wiki comprises only one component.
To measure how OLC software supports levels of project
community and leads to project success we targeted capstone
courses at our university, a small public university in the
United States. Our research can be categorized as a proof-of-
concept case study, where we look to measure the effects of
a specific intervention on existing populations of university
students taking a required capstone group project-oriented
course. The IT capstone course consisted of six project teams
whose seventeen-week endeavor focused on constructing a
fully-functional information technology (IT) artifact. Project
20Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
teams consisted of three to four students and were
formulated by the instructor prior to the start of the semester.
The final IT artifact consisted of 40% of an individual’s
course grade. An additional 30% included project
documentation and collaborative activities relating to project
analysis, design and construction. Additionally, each project
team was assigned a wiki space with pre-defined templates
for project development phases. Groups were encouraged to
communicate both synchronously during weekly in-class
meetings and asynchronously through each groups’
designated project space. Each group was required to present
and defend their final IT artifact at the end of the semester.
Data was captured over the six-month intervention and
include both pretest and posttest survey data in addition to a
social network analysis (SNA).
As exploratory research, we are largely concerned with
discovering mitigating factors surrounding learning, social
interaction, course community and project success within
OLC software. Our theoretical model asserts that, when
members are presented with tools to support interaction and
community, higher levels of social presence and course
community will exist. At a high level, we ask what
affordances and constraints OLC software provides in
facilitating project collaboration and project success?
Specifically, we ask the following research questions:
R1: Will an OLC enhance levels of course community?
R2: Will wiki software enhance levels of project
management and collaboration?
R3: If R1 and R2, will an OLC facilitate project success?
To explore these questions, we measure the impact of our
customized OLC software within our IT capstone course.
The course is experiential in nature and students are required
to produce results for use by real individuals and are
evaluated both on process and product. While individuals
were encouraged to use the OLC to discuss all project-
related material, it was not required for project milestones.
To explore how specialized OLC software can support
project-based courses and enhance classroom learning, we
collected data from multiple sources. Our first point of data
collection is through survey research, which measures
perceived levels of learning, community and interaction. To
support survey findings, we perform a social network
analysis and look at in-bound and out-bound interactions
among OLC participants.
A. Demographics
Demographic information was captured through a pretest
survey. Including the instructor, our total user population
was 25. 25% of participants were female and 75% were
male. 48% of participants were aged 18 to 25, 36% were
aged 26 to 35, 12% were aged 36-50 and 4% were aged 50
and above. All interventions occurred using a capstone IT
project-based course, a required upper-division IT course.
B. Survey Data Analysis
Closed-ended survey pretest and posttest questions were
distributed to all participants resulting in 25 completed
pretests and 23 completed posttest surveys, or a 100%
response rate for both sets. To ensure confidentiality, no
personally identifiable information was collected, thus
linking survey data and SNA data was not achievable.
1) Instrument Reliability
Cronbach Alpha scores for our survey constructs related
to items associated with the OLC scored .83 indicating that
survey items maintain an adequate level of internal
2) OLC Perceptions on Interaction (Pretest)
Illustrated in Figure 4, on factors relating to OLC
interaction, pretest results identified that individuals agreed
(52%) or strongly agreed (32%) that interaction through an
OLC would be important, with 40% agreeing and 40%
strongly agreeing that the OLC will increase interaction.
Figure 4. OLC (Pretest)
3) OLC Perceptions on Interaction (Posttest)
Illustrated in Figure 5, on factors relating to OLC
interaction, posttest results show higher levels of agreement
across these constructs. Individuals agreed (39%) or strongly
agreed (56%) that interaction through the OLC was
important, with 44% agreeing and 44% strongly agreeing
that the OLC increased interaction.
Figure 5. OLC (Postest)
4) Wiki Perceptions on Interaction (Pretest)
Illustrated in Figure 6, on factors relating to wiki
interaction, pretest results identified that individuals agreed
(48%) or strongly agreed (32%) that a wiki would facilitate
group cohesion. Additionally, individuals agreed (40%) or
strongly agreed (32%) that a wiki would facilitate group
21Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
collaboration. Individuals also agreed (40%) or strongly
agreed (32%) that a wiki would facilitate group interaction.
Figure 6. Wiki on Interaction (Pretest)
5) Wiki Perceptions on Interaction (Posttest)
Illustrated in Figure 7, on factors relating to wiki
interaction, posttest results show higher levels of agreement
across these constructs. Individuals agreed (61%) or strongly
agreed (28%) that the OLC wiki facilitated group cohesion.
Additionally, individuals agreed (50%) or strongly agreed
(39%) that the OLC wiki facilitated group collaboration.
Individuals also agreed (56%) or strongly agreed (33%) that
the OLC wiki facilitated group interaction.
Figure 7. Wiki on Interaction (Posttest)
6) Wiki Perceptions on Project Management (Pretest)
Illustrated in Figure 8, on factors relating to project
management, pretest results identified that individuals agreed
(52%) or strongly agreed (28%) that a wiki would project
management. Additionally, individuals agreed (40%) or
strongly agreed (36%) that a wiki would facilitate content
creation. Individuals also agreed (44%) or strongly agreed
(36%) that a wiki would facilitate the organization of project
Figure 8. Wiki on Project Management (Pretest)
7) Wiki Perceptions on Project Management (Postest)
Illustrated in Figure 9, on factors relating to project
management, posttest results show that individuals agreed
(50%) or strongly agreed (39%) that the OLC wiki facilitated
project management. Additionally, individuals agreed (50%)
or strongly agreed (39%) that the OLC wiki facilitated
content creation. Individuals also agreed (44%) or strongly
agreed (50%) that the OLC wiki facilitated organization of
project content.
Figure 9. Wiki on Project Management (Posttest)
C. Social Network Analysis
1) SNA Background
A social network analysis (SNA) is often used to identify
interactions that take place within a community. Specifically,
SNAs can provide a visual analysis of the social network and
allow for a better understanding of all participants in the
process of learning and interaction across online
environments [46]. The ability to view social graph structure
and community evolution is crucial to successful facilitation
of a learning design and can serve as an early indicator of its
success [47].
2) SNA Design
We constructed our SNA graphs using the 2014 NodeXL
Template for Microsoft Excel. NodeXL is a free and open
source extension that provides a range of basic network
analysis and visualization features [48]. Utilizing the
Fruchterman-Reingold Algorithm to generate a force-
22Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
directed layout, we are able to position team members (aka,
nodes) in our graph so that all edges are of more or less equal
length and there are as few crossing edges as possible.
Additionally, each arrow represents a weighted interaction,
where larger arrows indicate a greater number of interactions
between participants. Furthermore, bi-directional arrows
occur when there is interactivity between students, measured
in-degree / out-degree values. A high average value for in-
degree / out-degree indicates those students more frequently
interacting with one another.
3) OLC Sociogram
Illustrated in Figure 10 is the sociogram for our capstone
course. Project team members are identified by the group
letter and group project grade. For example, B2(92) was the
second member of Group B, whose final project grade was
92 out of 100. Overall, the course experienced high levels of
interaction with 1299 total aggregate interactions. Average
in-degree and out-degree was also high at 8.1 meaning. In
other words, on average, each student communicated with 8
other individuals. Additionally, the total number of unique
edges, or communications between any two nodes was 186.
Figure 10. OLC Sociogram
A. OLC Supports Community (R1)
Our first research question, R1, asked if OLC software
could enhance levels of course community. To answer this
question we look at a couple of factors. Community can be
measured in terms of social capital, or the common social
resource that facilitates information exchange, knowledge
sharing, and knowledge construction through continuous
interaction [49]. Furthermore, Social Presence Theory looks
at the degree to which an individual’s perception of an online
community, in its entirety, affects his or her participation in
that community. Therefore, our first point of reference
focuses our attention on survey responses relating to the
OLC software’s ability to enhance interaction and
community. Encouraging pretest results showed that
individuals were positive from the start that an OLC could be
important (84%). These perceptions continued throughout
the lifecycle of the intervention and it was more encouraging
to discover higher levels of agreement that the OLC was, in
fact, an important factor for facilitating interaction (95%).
Similarly, pretest results showed that individuals were
positive that an OLC could be an excellent tool for building
community (80%). And, again, posttest results supported
these perceptions, revealing even higher levels of agreement
(89%). The fact that the OLC is an open environment
allowed team members to review the progress of their
classmates and pose questions and receive responses in an
open dialogue.
Our second factor for measuring community focuses on
the SNA sociogram. Illustrated in Figure 10, it is evident that
the OLC was an active and engaging community. In fact, the
average in-degree/out-degree was 8, which indicates that a
third of all participants interacted with other members of the
OLC. An additional factor considers the large number of
unique peer-to-peer interactions (186), which means that
many members were communicating with many other
members. This factor reinforces the notion that OLC
software provides a high affordance for individuals to
discover and connect with other members of the community
in addition to those members from within their respective
project teams. As this community building was exactly the
goal of our OLC software, the presented results confirm that
the developed OLC software provided affordances for
students to cultivate their collaboration skills in team-based
IT projects. These findings are particularly important as
employers increasingly ask their employees to work in
virtual teams [50]. Furthermore, we interpret these important
results as a sign that the team-based IT project employed in
this study was industry-aligned.
B. OLC Wiki Supports Project Management (R2)
Our second research question, R2, asserted that the OLC
project wiki would enhance levels of interaction and
facilitate team collaboration. To answer this question we
consider a couple of factors. First, we focus our attention on
survey responses relating to the OLC wiki’s ability to
enhance group cohesion, collaboration and interaction.
Similar to R1 results, it was encouraging to find that the
majority of individuals believed that the wiki could facilitate
cohesion (72%), collaboration (72%) and interaction (72%).
More so, however, it was very encouraging to discover the
higher levels of agreement in the posttest that the wiki
actually contributed to higher levels of cohesion (89%),
collaboration (89%) and interaction (89%). Engagement
theory is concerned with meaningful engagement. This
amounts to finding the right tools for the right projects. Wiki
software is geared towards collaboration and interaction
where individuals bear witness to the evolution of a project’s
analysis and design. Wiki software also reinforces the notion
that projects can be both user-centric and group-oriented,
thus facilitating individual ownership and motivation.
Referring back to the sociogram in Figure 10, the
proximity of nodes reflects that these nodes interacted with
one another more frequently. In other words, the closer a set
of nodes are to one another, the more cohesive that group of
23Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
nodes are as a unit. As one would expect of our capstone
project teams, with the exception of Group F, all groups
exhibited high levels of team cohesion. This outcome was
largely to be expected since individuals, while functioning as
part of the larger course community, were still responsible
for working within their own respective project teams in
order to accomplish project milestones. Taken together, the
quantitative results at hand indicate that students utilized
OLC to set achievable project goals, resolve
misunderstandings about design decisions, and negotiate
deliverables, similar to the way team-based IT projects
function in the real world. In this way, collaborating students
used one another as a resource for learning, while also
working to complete their project milestones.
C. OLC and Wiki Supports Project Success (R3)
Our third research question, R3, asserted that based on
the successful adoption of the OLC as a mechanism for
fostering interaction and supporting community along with
the successful adoption of the wiki to support project
collaboration, the OLC would attribute to project success.
Our results indicate that this concept is also well supported.
An important measure of project success stems from a
group’s ability to establish the parameters of success through
analysis of business requirements and the design and
construction of the IT artifact. It was clear that the OLC
helped to contribute to this success as identified in both
survey responses and in each project team’s final product.
From the pretest survey responses gathered, it was
encouraging to discover that the majority of individuals
believed that the OLC wiki would facilitate project
management (80%), information organization (76%) content
organization (80%) and content creation (72%). More so,
however, it was encouraging to discover higher levels of
agreement in posttest responses, where individuals perceived
that the OLC wiki did, in fact, contribute to higher levels of
project management (89%), information organization (95%)
content organization (94%) and content creation (89%). Each
of these factors is an important dimension of project
management that promotes a shared understanding of
technical requirements, which helps to mitigate expensive
and time consuming rework. This concept applies to both
short-term and long-term IT projects.
Consequently, the combination of 1) an OLC, which
facilitated member interaction and course community and 2)
wiki software, which allowed individuals to collaborate
towards project milestones, allowed each team to
successfully meet capstone project expectations and deliver a
final IT artifact that represents understanding of business
D. OLC Supports Technical Learning
Finally, an important consideration should be discussed
surrounding the introduction of social software within an
academic setting for learning purposes. While the merits of
the OLC as a mechanism for project success and/or
enhancing levels of academic community may be debated,
the introduction of specialized social software, such as an
OLC, into team capstone courses provides a number of
tangible and intangible benefits not measured completely in
this research.
In today’s dynamic business world, social software is
pervasive across the IT sector. Additionally, capstone
courses are one of, if not, the final course for students
majoring and graduating with IT diplomas. Consequently,
introducing students to how communities of practice engage
in information sharing and knowledge construction using
such technologies identified in this study may go a long way
in preparing those students for similar communication and
interaction in the IT industry.
We acknowledge that a number of limitations exist in this
research. One limitation considers using an academic setting
as an environment to measure the impact OLC software has
on project-based teams. While we acknowledge that this
does limit the generalizability of the study, it should be noted
that there are numerous similarities between computer
supported learning and working teams that make knowledge
gained in one setting applicable to another setting [51].
Another limitation considers the relatively small sample
size analyzed in this study. While we acknowledge this fact,
our primary goal is to showcase OLC software as a proof-of-
concept for enhancing collaboration among project-based
teams, which we believe we succeed in doing on a number of
In this research we leverage the technical prowess of
todays’ digital natives and measure the impact of specialized
OLC software on project success within teams participating
in IT capstone courses. Our software allowed individuals to
function within close-knit project teams, while also
participating within a larger academic community of
practice. Through the analysis of survey data and supported
through a social network analysis, we discovered the
powerful and positive impact OLC software has on
supporting project success by facilitating peer-to-peer
interaction and enhancing levels of collaboration.
[1] StatisticBrain. (2012). Social networking statistics, Retrieved July 29,
2013, from:
[2] Jenks, J. (2011). “The digital world of millennials,” eMarketer.
[3] Williamson, D. (2007). “Social network marketing: ad spending and
usage, social network marketing,” eMarketer. Retrieved June 02,
2008, from
[4] Oblinger, D. and Oblinger, D. (2005). “Is it age or IT: first steps
toward understanding the Net Generation,” EDUCAUSE.
[5] Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate
Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press.
[6] Adams, EC and Freeman, C. (2000). “Communities of practice:
bridging technology and knowledge,” Journal of Knowledge
Management, 4(1), pp. 38-44.
24Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
[7] Thoms B., Garrett, N. and Ryan T. (2009). “Online learning
communities in the New ‘U’. Intl. Journal of Networking and Virtual
Organisations, 6(5).
[8] Shaw M., Tomayko JE. (1991) "Models for undergraduate project
courses in software engineering," Software Engineering Education in
Lecture Notes in Computer Science 536(1), pp 33-71.
[9] Fincher, S., Petre, M., & Clark, M. (2001). Computer science project
work: principles and pragmatics. London: Springer-Verlag.
[10] Goold, A.; Horan, P., (2002). "Foundation software engineering
practices for capstone projects and beyond," Proceedings. 15th
Conference on Software Engineering Education and Training,
[11] Lynch, K., Goold, A., & Blain, J. (2004). “Students’ pedagogical
preferences in the delivery of IT capstone courses.” Issues in
Informing Science and Information Technology, 1, 431-442.
[12] Lainez, M., Deville, Y., Dessy, A., Dejemeppe, C., Mairy, J., & Van
Cauwelaert, S. (2014). “A project-based introduction to agile
software development.” In L. Alves, P. Ribeiro, & R. Machado,
Project-Based Learning: An Environment to Prepare IT Students for
an Industry Career (pp. 230-249). IGI Global.
[13] Ayas K. and Zeniuk, N. (2001). “Project-based learning: building
communities of reflective practitioners,” Management Learning,
[14] Dunlap JC, (2005). "Problem-based learning and self-efficacy: how a
capstone course prepares students for a profession,” Educational
Technology Research and Development, 53(1), pp. 65-85
[15] Clarke, N. (2005) “Evaluating student teams developing unique
industry projects.” Proceedings of the 7th Australian Conference on
Computing Education (ACE2005) (pp. 21-30). Newcastle, Australia.
[16] Newman, I., Daniels, M., & Faulkner, X. (2003). “Open ended group
projects: a 'tool' for more effective teaching.” Proceedings of the Fifth
Australasian Conference on Computing Education, Adelaide,
Australia, 95-103.
[17] Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning - experience as the source of
learning and development. New York: Prentice Hall.
[18] Lynch, K., Heinze, A., & Scott, E. (2007). “Information technology
team projects in higher education: an international viewpoint,”
Journal of Information Technology Education, 6, 181-198.
[19] Thoms B., Garrett B., Soffer M. and Ryan T. (2007), “Resurrecting
graduate conversation through an online learning community,” IADIS
Multi Conference on Computer Science and Information Systems,
Lisbon, Portugal.
[20] Thoms B., Eryilmaz, E. (2014). “How media choice affects learner
interactions in distance learning classes,” Computers & Education,
[21] Johnson, C. (2001). “A survey of current research on online
communities of practice,” Internet and Higher Education, 4(1), 45-
[22] Palloff, R. and Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in
cyberspace: effective strategies for the online classroom, San
Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
[23] Savery, J. and Duffy, T. (1996). “Problem based learning: an
instructional model and its constructivist framework,” In B. Wilson,
Constructivist Learning Environments: Case Studies in Instructional
Design. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
[24] Hagstrom, F. and Wertsch, J. (2004). “Grounding social identity for
professional practice,” Topics in Language Disorders, 3(24), 162-
[25] Piaget, J. (1952). The Origins of Intelligence in Children, New York,
NY: Intl. University Press.
[26] Squires, D. (1999). “Educational software and learning: subversive
use and volatile design,” Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Hawaii
international Conference on System Sciences, IEEE.
[27] Matthews, M. (2002). “Constructivism and science education: a
further appraisal,” Journal of Science Education and Technology,
[28] Kuh, G., Cruce, T., Shoup, R., Kinzie, J. and Gonyea, R. (2008).
“Unmasking the effects of student engagement on college grades and
persistence,” Journal of Higher Education, 79(1), 540-563.
[29] Kearsley, G. and Schneiderman, B. (1999). “Engagement theory: a
framework for technology-based learning and teaching,” Retrieved
June 26, 2013, from
[30] Dalsgaard, C. (n.d.). “Social software: e-learning beyond learning
management systems,” Retrieved 6 26, 2013, from
[31] Waycott, J., Sheard, J. Thompson, and C. Clerehan, R. (2013).
“Making students' work visible on the social web: a blessing or a
curse?,” Computers & Education, 68(1), 86-95.
[32] Teeper, M. (2003). The rise of social software. netWorker, 7(1), 18–
[33] Tu, C. and McIsaac, M. (2002). “The relationship of social presence
and interaction in online classes,” The American Journal of Distance
Education, 16(1).
[34] Short, JA, Williams, E. and Christie, B., (1976). The Social
Psychology of Telecommunications. John Wiley & Sons.
[35] Garrison, R., Anderson, T., and Archer, W. (1999). “Critical inquiry
in a text-based environment: computer conferencing in higher
education,” The Internet and Higher Education, 2(3), 87-105.
[36] Richardson, JC and Swan, K. (2003). “Examining social presence in
online courses in relation to student’s perceived learning and
satisfaction,” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 7(1), 68-
[37] Ma, A. (2008). “Computer supported collaborative learning and
social creativity: a case study of fashion design,” Journal of
Information, Information Technology, and Organizations, 3(1), 17-
[38] Vasileiou, V. N. and Paraskeva, F. (2010). “Teaching role-playing
instruction in Second Life: an exploratory study,” Journal of
Information, Information Technology, and Organizations, 5(1).
[39] Thoms, B. (2011) “A dynamic social feedback system to support
learning and social interaction in higher education,” IEEE
Transactions on Learning Technologies, Issue: 99.
[40] Preece, J. (2001). “Sociability and usability in online communities:
determining and measuring success,” Behavior and Information
Technology, 20(5), 347-356.
[41] Boulos, M., Maramba, I., & Wheeler, S. (2006). Wikis, blogs and
podcasts: a new generation of web-based tools for virtual
collaborative clinical practice and education. BMC Medical
Education, 6(41), 1472–1480.
[42] Leuf, B., & Cunningham, W. (2001). The Wiki Way: Quick
Collaboration on the Web. Boston: Addison-Wesley Longman
Publishing Co.
[43] Xu, L. (2007). “Project the wiki way: using wiki for computer science
course project management,” Journal of Computing Sciences in
Colleges, 22(6), 109-116.
[44] Popescu, E. (2014). “Using wikis to support project-based learning: a
case study,” Proceedings of the 14th IEEE International Conference
on Advanced Learning Technologies, Athens, Greece.
[45] He W. and Yang L. (2015). "Is wiki a good tool facilitating team
collaboration in undergraduate education?" Proceedings of the 19th
25Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
Pacific Asia Conference on Information Systems (PACIS 2015),
Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.
[46] Freeman, L. (2004). The development of social network analysis.
Vancouver: Empirical Press.
[47] Bakharia, A., Heathcote, E., & Dawson, S. (2009). “Social networks
adapting pedagogical practice: SNAPP,” Proceedings of ASCILITE
Auckland 2009, (pp. 49-51), Auckland, New Zealand.
[48] Hansen, D., Shneiderman, B., & Smith, M. (2011). Analyzing Social
Media Networks with NodeXL: Insights from a Connected World.
Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann.
[49] Daniel, B., Schwier, R., & McCalla, G. (2003). “Social capital in
virtual learning communities and distributed communities of
practice,” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 29(3),
[50] Majchrzak, A., Malhotra, A., and John, R. (2005) “Perceived
individual collaboration know-how development through information
technology–enabled contextualization: evidence from distributed
teams,” Information Systems Research 16(1), pp. 9-27.
[51] Kirschner, P. A. and Erkens, G. (2013) “Toward a framework for
CSCL research,” Educational Psychologist, 48(1), pp. 1-8.
26Copyright (c) IARIA, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-61208-436-7
COLLA 2015 : The Fifth International Conference on Advanced Collaborative Networks, Systems and Applications
... In [8], researchers implement LMS software to facilitate service-learning, which provided basic communication and interpersonal exchange as well as archiving learning objects. However, in [9], researchers identified OSN software to be more effective at supporting project teams in capstone courses compared against a traditional LMS, which resulted in high levels of course learning, software satisfaction and course satisfaction. For the scope of this study, we categorize service-learning courses as niche subsets of projectbased courses, where students work with external organizations towards the completion of project milestones. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Service-learning continues to play an increasing role in higher education as instructors look to incorporate high impact practices that challenge students through active and experiential learning. Yet limitations in learning management systems (LMS) can be barriers to service-learning project success. In this paper, we present an experience report on the design and implementation of an interdisciplinary service-learning course for computer science. We also present on the design and implementation of specialized social networking software as a mechanism to support service-learning across interdisciplinary computer science courses. More specifically, this research introduces customized social software, consisting of blogging, wiki and discussion software as tools for facilitating the specialized needs of these courses. These needs range from the ability for project management and milestone tracking, which are supported through wiki technology and messaging, self-reflection, which is supported through blogging and information exchange and knowledge sharing, which are supported through online discussion boards, social bookmarking and file-sharing. Results were largely positive, with a majority of students indicating that the course learning environment supported learning, collaboration and course community.
... However, as identified in Thoms et al. [5,6,7], online social networking (OSN) software has shown to be more effective at replicating face-toface learning environments, resulting in higher perceived levels of interaction and community and overall levels of course satisfaction. OSN software has also shown success in academic communities by facilitating norms of reciprocity, building trust and providing new opportunities for collective action [8,9,10]. Furthermore, OSN software helps students develop shared understandings and mutual support and discussion spaces that can address problems students have with course material [11,12]. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
In this paper we present the design and construction of a sentiment analyzing discussion board, which was used to support learning and interaction within an existing online social networking (OSN) system. More specifically, this research introduces an innovative extension to learning management software (LMS) that combines real-time sentiment analysis with the goal of fostering student engagement and course community. In this study we perform data mining to extract sentiment on over 6,000 historical discussion board posts. This initial data was analyzed for sentiment and interaction patterns and used for guiding the redesign of an existing asynchronous online discussion board (AOD). The redesign incorporates a sentiment analyzer, which allows users to analyze the sentiment of their individual contributions prior to submission. Preliminary results found that the proposed system produced more favorable outcomes when compared to existing AOD software.
... This research builds atop preliminary research highlighting how online social networking (OSN) software can facilitate success in project teams [1]. More specifically, this study measures the adoption of OSN software across information technology (IT) capstone courses. ...
Full-text available
In this paper, we explore the use of online social networking (OSN) software as ad-hoc project management (PM) software. Through the adaptation of specialized OSN software, project teams can facilitate group collaboration as they work towards completing project milestones. This study aims to showcase the importance of sustained engagement throughout the lifecycle of the project, across both meta-level engagement with the external community and micro-level engagement within and among the project team members. More specifically, this work identifies how OSN technologies cultivate online community which can be shown to augment project motivation and participation resulting in project success. Under the lens of an existing theoretical model, one which highlights individual collaboration within online community spaces, we measure perceptions of the customized OSN software before and after its implementation. A content analysis highlights how successful project teams maximized features of the system, which is supported by a social network analysis (SNA), which highlights levels of individual engagement across the project lifecycle as they relate to online interaction and project results. Survey data identifies individual perceptions across various aspects of the system as it fosters social interaction and build online community, represented in terms of social capital.
Full-text available
Social capital has recently emerged as an important interdisciplinary research area. It is frequently used as a framework for understanding various social issues in temporal communities, neighbourhoods and groups. In particular, researchers in the social sciences and the humanities have used social capital to understand trust, shared understanding, reciprocal relationships, social network structures, common norms and cooperation, and the roles these entities play in various aspects of temporal communities. Despite proliferation of research in this area, little work has been done to extend this effort to technology-driven learning communities (also known as virtual learning communities). This paper surveys key interdisciplinary research areas in social capital. It also explores how the notions of social capital and trust can be extended to virtual communities, including virtual learning communities and distributed communities of practice. Research issues surrounding social capital and trust as they relate to technology-driven learning communities are identified.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Wikis are social media tools which allow users to easily create and edit pages collaboratively, enabling the co-construction of content. Due to their potential to facilitate cooperative and collaborative learning, they have started to be used in educational settings, with generally positive results. This paper reports on the successful experience of using a wiki as a support tool for a project-based learning scenario, in Computer Science education. The main assets of the study consist in its relatively large scale (215 students over a period of 4 years) and the assessment of data coming from two sources: students' activity on the wiki (collected by a dedicated tracking tool) and students' perceptions regarding the use of wiki (collected by means of opinion surveys). Some lessons learned and potential solutions for further boosting student engagement and promoting collaboration in wiki-supported learning are also included in the paper.
Full-text available
Although collaborative learning, often supported by computer networks (widely called computer-supported collaborative learning, or CSCL) is currently being implemented at all levels of education, it has not always proven to be the wonder-tool that educators envisioned and has often not lived up to the high expectations that educators had for it. In this introduction to the special issue on CSCL, a framework for research on CSCL is presented. This framework is presented in the form of a 3 × 3 × 3 cube, with the dimensions Level of Learning (cognitive, social, and motivational), Unit of Learning (individual, group/team, and community) and Pedagogical Measures (interactive, representational, and guiding). Based on this framework, the different contributions are discussed, and the empty cells—which should form the basis for further theoretical research—become evident.
Full-text available
The biggest potential is beyond controversy the knowledge of employees. Understanding their needs of speaking up can lead to huge benefits.To protect employees and their needs it is furthermore important to take their concerns about privacy as qualified.
Full-text available
In this research we explore aspects of learning, social interaction and community across online learning, also known as distance learning, in higher education. We measure the impact of online social networking (OSN) software versus traditional learning management system (LMS) software. Guided by a theoretical model for how individuals learn and interact within online communities, we measure student perceptions of learning, social interaction and course community before and after our interventions. Survey instruments measure perceived learning, social interaction and community, which we further explore using social network analysis (SNA). Survey results identified that students experienced higher levels of perceived social interaction and course community and, overall, had higher levels of satisfaction with OSN software than those using LMS software. Along this line, SNA results corroborated that OSN software yielded a higher number of interactions, providing a more engaging learning experience.
Businesses, entrepreneurs, individuals, and government agencies alike are looking to social network analysis (SNA) tools for insight into trends, connections, and fluctuations in social media. Microsoft's NodeXL is a free, open-source SNA plug-in for use with Excel. It provides instant graphical representation of relationships of complex networked data. But it goes further than other SNA tools -- NodeXL was developed by a multidisciplinary team of experts that bring together information studies, computer science, sociology, human-computer interaction, and over 20 years of visual analytic theory and information visualization into a simple tool anyone can use. This makes NodeXL of interest not only to end-users but also to researchers and students studying visual and network analytics and their application in the real world. In Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL, members of the NodeXL development team up to provide readers with a thorough and practical guide for using the tool while also explaining the development behind each feature. Blending the theoretical with the practical, this book applies specific SNA instructions directly to NodeXL, but the theory behind the implementation can be applied to any SNA. To learn more about Analyzing Social Media Networks and NodeXL, visit the companion site at Walks readers through using NodeXL while explaining the theory and development behind each step, providing takeaways that can apply any SNA Demonstrates how visual analytics research can be applied to SNA tools for the mass market Presents readers with case studies using NodeXL on popular networks like email, Facebook, Twitter, and wikis.
Social networking has become one of the most popular applications on the Internet since the burst of the dot-com bubble. Apart from being a haven for teenagers and online marketers, social networking sites are increasingly adopted by the corporate community. The trend makes viable many new business models and applications. The popularity of these sites has altered the way society interacts, but it also greatly heightened the threats of cyber crime. Safety and crime issues aside, the massive amount of user-generated content in these Web 2.0-enabled social networking sites are becoming fertile grounds for viruses. Furthermore, these sites pose great challenges on how to protect copyrighted works as they are havens for digital content sharing. Society must learn to balance the benefits of social networking with its drawbacks as the phenomenon is an inescapable global trend, expanding at the speed of light.