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High Impact Practices Spotlight Series: Collaborative Projects and Assignments

By Tiffany MacLennan, Maple League Research Fellow and Strategist and Tanisha Campbell, Maple League Student Fellow, Knowledge Mobilization & Community Engagement

In today’s High Impact Practice Spotlight Series[1], we look at collaborative projects and assignments. Through collaborative projects and assignments students learn to solve problems within a group setting and develop communication skills, while simultaneously deepening their own knowledge of the topic. In this spotlight series, we see how in-class research projects can be collaborative, how discussion groups can be leveraged for deeper understanding and how group work can aid in students’ development.

Dr. Erin Austen – St. Francis Xavier University

As a way to meaningfully learn about accessibility, students (n=30) in Applied Psychology Health (Psychology 362) were co-researchers in a course project. In Phase 1, students worked in small groups to conduct an accessibility audit of the entrances and pathways leading to four high-traffic buildings on campus. Using the data, they identified areas for improvement. In Phase 2, students co-constructed a survey designed to capture perceptions of campus accessibility and identify priority areas for action. After obtaining ethics approval, the survey was circulated to the campus community. Students reviewed the data, developed a coding scheme, conducted a cursory coding of the data, then summarized key findings. In Phase 3, they reflected on what they learned from the project; they indicated that it deepened their understanding of accessibility. After the course ended, two students volunteered to continue working on the project; they re-coded and analyzed the data and are co-writing a manuscript.

Dr. Chelsea Gardner – Acadia University

I often integrate Wikipedia assignments into my classes at Acadia university through the Wiki Education platform, which is a great example of a high-impact pedagogical practice: students embark upon a semester-long project wherein they begin with a gradual introduction to the Wikipedia platform and complete low-stakes trainings and exercises throughout (e.g. ‘Evaluate an Existing Article’, ‘Add a Citation’, and ‘Contributing Images and Media Files’). Over the course of the semester, classroom discussions cover research methods, how to write in a clear, straightforward and unbiased manner, and guidelines for peer review. As a group we address topics including institutional knowledge barriers – Wiki Education acknowledges the considerable access to knowledge that post-secondary students enjoy through institutional affiliation and contextualizes that within a global scale:

“As a student, you can access knowledge that most people can only dream of. You have your library. You have access to academic journals and textbooks. Writing for Wikipedia makes knowledge available for others to learn from. You also have your brain. You have the critical thinking skills, and the academic know-how, to help others make sense of the subjects you’re studying. Imagine the difference your knowledge can make in people’s lives. That’s why we’re asking you to write for Wikipedia.”

This statement is both enlightening and empowering for students. We also collectively discuss Wikipedia’s content gaps, and students are often displeased that there exists a stark gender gap on Wikipedia, in that male-identifying individuals greatly outnumber any other demographic group both in Wikipedia content (articles, specifically biographies) and Wikipedia participation (editors). This is especially salient in undergraduate humanities classrooms like my own, wherein – at least in North America – individuals identifying as women tend to outnumber those identifying as men.

Ultimately, my microscale goal is for students to enjoy the assignment by improving articles that interest them or those that they feel are important to improve, whether related to popularity, content gap, or another reason entirely. Enjoyment of the assignment and the sense of accomplishment that accompanies impactful research and knowledge production directly affect students’ decisions to continue to edit and improve Wikipedia in the future, thereby continuing to ameliorate the collective body of globally accessible information about the ancient Mediterranean world

Dr. Jennifer Downing – Bishop’s University

These times have been challenging for both the students and for myself, as a prof. Since the start of COVID-19, there have been many changes to my pedagogical approach for class delivery. However, some approaches have had surprising benefits that I may continue when classes return to normal. One approach that I used, was having students collaborate with a partner to lead online summaries and discussions from class readings. Once the students understood that it was a critical online discussion, it went well. I believe the shared experiences and critical discussion augmented what was taught in class. Furthermore, for this semester, I have included guest speakers for both my AGR 172 & AGR 303 classes. I believe these speakers add experiences and knowledge that truly enrich the students’ learning.

Dr. Jessica Riddell – Bishop’s University

Teaching Seventeenth-century literature in the midst of COVID, geo-political instability, and a rapidly evolving news cycle is not for the faint of heart. This term, I’ve taken 300 level senior seminar on Paradise Lost and renamed it to “Milton’s Guide to Wicked Problems.” Taking a trial as a guiding principle, we ask a central question: who’s fault was it? We are, of course, referring to the original sin, the dirty deed that got us kicked out of the garden and inspired two millennia of laments over the loss of our pre-lapsarian state. So who’s fault was it? Is Satan guilty of Crimes against Humanity (using the International Criminal Court as a guide)? Or did God set us up for failure? Is it all Eve’s fault, or was it the stupidity of Adam that inspired our [down]fall? Students work together to defend or prosecute all these players, and the course culminates in a trial. How that trial takes shape, and how students participate (as witnesses, prosecutors, advocates, orators) is up to the members of class to design, create, script, and stage

Dr. Elizabeth Jewett – Mount Allison University

Experience the Arts (CANA2201) facilitates student-led and self-directed learning through collaborative course design and participation in various artistic endeavours. Students create and form consensus on assignments and assessments. They gain hands-on experiences via interactions with local artists, speakers, industry representatives, knowledge holders, and gamers. Certain activities are pre-arranged; the majority are chosen by the students during the semester. Some incorporate existing co-and-extracurricular activities and jobs into these experiential learning dynamics. Roundtables and contemplative writing hone deep reflection and listening skills. Connections are made between classroom work and wider life and skill sets; new (inter)cultural milieus are explored; and empathy is generated towards colleagues’ experiences and those of the artistic communities.

[1] The HIP Visibility Project is a part of a larger HIP project conducted by Research Fellow and Strategist Tiffany MacLennan. The goal of the HIP project is to make HIPs more accessible for both faculty and students. For more information about the HIP project or would like to participate, please contact Tiffany at

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