Entry-Level Vs. Senior-Level Use of the Co-web for CS Classes




Tamara L. Clegg


With Mark Guzdial



CS 7001 Project 3


November 24, 2003
Tamara L. Clegg








Entry-Level Vs. Senior-Level Use of the Co-web for CS Classes



The Co-web at Georgia Tech

A co-web, also termed a swiki, is an asynchronous collaborative tool that is used to compliment existing face-to-face groups [4].  Co-webs are being used in numerous classes for this purpose at Georgia Tech.  The purpose of this study is to analyze it’s use in two Computer Science classes: Introduction to Media Computation (CS 1315) and User Interface Design (CS 4750).  CS 1315 is a beginning level computer science course for non-majors [3], whereas CS 4750 is a senior-level class for computer science and psychology majors.  This study seeks to explore the differences in uses of the two classes along with the differences in roles that emerge on the two swiki’s.  The study also explores what the swiki implies about the way in which students work together and it compares the peaks of student activity to course deliverables in each class.




The co-web started as an iteratively implemented system.  As more uses are known, enhancements can be made to the co-web to better suit the needs of users.  By analyzing the differences in uses of entry-level and senior-level computer science classes, my studies give further insights on how the co-web can better suit the needs of it’s users.  Not only will my studies benefit designers of the co-web, teachers will also be able to use this information to better prepare and plan courses that use the co-web.  As use of the co-web spreads, the importance of this will be increased.




The procedure for completion of this project was as follows:

I.                    Develop pertinent questions

II.                 Compose methods for answering these questions

III.               Write Code to analyze the co-web sites

IV.              Qualitatively analyze the co-web sites

V.                 Visually display data

VI.              Compose write up of my results




Course Information


CS 1315 is a new course offered at Georgia Tech whose target learners are liberal arts students.  The goal of the course is to teach the students “computation for communication” by writing programs to manipulate sound, images, and movies [3].  Students of various academic backgrounds take the course, many of whom are upper-classmen.  Assessment is based on programming assignments, lab assignments, quizzes, take-home exams, and in-class exams. 


CS 4750 is a course for computer science and psychology majors to discover the importance of the human-computer interface in software design.  It fosters the interaction of human factors engineers and computer scientists by requiring these students to work collaboratively to design and evaluate a user-interface for a real world “client” [2].  Students complete a four-part project as well as short assignments and individual homework.


Organization and Use of Co-webs


CS 1315

CS 1315 consists of a banner section and a main body.  The banner contains links that are displayed throughout navigation of the websites.  It consists of pages for announcements, weekly comments, homework questions, homework display, help with tools, and a soap box discussion.


The announcements page, maintained by the teacher and teaching assistants, is used for administrative announcements such as cancelled office hours, new information available on the co-web, and recitation instructions and information.  Students can ask homework and grading questions on the weekly comments and homework pages.  Questions are posed here, by students, that are answered mostly by the teachers and teaching assistants.  On these pages, some students post code with errors and ask for help debugging their code.  Students are encouraged to display their current homework assignments on the co-web’s homework gallery pages.  They often add stories to contextualize their creations.  The banner also consists of links to ask questions about the tools students use to complete their coding assignments.  Finally, the soap box provide students with a place to vent.  People use the soapbox to list quotes, ask class questions, talk about sports, and to make announcements about community events.


The body of the web page contains information pages set up by the professor, such as the class syllabus, learning objectives, grading policy, etc.  It also contains archived pages of links from previous banner items.  Students will find exam reviews and personal (hobby, entertainment, etc) sites in the body of the main page.  The Midterm Review page consists of all midterm reviews for the current and previous semesters.  For each question on these midterms, there is a link for students to post answers to these problems, comments, or questions about the problem.

























The following graphs provide detailed information on how students use the co-webs.  The number of modifications made to the co-web on various dates are used to determine how students comments, questions, and collaborative work correlates to assignment due dates.





The graph of modifications to the comments page for the week of November 16th (shown above) shows that comments and questions peaked right before the quiz and pre-quiz date and on the day Homework 5 was turned in.


The graph of the amount of modifications made to the soapbox by date shows that even though most comments made on this site were off topic, participation still peaked around major exams.  This could suggest that use of the soapbox centered on students navigating the web site for course-related reasons.



The graph of modifications made to both the Homework 5 Questions page and the Homework 5 gallery page show that students also worked at a steady rate on the homework, peaking right before it was due.  The similar slopes of the two lines also suggest that students were displaying their homework as they were asking questions about them.


CS 4750

CS 4750 consists of a class web site that is not a co-web.  This site contains a link to the co-web, assignment and grading information, and resource links.  The class co-web consists of a link back to the class web site, a Who’s Who area, current grades, signup sheets, resource information, and current projects.  The students use the Who’s Who site to display pictures of themselves, along with personal information, likes and dislikes, and skills.  Students were to use this information for selecting groups [2].


For this study, I focused on the layouts of two team websites in particular because they have two different styles of usage.  The Aquanet group has links for each deliverable part of their project along with a notes link at the bottom of each page.  It appears as though the notes, edited by one person, are the result of face-to-face group meetings. 

This graph shows the number of modifications made to the Aquanet group’s main site by date.  The graph shows that the group had rather sporadic use of their co-web site which peaked around each project deliverable due date.


The Green Sands group’s web site consists of links for each part deliverable as well as links for commenting and threaded discussion.  Each part deliverable link is broken into categories with questions listed at the bottom.  At the bottom of each page (for each category), there is a place for comments.  Group members use this part to write comments to the author of that particular category.  The author usually responds back to the comments with action or more comments.  On the comment and threaded discussion pages, group members listed their problems with the project and wrote comments to each other.  These comments gave encouragement and opinions as well as allowed students to ask questions.  Constructive criticism was given in a non-offensive tone.



The graph above displays the number of modifications to various discussion sites on the Green Sands group’s web site.  Activity has peaks that appear to be centered around project deliverable dates, although the peaks occur several days in advance of these deliverable dates.  This suggests that the group works well in advance of due dates, although activity continues to be sporadic.



Roles on the Co-web


I.                    Authors

In the co-web environment, authors are users who add content to the co-web sites by adding to existing pages or creating new ones.  Authors are responsible for finding places to add content, making sure it is accessible, creating links between content, and recapturing previously edited or modified content [4]. 


On the CS 1315 co-web, the authors were the students, teacher, and the teaching assistants.  The students mainly added content by posting questions in the proper co-web link to which the teacher and teaching assistants responded.  They also added content to the personal sites such as restaurant and movie reviews, and the soapbox.  Rarely did students respond to other students’ comments.  The teacher and teaching assistants also added content to the co-web with informational web sites.  The teaching assistants had personal websites on the co-web.


In the CS 4750 co-web, the teacher authors informational sites on the class co-web.  However, only the students author the group co-web sites, which are the major parts of the class co-web.  The information content the teacher provides mainly links to other web sites, such as the class web site.  However, students used their group sites to author their class deliverables.


The major differences in authoring between the two sites are the amounts of interaction with the teacher and the type of authoring used by the two classes.  The CS 1315 co-web consists of numerous focused discussions on sites specifically for questions and comments.  These discussions were mainly between students and the teacher or between students and the teaching assistants.  The CS 4750 co-web did not consist of any student to teacher interaction.  The teacher posts information links to the co-web, while students use it for collaborative writing.  Some groups chose to also incorporate focused discussions, while others replaced this with face-to-face meeting notes.


II.                 Purpose Agents


Purpose agents are responsible for giving a purpose or context to activities on the co-web [4].  They create a set of web pages to support certain activities and use the co-web to distribute class information to the students.


In the CS 1315 class, the main purpose agent is the teacher.  The teacher sets up the links for organization of the co-web.  Students in CS 4750 act more as purpose agents than the teacher.  The teacher provides the framework for the main co-web site, but students are responsible for the organization of their own group web sites.  Most students organize their sites by the deliverables they turn in: they created a link for each part.  However, some students also created discussion sites for their groups. 





III.               Central Users


Central users of co-webs guide the interaction of the authors to better structurally define the space and integrate exceptional work into a case library.  Again, in CS 1315, the teacher is the main central user.  He governs the use of site links.  When students post materials incorrectly, or delete needed materials, he posts warning messages asking students to use the co-web properly.  He also requests (but does not require) that students post their completed homework assignments to the gallery.  If students have a choice, they will more than likely only post the assignments they are proud of.  He also provides links to previous classes’ work to act as a case library.  In CS 4750 both teachers and students act as central users.  Students are responsible for the upkeep of their web pages and receive no help from the teacher with this.  However, by requiring students to maintain a co-web page with their deliverables, the teacher is in essence creating a case library for other students to view.





The major difference between CS 1315 and CS 4750 was in the structure of their assignments.  The entry-level course, CS 1315, required students to complete many different individual assignments.  While CS 4750, the senior-level course, also requires students to complete individual assignments, its main focus is on the semester project.  This difference directly affects the way students in both classes use the co-web.  CS 1315 students find threaded discussion useful for their more structured assignments while CS 4750 students have more of a need for collaborative authoring.  It was also noted that students in the entry-level computer science class were less formal with their use of the co-web.  These students use slang in their comments, post jokes onto the co-web, and hold numerous off topic conversations on the co-web.  CS 4750 students, on the other hand, rarely held off topic discussions, used less slang, and did not tend to joke around on the co-web.




Providing support for both formal and informal use of the co-web, teacher to student and student to student interaction, threaded discussion, and collaborative writing continue to be of extreme importance in future design of the co-web.  The structure of assignments and the academic level of a course have major implications on the uses of the co-web for computer science classes.  The co-web has the potential to be the wave of the future in computer science classrooms.  For this reason, it is imperative that uses of this tool continue to be explored.




[1]  CS 1315 Co-web, http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/cs1315, Georgia Institute of Technology 2003.

[2] CS 4750B Fall 2003, http://swiki.cc.gatech.edu:8080/cs4750/912, Georgia Institute of Technology 2003.

[3]  Guzdial, M., “A Media Computation Course for Non-Majors.”  ITiCSE, June 30-July 2, 2003.

[4]  Guzdial, M., Rick, J., Kerimbaev, B.  "Recognizing and Supporting Roles in CSCW" Proceedings ACM CSCW 2000, 2000.

[5]  Guzdial, M.  Teacher and Student Authoring on the Web for Shifting Agency.”  AERA 99 Session: How can CSCL (Computer Supported Collaborative Learning) change classroom culture and patterns of interaction among participants?, 1999.