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A collaborative literature review

For the past 3 weeks in the Education Incubator office, the team has been working together to review the literature around MOOCs and how they are integrated into the HE curriculum.

It’s been a blast.

Often the literature review is not much fun. It’s a solitary affair, stuck at a computer screen. What are you looking for? How to analyse and synthesise the literature to draft a ‘story’? How can you bring together the main points in the literature in a critical yet engaging report? For our project we ripped up the rule book, and took a collaborative approach.

We were asked to review the literature on integrating MOOCs into the curriculum. We began by identifying areas that we felt should be in the final report – using the biggest sticky notes anyone has ever seen. These notes were posted around the walls of the office, and the team each selected an area to work on.

As we identified and reviewed the literature, we could discuss our findings, and share elements which would fit into each other’s writing. This was initially an activity for the final 2 hours of the day, but soon we were spotting useful material throughout the day, and sharing ideas about how to proceed. The work came together, and we found that our collaboration enabled us to develop a coherent piece, with a clear thread, whilst, at the same time, retaining our individual ‘voices’.

For some of the team this was a real learning opportunity too, writing academically in an environment where questions were welcome, and feedback instantaneous. The incubator office has been a highly productive space. I asked the three project officers for their thoughts on the collaborative literature review, and include them below.


“As someone who has written a number of literature reviews for other university and academic projects previously, the new collaborative method we’ve been using for our review of the MOOC literature in the incubator has been both eye opening and enjoyable. Rather than each of us working in isolation or treading on one another’s toes, we’ve been able to focus on our areas of interest whilst sharing any incidentally useful information with each other. We’re all aware of what each of us is working on – there’s enough difference between each segment that we don’t cover the same ground, but because we’re all aware of what we’re working on we can collaborate when there’s some crossover. It’s much more efficient than just dividing up papers and working through them, and has definitely been a methodology I’d use again in the future.”


“Although I have previous experience of completing literature reviews, carrying one out collaboratively is a new and exciting concept. I have found it highly informative and made use of my report writing skills developed in my undergraduate degree. In particular, researching into the different MOOC models and taxonomies has given me an appreciation of why MOOCs are produced in the first place, and how categorisation can help inform effective MOOC design and delivery – an important factor to consider when developing next year’s MOOCs with the Incubator. The practise of reviewing literature and compiling a report will undoubtedly prepare me for the challenges to come when undertaking postgraduate study next year.”



“The process of a collaborative literature review however has been a uniquely meditative and simultaneously busy experience. Usually I find that writing or researching anything independently is so freeing that I can barely focus on my screen and I eventually find a million other things to distract me instead of writing.

The ambiance and communal spirit of everyone hard at work writing, researching and talking was however a very effective focusing tool was. It’s free enough that I can write but also limiting enough that I’ve been able to focus on the task at hand.”

Overall our collaborative literature review seems to have been a great success, it’s a technique I’ll use again in future.


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