UIT Academic Technology Launches New Version of Award-Winning Spark Website

Screen shot of the new Spark website home page.

Screen shot of the new Spark website home page.

When Spark – UIT’s suite of Web communication and collaboration tools – was launched in August 2006, UIT-AT staff had some ideas on how it might be used by Tufts instructors, students, and researchers for teaching, learning and research. But they never could have anticipated the multiple ways the Spark tools are being used today. As of the writing of this article, more than 1400 wikis, 650 blogs and 100 podcast channels have been created at Tufts. New content is being published every day, and more and more users are returning to the site to accomplish their web-related tasks.

Spark was designed to allow additional tools to be added over time in order to meet the changing needs of the Tufts community. The Spark suite which initially contained a blogging and wiki tool now includes forums, podcast publication, mapping, media annotation, and web conferencing. The ease with which these tools can be used and their flexibility in meeting a wide variety of instructional, research and co-curricular goals resulted in Spark receiving in August 2007 a Campus Technology Award as an Innovator in the Social/Community Networking category.

April 2009 marks another important development in the evolution of Spark – the release of Spark 2.0. This redesigned site continues to leverage the power of what are known as Web 2.0 tools. Web 2.0 can be defined as a new generation of tools and services providing-easy-to-use interfaces that allow anyone with an Internet connection to participate in Web content creation. There is huge potential in how these Web 2.0 tools can support teaching, learning, and research by providing a multitude of ways for communicating and collaborating over time and distance.

To enable both returning and first-time Spark users to effectively use the 2.0 tools, the Spark interface was redesigned with the following goals in mind:

  1. To provide active users with an easier way of getting to their own content.
  2. To provide visitors with information on recent activities within the Spark web site.
  3. To better integrate the support and help pages that show users how to use the available tools.

By improving access and making people aware of how others are using Spark tools, we hope the redesign will foster even more community activity, making Spark a conduit for forging connections between people and ideas across Tufts University.

To begin sparking your own connections, watch the Spark 2.0 video, and explore how Tufts faculty are using the tools.

David Grogan, Manager, Curricular Technology Group, UIT Academic Technology

How is Spark currently being used?

Here are ways in which Tufts community members are using three of the available Spark tools:


Colleen Worrell of the Tufts American Studies program teaches a large survey course on African American history. Colleen wanted “to be able to have more one-on-one interaction with students in a larger survey course. I basically applied the standard response essays or response journal assessment method to blogging, which enabled me to keep track of and guide students reading and critical thinking skills.”

Each one of Colleen’s students keeps their own blog to which they publish their responses. Colleen is then able to keep track of student responses and provide feedback directly to the student via the blog’s commenting feature.

Visit a student blog here and here.

Find out more about Spark Blogs.



The Department of Education of Tufts University wanted to provide a mechanism for each of their students to maintain an online, multimedia portfolio of their course work, reflections on their teaching experiences, and resumes. They also wanted students to be able to easily share their online portfolios with each other and to be able to comment upon each others’ work. The goal was to encourage a community of learning and experience amongst the Department of Education cohorts.

In consultation with UIT-AT, the Department of Education decided to develop a system using Spark Wikis. It was determined that the wiki technology would provide an easy to use, yet flexible, platform that would allow each student to further develop and customize his or her own “online space,” as well as provide the Department with a way to aggregate new content from each student site into a common area.

Visit the Department of Education’s Community Voice wiki.

Find out more about Spark Wikis.


  Media Markup

Dr. Robert Kalish of Tufts Medical School needed a way to observe and provide feedback to medical students who conduct examinations with actors posing as patients as part of their studies in compassionate care. However, he did not want to be present in the room during the examination as it did not provide the student, or patient, with an authentic or comfortable experience.

The solution was to record the exam in his absence using a digital video recorder that was set up ahead of time. Once the examination was completed, the recording was uploaded onto Spark’s Media Markup tool. Using the simple markup interface, Dr. Kalish provided pointed feedback at relevant moments within the recording. Students could then log into Spark to retrieve those comments and instantly view the related portions of the recording. Students can also provide their own commentary and reply to Dr. Kalish directly via Spark.

Find out more about Spark MediaMarkup.

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