Abstract: Wikis, freely editable collections of web pages, exhibit potential for a flexible documentation and communication tool for collaborative design tasks as well as support for team design thinking early in the design process. The purpose of this work is to analyze dimensions of wiki technologies from a communication perspective as applicable to design. A wiki was introduced in a globally distributed product development course, and the experiences and performance of colocated and distributed teams in the course were assessed through observations, surveys, and site usage analytics. With a focus on communication in design, we explore the advantages and disadvantages of using wikis in student engineering design teams. Our goal is to use wiki technologies to enhance support for design processes while exploiting the potential for increasing shared understanding among teams. Distributed teams used the wiki more as a design tool and were more supportive of its use in the course whereas colocated teams used it for documentation. The usage patterns, the number and type of files uploaded, and the wiki structure provided indicators of better performing teams. The findings also suggest ways to improve and inform students about best practices using the wiki for design and to transform the wiki as a support tool for communication during early design collaboration.
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