Creating a Pre-Service Teachers' Virtual Space
##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->Issues in Design and Development ofCross-Country Collaboration
Overview of the Project
The virtual collaboration project began with the desire of the threeauthors to create a learning environment that would operate as a catalyst topromote student collaboration on Web-based projects in their respective“Computers in Education” courses. At the time, the authors were instructors atthree different universities, two in Indiana and one in North Carolina. Theobjective was to create a project in which our students engaged in meaningful,virtual interactions through the discussion of computer-related topics ineducation.
We agreed to facilitate student interactions by placing theproject in a more authentic context: a problem-based learning environment.Students were asked to envision themselves as participatory members of the 21stCentury Teachers Network (www.21ct.org). They were given thefollowing professional responsibilities, as stated by this organization: tobuild their own expertise in using new learning technologies; to share theirexpertise and experience with colleagues; to use their expertise with studentsas part of the daily learning process; and to work to make classroom technologyavailable to all students and teachers.
Over the course of the semester, students worked in groupscomprised of individuals from each campus. They were asked to read articlesrelated to five areas of educational technology: equity, acceptable use,software evaluation, technology funding and integrating technology. Each memberof a group was given a different article to read, and was entrusted with theresponsibility of summarizing the content for his or her group mates. Aftercompletion of the summaries for each area, the group collaborated to develop ashared statement on that issue. This statement was intended to capture theissues from each article, along with the group’s own sentiment. To accomplishthis, students collaborated via e-mail and an asynchronous Web-basedcommunication tool.
Design and Development Issues
What follows is a discussion of the design and developmentprocess we used during our collaboration project. Prior to the analysis anddevelopment of a virtual collaboration project, an individual must propose anidea to colleagues as the catalyst of the project. This initiative began with asimple e-mail based on a desire to collaborate:
I’ll beteaching a section of Computers in Education at IUN this semester and waswondering if anyone there was interested in a collaborative project betweencourses? I’ve got lots of ideas that we could start brainstorming.
It is important to note that the three instructors involvedin this project were colleagues in the past. It is recommended that you beginvirtual collaboration projects with those you know. This familiarity andcollegial relationship will help give the group patience, leading to a moreproductive end product. After collaborating via e-mail, the group began theanalysis and development of project details via e-mail, phone conferencing, andWeb-based conferencing.
For the remainder of this section, the ADDIE model is usedas an organizing element for the discussion. The ADDIE model is a generalinstructional design model that includes the following elements: Analysis,Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation. While the model appears tobe linear, it is in fact an iterative process. During the design of theproject, we moved back and forth between many of the general categoriesoutlined in the model.
1. The Analysis
As we commenced the project, we reflected first on the needsand abilities of our students and the context of the project within our courses,as well as important design issues. During this process, we sought answers tothe following questions related to our course and to the nature of ourstudents.
· Students — Who are the learners? What dothey already know about the topic? What are their communication abilities? Willthe students have access to the Web outside of class? How comfortable are theywith technology?
· Coursecontent — What content could be covered with the project? What content iscurrently being covered in each of the courses? Where is the relevant overlap?What proportion of each of the class’ overall grade would this project beworth? What are the scheduling issues that need to be addressed?
As we learned and had anticipated, this portion of thedesign process was and is the most critical. Since the project was going toinvolve three different courses at different universities, it was importantthat all three instructors had extensive awareness and knowledge of allstudents in the three sections, as well as an understanding of what the goalsfor each of the courses were. We achieved this through comparisons of coursesyllabi and online student information forms that asked about past experiencein the subject area and interest in certain topics. Through this process wequickly learned that even though we were teaching the same courses, eachinstructor was placing a different amount of emphasis on the various elementsin the course. Somehow we needed to find a common area and design a projectthat would benefit everyone, while being cognizant of university requirementsat each institution.
The fact that we were collaborating from a distance made theanalysis phase even more critical. A clear understanding of everyone andeverything involved helped to avoid misinterpretations and misunderstandingsfurther down the road. Do not assume anything. Communication is critical forthe success of a long distance collaborative project such as this one. Weperceive this as modeling the process prior to implementation.
2. Designing Student Activities
Once we gathered the information above, we began to designthe activity. The trick was to create an activity that would incorporate asmuch information as possible from the initial analysis. We knew that we wantedstudents to engage in small group discussions. Also, we learned in the analysisphase that each instructor wanted their students to read articles relating tothe introduction of computers in classrooms. Therefore, we started the designprocess by looking deeper into the content of the readings. We clustered thearticles into similar categories and came up with general topics for the fivedifferent clusters. The topics were enriched with the following focusquestions:
· Equity — How can each student have equalaccess to technology to maximize his or her potential to learn?
· AcceptableUse — How can I protect each student and myself when I utilize technology in myclassroom?
· Software Selection and Use — What do I needto consider?
· Technology Funding — How can I improve myinstruction by obtaining more and better computer hardware and software?
· Integration of Technology into Teaching andLearning — How can teachers integrate technology into their instructionalsituation? More specifically, what are the critical factors that they need toconsider, and why?
Next we looked for the most effective way to facilitate thediscussion. We decided that we would have groups of three to four students withat least one student from each class. First, we provided the students withthought-provoking questions for each topic (see above). The goal was to havethe students collaborate and write a position statement in response to eachquestion. Second, we assigned the readings so that each member of the groupwould be responsible for one facet of the overall topic. Each read a differentarticle related to the topic and provided their group with a summary. Throughthis process, each person would be an “expert” in one part of the overallissue.
We found that these two strategies for facilitating discussionwere very effective. By having teams with people who were “experts” ondifferent facets of the issue, we provided students with a springboard into thediscussion on the question for the overall issue. Additionally, it fosteredownership in the group’s final statement since each person played an importantrole in generating ideas for the final statement.
Once we had the general project designed, we needed todetermine its logistics. We had to determine what the discussion schedule wouldbe and how the students would be evaluated. This is not an easy task since wewere dealing with three separate courses, not to mention three separateuniversities. In order to set up the discussion session, we came up with verybroad timelines, allowing several weeks for each discussion of the differentissues. This enabled us to be flexible enough for each course’s schedule. Asthe course evolved, we found that we needed to change the schedule while theproject was ongoing, which created unnecessary confusion and frustration duringthe project. Additional logistical problems included classes that met once,twice, or three times a week, and a group of students that ranged fromtraditional residential campuses with lots of Internet access, to commuterstudents who rarely got online outside of class time.
In regards to student assessment, we decided that thestudents would be evaluated on the individual and group level, along with beinggraded by their peers. In this way, the students were evaluated on all facetsof the group project. Each instructor was responsible for evaluating his or herown students’ individual summaries. Then we took turns at evaluating eachgroup’s final statements. In order to provide uniform and objective grading, wefound that a grading rubric was an important tool for the assessment of thefinal summaries. Additionally, we decided that each student would evaluate thework the other teammates put forth for that specific round of discussion.
Once we designed the project, one instructor wrote up thedetails of the project and posted it on the Web. Then, another instructorcreated groups by randomly selecting students from each class and assigningthem to a group. She then created the groups in the Web-based conferencingsystem. Finally, the third instructor was responsible for setting up the sharedspreadsheet that would be used for maintaining the peer portion of theevaluations.
At the beginning of the semester, the instructors introducedthe project to their local classes. We took digital pictures of each studentand then provided the class with a brief tutorial of how the Web-basedconferencing system worked. The students’ first task was to upload theirpictures, and then write a brief biography as an introduction to the others inthe group. Also, just before the project began, each instructor provided his orher students with instruction on how to work effectively with groups.
As the project progressed through the first set of readings,we informally checked on our students’ progress with the discussions. We foundthat we needed to provide more guidance during the online discussions than wehad initially anticipated. To provide guidance on quality, we provided themwith exemplary responses after the first round of discussions. These wereposted to our respective Web sites, and students were informed of ourexpectations. However, as the course and collaboration moved on, it becamepainfully clear that some groups needed more guidance from the instructors onhow to conduct a meaningful online discussion. This actually led to arearranging of groups by shifting members from excellent collaborative groupsto those that needed mentors to show them the way.
5. Evaluation Issues
As the project progressed, we assessed its effectiveness andfound that we needed to reassign some of the groups because a few of the teamswere not working well together. Additionally, we found that it was necessary todrop a planned Web page development part of the project because it would havecreated an overload on our students. The five rounds of discussion were morethan enough to provide an enriched learning experience for our students. It iscritical to be flexible and willing to alter your original plans. Weanticipated that our collaboration project would continue to evolve as weworked together and came to understand the complexities of each campus.
Recommendations from the Trenches
What follows are recommendations fordesigning an effective collaborative project, based on our experiences.
· Beginyour first virtual collaboration with colleagues you know and have worked within the past. They will have more patience and be more supportive — two criticalfactors in completing a project such as this. We have a renewed respect for ourcolleagues as a result of their support during the design and implementation.Your first effort is a time-consuming process. Work with those you respect.
· Take timein the beginning to do a thorough analysis.
· Keep lines of communication open. If oneinstructor is going to be out of e-mail contact, let the others know. Or, ifone person is confused about something, ask the others. Everyone should beclear on all facets of the project in order for it to run smoothly. Communicatefrequently and respect your colleagues as professionals.
· Select other classes to collaborate withcarefully. Make sure the students at each university have access to theInternet outside of class time. If not, time on the Internet should be builtinto the class sessions. This proved to be a major issue for one course, due tothe stagnant growth curve of the students with less access to technology.
· If you are going to have studentscollaborate on writing some type of paper, create a grading rubric so that theassessment is fair and objective regardless of which instructor grades it.Provide this rubric with several examples of quality work. This can serve as acognitive model for students.
· Providestudents with guidance on how to collaborate with each other (both professionalexpectations of collaborating as well as virtual collaboration). Since this isa new experience, students need to develop appropriate etiquette and realisticexpectations.
· Provide students with clear expectations forall assignments and discussions.
· When possible, try to make assignments worththe same amount of the students’ final grade. In other words, students in eachcourse should see that each campus is working toward the same goal with thesame project worth. Otherwise, students might not put in the same amount ofeffort as others in the group.
With careful attention to detail, this activity providedstudents with an opportunity to collaborate with others in their field and gainan in-depth understanding of key issues.
In summary, we found this project to be a rewardingexperience for all involved. The time we took in the beginning of the designand development process was critical to the success of the project. By having aclear understanding of what everyone involved wanted and needed out of theproject, we were able to design a project that was well suited for the diversegroup of individuals involved. Additionally, open lines of communication werekey to the success of the project. We were able to avoid misinterpretations andmiscommunications by communicating frequently along the way. In an effort tohelp others, we have included a list of free Web-based communication andcollaboration tools that can be utilized for virtual collaboration activities.
FreeWeb-Based Collaboration & Communication Tools
WebEx — www.webex.com
Zkey — www.zkey.com
TalkMe — www.talkme.com
Evoke — www.evoke.com
Free Disk Space — www.freediskspace.com
AppBlast — http://appblast.com
Go'ey — www.getgo'ey.com
Third Voice — www.thirdvoice.com
Babylon — www.babylon.com
FreeTranslation — www.freetranslation.com
Alta Vista Babelfish — http://babelfish.altavista.com
Dr. Julie Reinhart is an Assistant Professor in the School ofEducation’s Department of Library and Information Studies at the University ofNorth Carolina at Greensboro. Her Ph.D. is in Instructional Systems Technologyfrom Indiana University, Bloomington.
Tiffany Anderson is Education Services Librarian at Duke UniversityMedical Center. She holds master’s degrees in Library & Information Sciencefrom the University of Southern Mississippi and Instructional SystemsTechnology from Indiana University, Bloomington.
Joseph Slowinski is currently a knowledge management and researchspecialist at Co-nect. He also serves on the editorial review board of twointernational journals: Information Technology, Education& Society and Current Issues in ComparativeEducation. He is currently writinghis dissertation in Education Policy at Indiana University, Bloomington.
This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.