This study examined the online collaboration and problem solving processes of preservice general education and special education teachers from two teacher education programs in different states as they designed instruction to provide access to the general curriculum for all students, including those with disabilities. The use of online collaborative problem solving across the miles was found to be a vehicle for preservice teachers to prepare to meet the needs of all learners in inclusive environments, for special education majors to have opportunities to practice their collaboration skills, and for general education majors to revise their lesson plans to include accommodations and modifications for students with special needs and to include a coteaching model of instruction.
Education professionals working in both general education and special education settings are responsible for ensuring that all students have access to curricula and they are held accountable for the success of all their students. To ensure that all students with diverse needs are successful in accessing the general education curriculum, teacher educators must look more closely at how they prepare preservice general and special educators to work together in a collaborative and collegial manner. Access to the curriculum means that all students must be able to interact with the curriculum in order to learn (Orkwis & McLane, 1998). For this to happen, prospective teachers must learn ways to provide all students with meaningful access to the curriculum and be able to deliver the curriculum so that no student has to overcome physical, affective or cognitive barriers, or feel isolated or stigmatized.
Outcomes for all students, such as those set forth by the No Child Left Behind legislation (U.S Department of Education, 2002), may be enhanced when professional educators work collaboratively to integrate their specialized knowledge and expertise into their teaching practices. Although the importance of collaboration between general and special education teachers has been extensively documented in the literature (Allen-Malley & Bishop, 2000; Friend & Cook, 2003; Hourcade & Bauwens, 2001; Hobbs & Westling, 1998; Snell & Janney, 2000; Wood, 1998), teacher educators may be interested in the use of online collaborative activities to design instruction that meets the needs of diverse learners who must have access to the general curriculum.
Information communication technologies, including course management systems such as Blackboard 5, provide a tool for the development of collaborative skills for preservice teachers across disciplines and geographic locations as they prepare to meet the educational needs of diverse learners. The use of these kinds of tools may increase opportunities for special education and general education teachers to learn how to plan and implement instruction that will provide access to the general curriculum for all students. However, issues that surround the use of computer-mediated communication with preservice teachers focusing on online collaboration skills must be considered, including (a) characteristics of the collaborative group, including participation, interactions, and interdependence; (b) the nature of the collaborative situation; (c) factors that may promote or inhibit collaboration, and (d) encouraging and teaching collaboration with accountability (Hathorn & Ingram, 2002). In addition, researchers must examine how online collaborative activities foster the development of learning communities among their students and how the process facilitates interactions between students (Copenhaver, Tobin, & Lamme, 1996; Espinoza & McKinzie, 1999).
The purpose of this research project was to understand how collaborative problem solving between preservice elementary and special education teachers was supported by the use of an online learning management system (Blackboard 5). …