Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Network-Based Collaborative Education

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Network-Based Collaborative Education

Article excerpt


Telematics may take on a variety of meanings depending on the educational phase it is used in (design, handling and evaluation of a learning process) and on the type of support it provides for learning: access to remote resources of educational interest, an expeditious mail service for distance education, access to remote lessons based on high-speed transmission channels, etc.

However, the educational power of telematics lies not so much in replacing telephone or postal services, or in providing an effective mass distribution system, but rather in the new forms of collective interaction that it can bring about.

In this light, research interest mainly centers on the use of computer network to support collaborative education, both among teachers for training, updating and planning purposes and among students in their learning process.

To place collaborative education activities within the broader scenario of telematics for education purposes, we shall refer to the synoptic chart in Figure 1. This outline highlights two key aspects, the educational model and the educational phase in which the network resources are used.



The various models for the application of computer network to education may be grouped into two main categories: models that bring about no innovation in educational terms and are based on sterile use of the network, often as part of traditional-type processes (access to information, interpersonal exchange of messages or teaching material); and models for learning or for organizing the learning process that introduce remarkable changes in teaching methods (Trentin, 1996).

When talking about new models, its is useful to make a distinction between those that heavily affect the mechanics of learning and those that simply offer the traditional teaching/learning process innovative structures and opportunities.

The so-called virtual class provides a typical example of the latter category. By virtual class we mean a logical infrastructure (Trentin, 1997.a) that permits traditional classroom activities to be carried out in situations where students and teacher are not physically together in the same place. As commonly intended, a virtual class allows bi-directional communication to take place between teacher/student and student/student, via both synchronous and asynchronous communication. Numerous examples of the virtual class exist at university level, especially in universities serving particularly vast or densely populated districts.

In other contexts, Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) may foster educational models that feature various integrated activities aimed at reaching a common educational goal: this is the case with group work, background research, enquiries, experience sharing, cultural exchange, etc. In this case the model does not just provide an empty shell to be filled with any sort of teaching activity, but rather goes right to the heart of the learning process and thus calls for the implementation of a teaching methodology.

Both model categories can accommodate collaborative learning, as this is not in itself a specific learning model but a learning strategy that can be utilized in various forms and to various extents in teaching (with or without the use of CMC).

From an educational viewpoint, the collaborative dimension is perhaps the ingredient of greatest conceptual interest in teaching/learning models based on the use of telematics. Thanks to collaboration, it is possible to promote learning methods have that so far been often neglected in the school system: group work, background research, enquiring, experience sharing, cultural exchange, and collaboration towards common educational goals, to cite but a few.

Phase of use

The term teaching refers to three phases which are all aimed at learning but are logically distinct and relatively independent of one another: educational planning, educational management and the actual teaching/learning process. …

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