Sherry Hsi1 and
1 University of California at Berkeley, School of Education 2The Concord Consortium
Can NetCoursesTM teach collaboration, improve learning, and transform teaching practices on a large scale? This paper describes an experimental model of collaborative Web-teaching using netseminars to train teachers, who in turn, create NetCourses for their virtual students in a Virtual High School (VHS) Consortium. We suggest that netseminars and NetCourses represent a viable and feasible method for scaling up instruction that fosters constructivist teaching practices and capitalizes on collaborative learning communities and cooperative on-line resources. We articulate this novel model and discuss issues in fostering collaboration, highlighting the challenges faced by teachers and netfaculty in the transformation of their practices toward collaborative approaches based on results from the first netseminar. We raise questions about the cultural shifts needed to transform computer-supported collaborative teaching and reflect on redefinition of teacher/student roles in the scaling of electronic communities.
Keywords --distance education, NetCoursesTM, research in technologically-mediated communication, education reform
The Virtual High School (VHS) Consortium Project represents the first large-sale experiment in applying collaborative network technology to deliver rigorous precollege courses over the Internet (see http://www.concord.org/vhs). Specifically, this project tests a collaborative model of virtual instruction through NetCourses and netseminars ( Tinker & Haavind, 1996). NetCourses are courses of study that are offered using the Internet as a main way to share information, carry out discussions, and assess student learning. This project explores 1) the feasibility of creating of strong partnerships and communities between teachers, school administrators, technologists, and content experts through collaborative technologies, 2) the scalability and replicability of these electronic communities to support secondary school instruction and 3) the promotion of constructivist teaching practices toward global education reform. This paper reports on issues encountered in the first trial of the netseminar model, one of five netseminars to be delivered over the next three years.
Several science & mathematics networking projects and virtual instructional environments have influenced the design of the NetCourse model ( Harris, 1994; Harasim et al., 1995; Hiltz, 1994; NTEN, 1995). The basic model of the VHS NetCourse involves one teacher and 20 students in a teaching cooperative. Each school in the cooperative contributes at least 20% FTE of a single teacher's time to develop and teach an Internet-based course. Schools also donate computers, Internet connectivity, and staff time. Each school must provide a VHS site coordinator who is responsible for VHS project management and support of teachers and students at their local school. The VHS grant provides financial support for the site coordinator as well as training, software, and technical support. Each school in the cooperative can enroll 20 students to take NetCourses for each period of a teacher's time they contribute to the pool. Quality of teaching is maintained by requiring each teacher to successfully complete a graduate-level NetCourse, "The Teachers Learning Conference", on the design and development of networked-based courses, including instruction in constructivist learning theories and collaborative learning approaches.
This design creates a low-cost means of vastly augmenting the range of courses a school can offer without expanding enrollment. In exchange for contributing a small amount of teaching time to the cooperative, a school will be able to offer its students NetCourses ranging from advanced academic courses