Proceedings of CSCL '99

By International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning | Go to book overview
Attempting to resolve the conflict between spontaneous student behaviour and our own notions of the ideal learner, we have been forced to establish a set of non-authoritarian rules of the game, to be respected by both students and teachers. These have been implemented during the Spring term of 1999.Having observed that purely theoretical or analytical discussion themes trigger rather few contributions, we have introduced case based themes, where students are presented with a real or fictitious case as the basis for a discussion of theoretical or analytical problems posed by the teacher. In order to reduce the feeling of loneliness and insecurity that may be experienced by a student in the interval between contributing to the case based discussion and receiving response from fellow students, we have proposed that the students enter into sparring partnerships. This should ensure that a student making a contribution will always receive a quick and constructive response from his or her sparring partner. Teachers are asked to sum up and to direct the continuation of the discussion at regular intervals, normally a week after its start, and to sum up and conclude seminars, normally after two weeks.It has also been our experience that running a number of lengthy and parallel discussions on themes not always related tend to confuse or paralyse participation. Or perhaps to provide pretexts for not participating. Our solution has been to have just one discussion line open at any time, but only for a limited time span and to be followed immediately by the next discussion theme.The effect of these measures remains to be studied in detail, but our overall impression is that
very few students now abstain from participating in discussions
contributions rarely stray off from the discussion theme
overall quality of both student and teacher contributions has improved, and
satisfaction among students has increased.

Conclusion

During four years of InterKomm+ net based learning activities we have experimented with a number of ways to structure student participation in order to achieve a functioning collaborative learning environment. We have sought solutions in pedagogy, rather than in smart software.

Although InterKomm+ was inspired from and implemented by a well functioning collaborative face-to-face learning environment, we have found that in net based learning one cannot rely upon the pedagogical know-how from face-to- face environments and the collaborative goodwill of students and teachers. Teachers and students better achieve common goals when these are well defined and case based and when collaboration is guided by norms and structures developed through consensual "reflection in action".


Notes
(1)
There are eight or nine weekend sessions per year. In the first four years of InterKomm+, these weekend activities have been arranged on the island of Bornholm, six hours by ferryboat or 30 mins by air from Copenhagen. Being also an exercise in regional development, in 1996 participants were mainly and deliberately recruited from the island, while by 1999 some 90% of the students come from the Copenhagen area, in spite of the costs and logistical problems involved.
(2)
For instance in Holmberg ( 1986).
(3)
For a short introduction to Grundtvig, see: Ministry of Foreign Affairs: The Danish "Folkehøjskole", http://www.um.dk/english/danmark/om_danmark/hoejskole.html
(4)
Simplicity only in terms of the end user experience. While students and teachers access the system by means of a web browser, administrators have had to be competent in programming, the entire system being a collection of Perl scripts. For information on Ingeniøren and its software, see: http://www.ing.dk
(5)
These were changes in timing (intensive weekend face-to-face meetings with students and teachers, combined with several parallel low-intensity discussion groups), but also a limitation of media supported. Thus it did not seem feasible to work with audio production or slide shows, and at the time we did not consider CMC media to have the sufficient legitimacy. But we did, however, make a technically quite complex but pedagogically not so succesful attempt with video production.
(6)
The main results of a number of evaluations were summarised by Cheesman & Jallov ( 1999).

-98-

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