CORAL: Collaborative Online Research And Learning
 

About CORAL


Since 1992, a multidisciplinary collaborative task force with members at various universities has been dedicated to creating and testing a model for the integration of technology with collaborative teaching and learning (e.g., Chamberlin, 2000; Treadwell, 1999; Treadwell, et al., 1999; Treadwell, Leach, Kellar, Lewis & Mittan, 1998).The task force believes that classrooms should provide places where students have the opportunity to be learners actively working together on a specific learning objective, a goal endorsed by the Forum on Technology in Education (U. S. Department of Education, 1999) and others (e.g., Dede, 2000). Therefore, the model developed by this task force has used the Internet as a collaborative tool connecting university-level students in varied disciplines and at distant sites in an effort to complete a joint project.

Following is a description of the current configuration of the CORAL model. Although course content differs, psychology and management students at West Chester University collaborate on applied research projects, producing final documents synthesizing their work on topics addressed at their respective sites.

Team members enrolled in the collaborative courses use web browsers to access web-based communication systems. For example, Web Based Discussion Board is used as the major discussion board, (E-Mail is secondary); File Manager is used to exchange files; and a Java-based synchronous talker site (coral reef) and video- conferencing equipment are used for synchronous communication.

Overview

Students from two different courses in different departments at West Chester University work over the Internet in order to jointly produce an applied research project relevant to the topics in each course involved.

Participants

West ChesterUniversity Department of Psychology - Students from a social psychology laboratory course at West Chester University participate in this collaborative project. They review the dynamics of teamwork in collaborating with groups electronically and face-to-face. Topics covered during class include the foundations of group work, developmental stages of how groups evolve over time, group structure, how groups design systems of roles and inter member bonding, and the transformation of individuals from a collection of unrelated persons into a cohesive group.

West ChesterUniversity Department of Management - Students from a management senior seminar course also participate in this collaborative project. They study the psychology of teams as well as managerial aspects of building high performance collaborations in organizations. Social psychological constructs covered include, but not limited to, social loafing, in-groups and out-groups, persuasion, influence, attributions, stages of group development, groupthink, superordinate goals, along with group member roles as they apply to the collaborative on-line learning.

Tools

Discussion Boards :

The web board is vital in the project precisely because communication is asynchronous. The size of the teams varies from semester to semester and a 'workable team' consists of not more than 10 members.
Students complete the majority of the project by writing messages to each other on web boards set up specifically for each project team. Students post ideas and ask (and answer) each other questions that allow them to develop their research project. The web boards are also used to post drafts of the project and allow for team members to give feedback and rewrite drafts.

E-mail :

Students occasionally use e-mail to contact team members, although this is secondary to the use of web boards. This technology is used occasionally by the instructors to contact team members who are participating less frequently encouraging them to contribute.

Chat Rooms :

Chat rooms (coral reef), are also utilized by students and provide synchronous communication. Students occasionally (and sometimes frequently such as weekly or twice weekly) will meet and hash out details of the research proposal. The use of chat rooms are well liked by students because work can progress more quickly than through the use of the web boards and because misunderstandings can immediately be resolved.

Web Site :

The CORAL Project has a home page (http://coral.wcupa.edu) which students access and which is linked to a collaborative syllabus and resources that assist students in the completion of the team project.

Video Conferencing :

Video conferencing personalizes the process and encourages cohesion across the two sites. During videoconferences students talk to each other about their projects; demonstrate to each other how to use PowerPoint; remedy conflicts; and present their research projects (with the use of a PowerPoint demonstration) collaboratively at the end of the semester.

Final Product

Student teams produce a collaborative project and a PowerPoint overview of the project that is presented jointly at the end of the semester.

Pedagogy

The pedagogy of the CORAL model enables professors to provide a collaborative structure for electronic communication. The format allows students to work together in teams, providing active engagement in developing their collaboratively written projects. These activities prepare students to collaborate with others, negotiating and utilizing interpersonal skills, either in the workplace or in graduate school. This learning environment also demonstrates to students the importance of frequent communication and allows students the opportunity to work on an equitable level with the members of the collaborative team. Additionally, it provides an opportunity for bonding among the team members (Treadwell, et al., 1998). In summary, this pedagogy develops skills in using computer and video-technology as tools to enhance effective collaboration in college courses. The CORAL model fosters self-regulating thinking along with working amongst peers cultivating three major objectives:

  1. It incorporates several different teaching and learning styles, thereby providing a more inclusive learning format for a variety of learners.
  2. It is structured by the professors, but led by the students and therefore fosters independent thinking and active learning.
  3. It encourages students to seek outside opinions without fear of being criticized.

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