Collaborative Inter-Class Teaching and Research Over the Internet:
Faculty & Students’ Perspectives On the Research and Learning Process

 

Thomas Treadwell
Department of Psychology
West Chester University, USA
 
Adel Barimani
Director of Academic Computer Services
West Chester University, USA
 
Donna Ashcraft
Department of Psychology
Clarion University of Pennsylvania, USA
 
Bob Mittan
Director of the Writing Center
Casper College - UW/CC, USA
Paul Arsenault
Department  of Marketing
West Chester University
West  Chester, Pa. 19383
 
Ralph Lewis
College of Business Administration
California State University, Long Beach, USA
 

Paper and Powerpoint presentation presented at EduCause 99 Annual Conference, Los Angeles California October 1999.


Hannah Kellar, Graduate Assistant. A perspective on collaborative inter-class teaching and research over the internet

Background

Computers have become a motivating force in the redesign of higher education when one takes into account that education has been one of the most conservative bastions for "old" methods of doing business. Some of this reticence has been because the methods most faculty use do work and they often work well. However, as newer approaches and more advanced technologies develop (mostly in business and industry) their appropriateness to the learning environments in higher education has risen. An influential number of educators, writers and researchers have advocated for the incorporation of these technologies into the classroom (Jeffords, 1995-96).

The present collaborative project grew out of an experimental idea dating back to the summer of 1991. A small number of faculty met over the Internet in response to an invitation to link classrooms at different universities in a venture to develop one virtual classroom. This interest grew out of participation in COMCONF, a distributed conferencing system maintained at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. (For details see Hacker, K., Lewis, R., Treadwell, T., Rich, M., Bronfman, S., Wignall, D. (1996). The Comconf project suggested that implementing technology for inter-university cooperative education supplemented student learning by providing student-to-student and student-to-faculty discussions with distant sites. A Comconf objective was to utilize computers in the classroom to explore various windows of knowledge. However, exploring windows of knowledge is intensified into an active learning process when one adds the collaborative component to computer-mediated communication over the class network. Since 1992 a project task force at West Chester University has been dedicated to integrating technology with collaborative teaching and learning by connecting distant university sites via the Internet to create a "virtual classroom". As a result of this experience, coupled with additional CMC proof-of-concept projects, two of the instructors created an inter-university collaborative project in the fall of 1994. Our goal has been to create not only a course that incorporates technology, but emphasizes technology as a tool for implementing the collaborative teaching and learning model.

Collaborative Distance Learning Model

This model takes the view that traditional classroom settings, and especially classrooms restructured to incorporate technology, are more than places of information exchange and acquisition of knowledge, but are places where students have the opportunity to be active learners working together on a specific learning objective. This model uses the Internet as a collaborative tool connecting students in different disciplines at distant sites. Although course content differs, psychology students at West Chester University and Clarion University of Pennsylvania collaborate to integrate ideas and theories from their respective disciplines for a final research paper. To assist in the collaborative venture, Casper College - University of Wyoming [UW/CC] provides writing assistants to aid students in determining and clarifying their ideas. Initially communications  for the project were made public through a "Clastalk" Listserv.  In the fall of 1997 a "WebBoard", was incorporated making technological accessibility easier for students. In the Fall of 1998 we added a webbased chat  room to enhance the communication process.  In the fall of 1999 we added Web-Calendars, SMARTboards and during the spring of 2000 we anticipate using interactive video.  The class runs for one fifteen-week semester. In the first class meeting, students in their home sites (WCU and CUP) are introduced to the structure of the course and placed into clusters of four. The second class meeting consists of E-mail and WebBoard training. Beginning with the third class meeting and continuing throughout the semester, clusters communicate with their partner cluster at the distant site and with the writing assistant assigned to their Internet-linked working task group. See [Treadwell, et al. 1998] for detailed information on the structure of this collaborative distance learning model.

Benefits of Collaboration in Distance Learning

This is an effective learning model where students of different disciplines, cultures, and countries learn to collaborate with students in different regions of the world. This model prepares students to be active learners and technically sophisticated innovators, who can adapt and prosper in the competitive world. The experience of working in task groups and collaborating with distant sites prepares students for real work environments   This training is demonstrated by students utilizing negotiating and decision making skills.BEGO:N The technological linkage of distant sites makes it possible to incorporate the expertise of faculty and independent consultants not otherwise available to students. Likewise, students are not scrutinized, but encouraged to seek the outside opinions of others. As a result, students and faculty are exposed to different teaching and learning styles. Furthermore, this model breaks down not only boundaries between learner and instructor, and learner and learner, but reduces isolation between disciplines, divisions, and institutions.


Thomas Treadwell, Psychology Professor. A perspective of collaborative inter-class teaching and research over the Internet

Phases of Collaboration

Collaboration is this model's key element. The course utilizes technology not just as a vehicle for communication, but as an educational tool that teaches students to collaborate over the Internet. Collaboration is not easy, is not immediately achieved, and does not always have expected results. The writing assistants observed that collaboration over the Internet went through five phases: 1) Teaching collaboration - The Tangram Exercise - making contact at distant site; 2) task clarification; 3) duty/role negotiation; 4) work; and 5) settlement or closure. Making contact consists of students familiarizing themselves to machine, and to people at home and distant sites. In phase two, students clarify their tasks. Some division of labor usually happens and maybe some scheduling and planning. Mostly, students ask a lot of questions about the task. Phase three, duty/role negotiation, consists of students determining who is doing what and how their tasks are related to the collaborative project as a whole. Some individuals may take on roles not directly involved in the project, but may take on roles related to the group's interactions. For example, an individual may take on the role of cheerleader, providing the group support and motivation. In phase three, the "chatty" type of communication ends and "the partnership" takes form. Students focus on integrating their numerous ideas into a collaborative project. This continues through phase four in which students concentrate on the work aspect of the project. With tasks clarified and role expectations determined, students more actively focus on the problem-solving aspects of their project. Settlement and closure are reached in phase five. Students choose to stop, either because of time restraints or by mutual agreement, and the connection between the three sites is dissolved.

Future of Collaboration in Distance Learning

Future ideas for collaboration in distance learning include expansion of this model to other inter and intra university sites. The technology used for collaboration in distance learning has been expanded to include web-based Inter-Relay-Chat, WebBoards, Smartboards, and Inter-active video. It seems that interactive video may be the next step in the process. It is hypothesized that the use of interactive video will expedite the clarification of task roles and accelerate the collaborative process.

Suggestions for Creating a Collaborative Distance Learning Course

This collaborative distance learning model can be adapted by students and professors of various disciplines who are committed to taking pedagogical risks in teaching how a collaborative course can meet their stated objectives. Suggestions for setting up your own collaborative distant learning classroom include:

  • Faculty and students learn how to collaborate simultaneously. It is not a "cut and paste" form of communication. We have found that spending approximately 5-10 hrs per week collaborating on-line over a 12-month period is our norm for effective collaboration.
  • Use computing center staff as a resource for support.
  • Use the same technology at distant sites.
  • Adapt the collaborative distance learning model to fit your existing class content and process; don't alter class content and process to fit the "structure" of the collaborative course.
  • Define what collaboration means.
  • Teach the collaborative process utilizing a "group exercise." We found using the Chinese "Tangram Puzzel" met our collaborative expectations for teaching students how to work with one another in groups. This process lays the groundwork for the collaborative course and students begin seeing the How’s and Why’s of the collaborative process.
  • Make the acquisition of knowledge only one of the objectives in the course. Acquiring needed knowledge will not see students through the course.
  • Don't make the collaborative assignment an option. Students must collaborate to complete an assigned project. The collaborative faculty evaluate the final project!
  • Because time is crucial, make sure that class time plus overtime is the rule. Students need time to work through an open-ended project.
  • The strength of the collaborative process is peer interaction.
  • The collaborative class is structured by the professors, but led by the students. The professors take on the role of mentors rather than lecturers.
  • The role (image of the teacher) changes to a "collaborator". We are part of the learning process.
  • Use multiple outcome measures to assess students' collaborative progress. It reduces anxiety and uncertainty about grades.
  • Students' and faculty will naturally become anxious and frustrated by the collaborative process. Collaborative faculty must not yield to this pressure.
  • Technological conflicts are part of the collaborative process and will interfere with the collaborative work process.
  • Communicate often with professors at distant sites and work as a team.
  • The collaborative process is not a static teaching modality and is constantly changing.
  • Keep the collaborative discussion public on the "WebBoard."
  • Be aware that frustration, anxiety, & depression are real variables in the collaborative process and must be given delicate attention.

Donna Ashcraft, Associate Professor of Psychology, Clarion University of Pennsylvania: Pros and Cons of Joining an Existing Collaborative Team

Pros:

  • It is rewarding to collaborate and at the same time risky. We "bounce" ideas off of each other to produce a collaborative class. This eliminates feelings of being "alone" in teaching our courses.
  • When things are not going well we are able to commiserate together and so the collaborative group provides a support group.
  • Part of our collaborative group consists of computer oreinted people. They provide assistance and instruction when needed. This is especially important when our academic computer support staff is overwhelmed making assistance difficult to find "on the spot".
  • Since the team does have a history of working together, I feel free to ask basic questions giving me the feeling I am not starting from scratch.
  • Who you work with is important in making the collaboration fun and in making it work. I also like working with people.

Cons:

  • The collaborative group already has a history and knows what to expect during the progression of the course/project. I do not have that background nor do I always know what to expect or whether an experience is "normal."
  • I feel I am continuously playing "catch up." Because the other members know what to expect, they can plan ahead for what ever is coming up in class. I, on the other hand, do not necessarily know what is coming up. When I am asked to do something (e.g. take a picture of the groups and put them on the web), it take me a while to get it done.
  • I also play "catch up" with all the new technology we have been using. I have been learning powerpoint, and how to use the webboard, chatrooms, the smartboard, interactive videotechnology, and computers in the classroom.
  • My computer technology does not match the already existing technology of the other group members (e.g. MAC vs PC; My university does not have Office 97 Excel, Word, Powerpoint etc. or spss . however the other universities do).
  • Finally, this project is occurring while I am attempting to teach my course in a different way.

Ralph Lewis, Professor, College of Business, California State University at Long Beach: A perspective on collaborative education and change over the Internet

CSULB Students’ Reaction to Collaborative Learning

We found student confusion over the nature of the project. The average student approach to team projects is to initially divide up the work, work on their own parts individually, and then, in a crash set of meetings, to pull the parts together for a presentation and paper. This was a cut and paste approach and did not work for the collaborative assignment. Students were groping for behaviors that would be successful and former patterns of behavior were not successful. We have seen this pattern of behavior term after term even when faculty provide guidelines for collaborative work. It became clear that our first job was to address students' usual classroom behavior and introduce the collaborative concept. In short, past learning approaches need to be placed on hold while new work modalities are learned following the guidelines for collaboration.

Elliott Jaques describes the type of collaborative work done in the modern virtual workplace, with its focus on knowledge, as symbolic work (Jaques, 1973). In the chapter "Learning For Uncertainty" he proposes a learning approach he terms the "Creative Application." It is characterized by the following properties:

  • Open-ended - (no predetermined solutions)
  • Individual and group judgments are required
  • Synthesis
  • Integration
  • Collaboration with others
  • Uncertainty and anxiety

Jaques states "... the essence of symbolic work is that it is carried out in the complete isolation and oneness of the internal world: thus, only if the inner world is integrated will symbolic work of this kind not represent a threat of chaos and confusion, and be carried through to the point of decision….if you create conditions in which they [students] can experience the open-ended nature of the work situation and in which they have to rely upon their own judgment, they become uneasy…. They want lectures or laboratory classes in which they can get back to the security of formulated knowledge…they are made anxious be the experience of uncertainty. "

CSULB Changes Affecting the Project

Since the inception of the collaborative student research model, several important changes have occurred in the educational environment at the CSULB campus. Recent changes include these:

  1. Several members from the department of Management and Human Resources Management felt uncomfortable with the use of the Internet for student projects and passed a department rule that Internet use could not be required in the junior level courses.
  2. College of Business, which was previously impacted, requiring a higher GBA average for incoming students than the university as a whole, removed its impaction requirement.
  3. College of Business also went to a department based budgeting model under which increasing class size provided additional operating expenses as well as providing faculty travel and computer equipment funds. This in turn resulted in the department raising its class size limits.
  4. The campus president began a successful program to attract top high school graduates to the campus. These changes have caused several important impacts on the collaborative process.

The very nature of the collaborative research project, with its focus on symbolic work activities, is dependent upon higher cognitive skills. Critical thinking is one such skill. Using The Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal (CTA) (Watson, et. al), I have tracked the changes in the CTA score for my junior level (entry level course in the Business program) courses and compared them to those of my senior seminar students.   There has been a significant decrease in the average student’s cognitive ability after impaction was removed, but also a greater variability in their cognitive skills. It is important to note that while the earlier entry level CTA average score was below the national norms (upper division reported norms for the CTA: Mean=59.5, SD=8.5), the senior level averages were well above the upper division norm. After impaction was removed, there is generally no improvement in the CTA scores from junior to senior level classes.

This has required several adjustments in our collaborative approach. Sorting through many e-mail messages and seeing the relationships among the various messages requires much higher cognitive skills. The wwwboard handles this in an orderly fashion. Second, we also make clear the very different nature and demands of a collaborative course up front, at the beginning of the term, in order to help students gain an orientation to a novel class design. Third, the writing assistants help order and assist the students when they reach an impasse in the collaborative process. We find students are much more likely to take advice from "peers" than they are from the instructors. Perhaps, like any workplace, there needs to be a clear demarcation between the formal authority role and the informal social and workplace facilitator role. Today’s students are moving from a boss (instructor) centered leadership educational environment to an autonomous peer work group industry environment. The collaborative model, we feel, is one important step in that transition.

Comparisons to Work Groups in Industry

I am struck by the disparity between our class experience and the rather easy process many virtual work groups in industry experience. It is not a question of training in technology. (The wwwboard we use is much easier to use than Lotus Notes for the novice user). It is a social technology that must be learned. For most of our students this is a new experience. Historically, educational technology is generally not very advanced. It took 20 years for the overhead projector to move from the bowling alley and to become common in the classroom. Most advanced work groups in industry have been using Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) technology throughout their work environment and would be lost without it. They are well up on the learning curve and have figured they can be very productive, although it increases the demands in their professional life. Still, they find the tradeoff well worth it. It does require learning new ways of working and a new time/task behavior set.

Until CMC is more common within CSULB Business academic programs (and it is common in some academic programs), students will have the types of problems ours are now having. But the payoff for our students is that they will be more competitive in the workforce from this experience.

Adel Barimani, Director of Academic Computing Services. A technological perspective.

Technological Perspective

The "interactive collaborative teaching project" is a combined effort of two faculty members at West Chester University, and California State University at Long Beach. This project was designed for students and faculty to link classes, via the Internet to create a virtual classroom.

The Campus Wide Information System (CWIS) at WCU provides the West Chester University community with a completely new medium for communication and public relations. This new service provides the university with one central resource and location for all vital campus information and the connectivity to the Internet allowing students to work on such projects as the "interactive collaborative teaching project".

Having a presence on the Internet is quickly becoming a major tool for communication, public relations, teaching and transacting business for educational and governmental institutions. With more and more college students tapping into the Internet, this medium is quickly becoming an avenue by which students will seek information for their higher education/college projects.

The central user area, which is called the Academic Computing Center, contains 200 workstations. Over 1000 faculty and staff workstations are connected to the campus state of the art application servers accessing the campus software repository, e-mail, and Internet services. World Wide Web browsers have been installed on all campus workstations.

We currently maintain over 7,000 MS-Mail accounts on our servers. A number of faculty members have developed prototype courses in which all papers and other assignments are handled entirely via the electronic mail system. A few of the professors are even using an all electronic set of exams!

The Internet is quickly becoming an important teaching and a research tool used by the majority of faculty as an integral part of the curriculum at West Chester University. The next step in the process of collaborative teaching is to include the use of video and audio technologies over the Internet. We have engaged in an active role in testing these new technologies at West Chester University and in our classrooms.


Bob Mittan, Writing Center Director. A perspective on collaborative inter-class teaching and research over the Internet as a writing consultant and teacher Perspective as a Writing Consultant

Role of Collaboration and Communication

One of the fundamental principles of this project is collaboration--collaboration among faculty, among students, between students and faculty. In simplest terms, "collaboration means `working with' or `working together.' But communication, in all its many shapes, is also integral to collaboration . . . because communication is almost never not collaborative" [Brown, S., Mittan, R., and Roen, D. 1997]. Communication and collaboration are dynamic processes through which teaching, learning, and research are accomplished.

Perspective as a Writing Consultant

As Director of the Casper College-UW/CC Writing Center, my job includes three elements: consulting with two institutions' faculty on writing across the curriculum, training undergraduate peer writing assistants to work with clients, and supervising the daily operations of the Writing Center. My involvement in the collaborative inter-class teaching and research project has enhanced all three aspects of my job.

Working with the faculty members of this project provides me with insights about the ways faculty in a variety of disciplines use writing as a tool for learning in their courses. Although I do consult with faculty on my campus about writing assignments in their courses, our conversations seldom continue beyond the end of a semester and I rarely work directly with the students in these courses--unless they drop in to the Writing Center. I have actively participated in shaping the writing projects students at both sites are assigned. I also see and hear students' comments as they work through the projects. What I have learned from this project shapes the work I now do with faculty at my site.

Although I observe my peer writing assistants as they work in face-to-face conferences with clients as part of their training, I find it difficult to see everything they are doing. As I observe their interactions with students on-line, I am much more aware of the tutoring strategies they use. And, my writing assistants who have worked with this project tell me that the ability to pause and consider their comments and suggestions before they make them significantly enhances their ability to work in face-to-face conference.

Finally, because the Writing Center I direct serves clients on a drop-in basis, we rarely work with clients in multiple sessions across the entire progress of a writing project. And we rarely work with small collaborative groups. This project provides me and my writing assistants the opportunity to apply our conferencing strategies in different ways. We are more likely to achieve our goal: to encourage students to become better writers, not merely to produce a better piece of writing.

Perspective as a Teacher

Besides directing the Writing Center, I also teach various writing courses at both the lower- and upper-division levels. Like many teachers I spend relatively little time in conversation with my peers about my teaching--what I'm doing, how it's working, what I might try differently. As part of this project, however, I am constantly aware of and talking about my own teaching strategies. More importantly, I see first-hand what happens as students work through a writing project--from analyzing the assignment to completing final revisions. These insights have helped me to reshape how I teach writing to students in first-year composition courses: I consciously work to prepare students to be successful not only in their upper-division coursework, but also in their future careers.

Also, I have the opportunity in this project to function as a writing assistant--free to offer comments, insights, suggestions, and support to students without the responsibility of evaluating their performance. No matter how I shape the environment of my own classes, my role as evaluator always affects the way my comments and assistance come across to my students.


Robin Beaver, Writing Assistant. A perspective on collaborative inter-class teaching and research over the Internet as a writing assistant and peer student.

Perspective as a Writing Assistant

My task as a writing assistant in this project is to aid and support two student groups. I am located in the mid-west, attending the University of Wyoming full time. Two years of experience as a writing assistant for the Casper College-UW Writing Center provided the practical tools necessary to work with the collaborative project’s online students beginning in January 1998. While my role was originally defined as helping student groups clarify, extend, and state their ideas, I quickly found out that this role would be more complex and challenging than I had originally thought. Discussions of the communication component of collaboration became commonplace, and thus the role of "communication consultant" began to emerge. Within this realm, I am able to mediate between the collaborative faculty and student teams, addressing such issues as defining course strategies, managing potential inter-group conflict and, of course, assisting with writing.

With regard to collaborating with writers, this project has taught me that how we communicate online is just as important as how we communicate face-to-face, and perhaps more so. This collaborative model extends the boundaries of traditional peer-student conferencing in a number of ways. First, online writing assistants must "read between the lines" for signs of writing apprehension, which is easier to detect face-to-face. Silence among student groups can communicate frustration, anxiety, or apathy. Therefore, asking questions and being aware are important.

Second, we take much for granted in face-to-face communication, particularly our use of nonverbal behaviors and actions. The lack of nonverbal cues inherent in computer-mediated-communication, however, can be disconcerting and cause students a considerable amount of frustration initially. For example, student groups who respond slowly from distant sites can be interpreted as rejection, which in turn foster brusque messages and hurt feelings. Thus, I pay close attention to message content during the semester and coach students to clearly express their goal plans, impressions, and even emotions. Positive reinforcement of student efforts is critical; praise "loud" and often in ways that students "hear and see" feedback.

Finally, through trial and error, I have learned that balancing the information I provide in the online context is critical. For instance, in face-to-face conferencing, we discuss global issues first such as purpose, paragraph structure, and development of ideas. Secondary issues are sentence structure, voice and sometimes punctuation to name a few. Conversely, online writing assistance must be maintained at the global level. Discussing broad concepts and secondary concepts such as punctuation can be overwhelming to students. Too much information, posted on one page of the Web board, is what one student called "information overload." More important than local issues, therefore, is that writing assistants stretch students to develop concepts; to go beyond explaining what happened, to why and how it happened. This act of writing helps students conceptualize one of their most important goals—to learn the collaborative process.

The Collaborative Learning Model provides a built-in conduit in which students learn and practice not only collaboration, but also facilitative communication skills such as negotiating and giving positive feedback. It cannot be overstated that communication is the vital link for successful, online collaboration to occur.

Furthermore, this project is a training ground in which I apply communication skills learned in my field of study—Human Communication. It has expanded my interest in computer-mediated courses as an augmentation to traditional classroom learning and, as a result, I conducted a study which examined (in part) the relationship between communication channel and instruction satisfaction. Students in six universities, who participated in web-based courses, answered surveys about their overall satisfaction with computer-mediated and face-to-face (FtF) courses. Findings indicated that students were more satisfied with computer-mediated than FtF courses. This is not to say that web-based classrooms are obstacle-free. The following is a sample of student responses:

  • "Since this is a new form of pedagogy, I’m having a hard time understanding some of the long instruction. I tend to interpret written directions differently than what the writer had intended."
  • "I don’t like seclusion and separation."
  • "You are able to speak your mind peacefully and with less inhibitions."
  • "It forces you to participate and keeps you from being able to ‘hide’ in the back of a class."
  • "I find that individuals are more courteous because they are communicating long distance."
  • "The course allows me to work at a much faster pace than conventional classroom approaches."
  • "Distance learning is really fun. We can learn how to use e-mail, Netscape and Power Point. Also, we can get any hard copy of our classmates’ presentation from the web. I like computer-mediated courses!"

Perspective as a Peer Student

Finally, I have a gratifying role as peer student in the "collaborative trenches." I find this role unique in this project. During the orientation phase, I self-disclose more than instructors do, thus reducing students’ anxiety level about my approachability. Viewing the writing assistant as a competitor is a natural tendency among students in the online context, so identifying common ground early in the semester reduces communication breakdown. However, maintaining a position as a resource rather than competitor is sometimes difficult to do. Face-to-face interaction allows more opportunity to preserve the peer-tutor association. For example, table arrangement has much to do with this. "‘Power is where you sit’" (qtd. in Malandro, 161). In face-to face interactions, I sit elbow-to-elbow with a student at a round table—an expression of equality. I give much attention to the student with direct eye contact and head nods of agreement. In the online context, however, it is harder to maintain that level of equality. Thus, I construct a virtual round table where the collaborative writing process unfolds within a mixture of light discussion of common concerns such as exams, work, and meeting deadlines. Here, my peers see that online collaboration is also a learning process for me, and together we strive to become better writers.


Michelle Pole, Psychology Student. A perspective on collaborative inter-class teaching and research over the internet as a student and a writing assistant

Perspective as a Student

As a student in PSY400 I expressed a gamut of emotions in reaction to our assignment. These emotions ranged from frustration, uncertainty, and anxiety to curiosity, freedom of exploration and discovery, competence and accomplishment. The traditional classroom experience is very predictable, too predictable perhaps. In this global classroom I found myself jettisoned into what was anything but predictable.

As a non-traditional student, I found this collaborative experience very much like the "real world" work environment. People with different personalities, work styles and motivation were thrown together, given basic instructions on the task to be completed, and then let loose on the Internet. More and more, this is how work is done, and students who learn this skill will have an advantage in the professional world.

One of the more difficult parts of this project was establishing working relationships with students in a Human Resources Management class from California State University at Long Beach. There was a real hesitation to establish this technological relationship because it seemed that it would be much easier to complete the research project independently. This stumbling block was eventually worked out, and I believe the time constraints for the completion of the project, along with the instructors monitoring the collaborative process over the Internet was the catalyst for this. This cooperative learning was beneficial and the interdisciplinary approach to the project helped me see my research topic without blinders.

In addition to working with students in California, each group in the class was assigned a Writing Assistant (WA). The WA was not an expert in psychology or leadership, but they were the people who forced us to clarify our ideas. The WA was an important part of the project. It is sometimes very easy to become unclear or too focused on a subject. Our WA reminded us to look at the subject from novel angles, not necessarily only the "expert" angle. Our WA forced us to be very clear about what we wrote, how we wrote it and she reminded us of who our audience would be and of the need to write for that audience

All groups and WA’s communicate via "clastalk" and are able to monitor all of the other groups’ correspondence. It is helpful to view how other groups tackle similar problems and it gives others ideas on ways to problem solve. Eventually, after much resistance, I felt a camaraderie and built a good working relationship with my group, our WA, and the CSULB group.

Perspective as a Writing Assistant

Since taking the class, I have continued to stay involved with this project as a WA. For the past two semesters I have assisted groups in the process of interactive learning. From the perspective of a WA, I initially feel much resistance from the groups to include me in their work. There seems to be territorial behavior from all ends in the beginning of the project. Each group wants to work independently, without the help of a WA, or a group from across the country. So, in my role as WA, I initially work to integrate the groups and their ideas. This is not an easy task, and sometimes I have to just sit back and let them thrash it out until they realize that they can’t always have it their way. The groups struggle for quite some time before they actually begin to become productive. When they finally realize that they can’t work independently, the project begins to get off the ground, and some groups actually enjoy working with each other. There is much more give and take of information between the groups at later stages of the project. The goal of the process is a cooperative learning experience.

The global classroom is an exciting environment. I believe that more and more educators will be drawn to this mode of teaching. Computer technology pervades almost all aspects of life; a global classroom is one way to prepare students to enter into this way of life.


Jessica Jones, Psychology Student. A perspective on collaborative inter-class teaching and research over the internet as a student

My approach to the collaborative project in PSY 400 changed several times throughout the course. The assignment had three major components: work within an in-class group, work with two other groups via the Internet, and produce and present a single, cohesive paper. My initial reaction was of relief anticipating the ease of the project with so many people contributing. Of course, I was naive in our initial assumption and would spend the next 4+ months adjusting and struggling. Ultimately, I learned a lot about myself, effective group productivity, and how to write a single, cohesive paper from 9 unique minds located in 3 different places throughout the U.S.A.

There were a couple obstacles our group had to over come before focusing on the project and the other groups. We were a very diverse group consisting of a single mother, a non-traditional student, a fraternity member and a strongly independent member. The diverseness of our group lead to increased tension and difficulty in communicating. Being the non-traditional student and familiar with the "real-world" element of working in groups, I thought I might be able to bring some stability to the group. However, it became apparent that the age difference and work experience hindered communication. Another obstacle for our group was the class format. The directions were to work in a group collaborating over the internet with others and produce a research product. We were not given many details and our only restrictions were group assignments, dead lines, and use of the Internet. Though this allowed the necessary freedom to be creative, it wasn’t a traditional setting for an assignment. In my academic years, and it seemed so for my group members, all projects were done individually. Working with others, setting up meetings, coordinating and fine tuning ideas with several different personalities was a breeding ground for frustration. I was no longer able to just go full steam ahead on a project as I would have independently. I now had to be sensitive and appreciative of several other’s needs and wants, and work diligently towards a common ground. It took several approaches and attempts before the four of us felt like we were tuned into one another and ready to attack the project.

The next challenge became the Internet communication with California State University of Long Beach (CSULB). We had just stabilized our group and now had to add several more people with diverse backgrounds to the mix. In addition to the increased variable of personality, CSULB was approaching this project from a business background, which differed from our psychological approach. The struggles with CSULB came from first technical problems (not being able to set up COW efficiently), and then from inability to communicate effectively through typed words. A lot is lost in communication when one cannot view subtle body language or distinguish audible tones. Many times the Internet messages came across abrasive or lacking directness. This, added with the stress of the deadlines, created tension and blocked the progress of our project. We had to overcome the sterile environment by choosing our words carefully and increase our communication efforts. We did not succeed in involving everyone in our CSULB group, but our efforts did compel two members. Through them we conversed and meshed their business theories with our data.

Finally, our paper was ready for a complete analysis interpreted by our Writing Assistant (WA). She was very helpful in providing us with an objective view, as well as posing questions forcing us to see the material with a fresh perspective. Not only was our WA attentive to our final paper, she was essential in our progress of putting this project together. She asked great questions and made appropriate suggestions throughout the process.

Most communication was done through Classtalk. Initially this exposed environment was intimidating. I was nervous about putting my thoughts out there for anyone to critique. Having Classtalk monitored and required participation was the catalyst for me to overcome my anxiety. After the fear had subsided, it was clear that Classtalk was an invaluable tool in completing this project. Classtalk provided a window into the other groups progress and struggles which was reassuring. It was a great forum to exchange information and gain ideas. Often I would see a route one group was taking and assimilate our study. Other times we would swap information about search engines and tests. It was also comforting to know that the professors were monitoring Classtalk. Mostly the professors were there to gently guide us toward our goal, however I was aware that if we were way off base on something they would quickly step in.

Finishing this collaborative project was a great sense of accomplishment. From this experience I gained confidence in my ability to apply academic knowledge and overcome relentless challenges originating from group dynamics. This course was an excellent precursor to the real life work environment. The structure of this project parallels a typical professional work group. People with different personalities, backgrounds and agendas are thrown together with basic instructions and great expectations. The students who master this skill will confidently enter a professional group setting.


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Pole, M. and Ross, E. L. (1994). Rating Emergent Leaders: Bias Differences Between Mixed-Sex and Same-Sex Groups. http://albie.wcupa.edu/ttreadwell/951gp1.html.

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Acknowledgement

Special thanks to Professor Donna Ashcraft, Bob Mittan, Graduate Assistants’ Hannah Kellar, Writing Assistants, Robin Beaver, Carol Eklund,& Jeremy Wilch former students, Michele Pole & Jessica Jones who were unable to make this conference. Without their continual effort, ideas, and support the collaborative project would not have been formed.