- 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
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
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
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
- 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 Hows and Whys 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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 students 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
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. Todays 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
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
Adel Barimani, Director of Academic Computing Services. A
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
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
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
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 projects
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
goalsto 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 studyHuman 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, Im having a hard time understanding
some of the long instruction. I tend to interpret written directions differently than what
the writer had intended."
- "I dont 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
- "The course allows me to work at a much faster pace than conventional classroom
- "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 tablean 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
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 WAs 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 cant 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 cant 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 wasnt 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 others 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
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
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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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.