CMC and the Online Classroom Vol. 2 Chapter 1

Cover of CMC Book


Zane Berge and Mauri Collin


In the first volume in this series, Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom: Overview and Perspectives, we noted that the term computer-mediated communication (CMC) was used to encompass the merging of computers and telecommunications technologies to support teaching and learning. We surveyed the range of educational users of CMC from several different perspectives.

Gerald M. Santoro delineated the terminology and processes of CMC and described typical functions and users; Jill H. Ellsworth followed up with a introduction to the uses of CMC in the classroom. James N. Shimabukuro described the growth of educational computer conferencing using a “generational model” and explored a future scenario that
depicts the use of a fourth generation network in which students and instructors from international locations meet together in a single, virtual classroom.

Joseph Kinner and Norman Coombs outlined the problems and opportunities of adaptive computing and provided vignettes of hearing and deaf students interacting in the same virtual classroom.

Ann Pemberton and Robert Zenhausern extended the use of CMC in the classroom to provide a delivery system for rehabilitation to educationally impaired adolescents, teaching them basic computer literacy, motivational reading, writing and thinking activities, and an introduction to the world. Their chapter concluded with a list of resources specific to the needs of those involved in special education.

Linda S. Fowler and Daniel D. Wheeler presented the results of a survey of teachers using CMC in Kindergarten-Grade 12. They reported results that included an increase in student’s cultural understanding, and they also noted a need for extensive institutional support for teachers if the use of CMC is to become widespread.

Katy Silberger examined the changes in the traditional role and services offered by libraries in higher education as they face the technological opportunities inherent in the use of new electronic information formats, particularly electronic journals and monographs and electronic publishing networks.

George D. Baldwin’s chapter focuses on the implicit conflict between Native American cultural values and beliefs and the use of English language-based CMC. The chapter concludes with a list of Native American bulletin boards and discussion groups.

McAuley’s chapter in the third volume of this series gives another perspective on the use of CMC by Native Americans.

John J. Saraille and Thomas A. Gentry’s “Fractal Factory” is based on their contention that the study of fractals provides a rich insight into the natural world and will provide the lay person with some basics towards understanding the theoretical basis of fractal compression being used in the digital transmission of video signals.

In outlining the subject of scholarly communication using CMC, Raleigh C. Muns’s chapter delineated among the various network conferencing systems.

Michael Szabo discussed the history of in-class computer conferencing by providing an historical overview of “Plato,” one of the most powerful systems for the computer-assisted instruction.

The first book in this series concluded with Fay Sudweeks, Mauri Collins and John December’s introduction to the many facets of networks, networking, and the Internet. The authors provided specific instructions for using the most common Internet navigational tools and information to assist prospective “internauts” (Cerf, 1993) in locating further information and resources.

Considered together, the chapters in this volume revolve around the questions: “What do we know about teaching and learning?” and “How can educators and learners use CMC productively as we move into the 21st century?”

Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom in Higher Education, the second in this 3-volume series, focuses on several themes relating to both in-class and distance learning. These themes include accommodation of different learning styles and the empowerment of learners, regardless of physical challenges or social/cultural differences. Further, learners may now use the same tools and methods that professionals use; at the same time, pioneer educators using CMC are taking an interdisciplinary, project-oriented approach to teaching and learning-all of which creates authentic practice.

We find that CMC is changing instructional methods in several ways, including: (a) generating improved technological tools that allow classes to use a fuller range of interactive methodologies, and (b) encouraging teachers and administrators to pay more attention to the instructional design of courses. Both of these factors can improve the quantity, quality, and patterns of communication in the skills students practice during learning- a change that requires, in many cases, both teachers and students to learn different roles.

Educators often categorize the use of instructional CMC in three ways: for conferencing, informatics, and computer-assisted instruction (CAI). Computer conferencing provides e-mail, interactive messaging, and small and large group discussion. Informatics (repositories or maintainers of organized information) include library online public access catalogs (OPACs), interactive access to remote databases, program/data archive sites (e.g., archives of files for pictures, sound, text, movies), campus-wide information systems (CWIS), wide-area information systems (WAIS), and information managers, such as Gopher and Veronica. In CAI, the computer is used to structure and manage both the presentation of information and the possible responses available to the human user.

Uses of computer conferencing, informatics, and CAI include: – mentoring, such as advising and guiding students – project-based instruction, either within the classroom or in projects involving community, national, or international problem solving – guest lecturing, which promotes interaction between students and persons in the larger community – didactic teaching, that is, supplying course content, posting assignments,
or other information germane to course work – retrieval of information from online information archives, such as OPACs, ERIC, and commercial databases – course management, for example, advising, delivery of course content, evaluation, collecting and returning assignments – public conferencing, such as discussion lists using main frame Listserv software – interactive chat, used to brainstorm with teachers or peers and to maintain social relationships – personal networking and professional growth and such activities as finding persons with similar interests on scholarly discussion lists – facilitating collaboration – individual and group presentations – peer review of writing, or projects involving peer learning, groups/peer tutorial sessions, and peer counseling – practice and
experience using emerging technologies that may be intrinsically useful in today’s society – computer-based instruction, such as tutorials, simulations, and drills. As the authors in this volume discuss the various methods, it becomes clear that there are many benefits to using CMC, but there are also some limitations that must be recognized.

As the reader moves through these chapters, it will become apparent that one of the greatest benefits of CMC is its ability to liberate instruction from the constraints of time and distance. The convenience of access from home, school, or office permits many students and instructors to better meet travel, job, and family responsibilities. Educators and trainers, especially those involved in distance learning, have been searching for the “Holy Grail” of instruction for a long time-to be able to teach and have students learn anything, anytime, anywhere.

To a large degree, CMC now can fulfill two thirds of this desire. CMC promotes self-discipline and requires students to take more responsibility for their own learning. Using CMC, instructors can vary a course’s instructional design to include everything from structured projects to open projects in which students are free to work on “messy” – but authentic-problem solving. On the other hand, because students must manage their own learning, this newfound independence may be a hindrance to those students who need more structure.

No one can deny that we have entered an information age in which power comes to those who have information and know how to access it. If we consider which factors of CMC will be most important to education in the information age, it seems that our goals should be to develop self-motivated learners and help people learn to find and share information. If designed well, CMC applications can be used effectively to facilitate collaboration among students as peers, teachers as learners and facilitators, and guests or experts from outside the classroom.

One of the more important aspects of CMC use in instruction is that it is text-based. Facility in writing is essential across the entire curriculum, and with the present technology one cannot communicate on a computer network without writing. Just as important, if used effectively, CMC encourages and motivates students to become involved in authentic projects and to write for a real audience of their peers or persons in the larger world community, instead of merely composing assignments for the teacher. At the same time, we must recognize that not all students can express themselves well in writing, and, even for those who can, the act of writing and using online text-based applications can be a time-consuming struggle.

In this regard, there is an emerging body of literature, added to by several authors in this volume, who speak from their own experiences concerning the empowerment of persons with disabilities, physical impairment, disfigurement, or speech impediments, which hinder their equal participation in face-to- face encounters. CMC promotes an equalization of users. Because CMC is, at present, primarily text-only, the consequent reduction in social cues leads to a protective ignorance surrounding a person’s social roles, rank, and status. Further, it is impossible to know if another person took several hours to draft a one screen response, or several minutes. Responses are judged by the ideas and thoughts conveyed, more so than by who is doing the writing.

As a result, the lack of social cues and the asynchronous nature of the medium affords those with physical limitations or personal reticence the possibility of participating fully and equally in communicative activities within a mainstream environment. However, researchers realize that when social context cues are minimized nonreticent personalities can be encouraged to become overly zealous in their responses, or to become publicly inflammatory and aggressive on a personal level in ways that generally do not occur in other media. Second, it has been noted that some students prefer the social aspects of the classroom and are unsettled by the lack of face-to-face interaction in CMC, or the lack of a (sometimes) charismatic lecturer during presentation.

Another potential benefit of CMC is in promoting multicultural awareness. With the demographic make-up of many countries changing so rapidly, it is becoming increasingly important to develop communication skills for a culturally diverse community and world. Still, although CMC enhances some of these valuable skills for the 21st century, we must remember that because the bulk of CMC is conducted in English and in the written rather than in the spoken word, it may perpetuate some cultural hegemonies.

Many authors recognize CMC’s capability, under certain circumstances, to reduce the sense of isolation sometimes felt by students and teachers. However, still others believe that the lack of social cues and face-to-face interaction increases the sense of isolation for persons using this medium to teach and learn. They point out that CMC may interfere with face-to-face relationships or be addictive. However, as the chapters in this volume make clear, we cannot deny its value as a teaching tool. We simply need to remember that responsible use of CMC means using it in addition to other media, not as a replacement. As educators, our job is to provide options to fit a variety of learning styles, and it is in this regard that CMC can help the most.

There are technical benefits to using CMC, such as the ease of circulating and archiving files and documents (e.g., teacher messages, student work, assignments). On the other hand, the learning curve, with regard to learning the system and the technical “how tos” of the computer and telecommunications, can be steep. The cost of buying and supporting systems or accessing other networks is a significant “overhead” item in schools and colleges today, as is the cost and inconvenience of upgrading, repairing, or replacing hardware. Further, computer systems are not 100% reliable, a fact that adds to inconvenience and wasted time.

With so many systems to learn and sources to tap, information overload has become a problem as some users struggle with the lack of criteria to help them to decide what to keep and what to discard from the swiftly flowing stream of incoming information. All these factors-the idea that teachers, information designers, and instructional developers can use CMC to promote collaboration, cooperation, the sharing of ideas, and as an equalizing medium-means that the roles of students and teachers will change. No longer perceived as the sole experts and information providers, teachers become facilitators and guides.

Conversely, students are no longer passive learners, attempting to mimic what they see and hear from the expert teacher. They become participants, collaborators in the creation of knowledge and meaning. Yet we must attempt not to reproduce or augment the problems associated with the gap between technology “haves” and “have nots” when we design CMC and computer conferencing applications and curricula. Every software, networking, or curriculum innovation reflects, to some degree, the unarticulated assumptions about the world view of the culture that created it. We must be aware of this fact and strive to create and use CMC innovations that allow for multiplicity, for change, for difference. In response to increased pressure on universities and instructors to provide instructional delivery systems that go beyond the traditional “chalk-and-talk” form of lecture, computer-mediated conferencing has emerged as a tool for instructional communication not bound by prescribed meeting times or by geographic proximity.

Successful integration of CMC into the curriculum, however, depends on one’s ability to design and use CMC applications that meet course goals, delivery goals, or both. As part of course planning, we must address issues such as course goals, hardware availability, and student readiness. Large expenditures on CMC for the classroom will not help unless teachers understand how the technology helps fulfill the goals of the course. To this end, the chapters in this volume provide examples and practical advice.

In Chapter 1, Robert Nalley describes the instructional design process that led to the incorporation of CMC into two existing courses and offers practical guidance in instructional design to those who would consider CMC as an instructional tool.

Michael Day’s and Trent Batson’s chapter (Chapter 2) demonstrates how a particular application of CMC, Electronic Networks For Interaction (ENFI), is being used to change
the social dynamics of the writing classroom. ENFI is not a specific software package but rather an electronic implementation of the concept that writing can actually be taught in a computer lab with a network supporting real-time CMC. Because ENFI allows teachers and students to explore, collaborate, and expand on ideas in class in writing, and allows them to see each other in the process of developing ideas, writing to and for each other and not just to “the teacher,” ENFI supplements and expands on the activities teachers can use to help students meaningfully participate in a discourse community and improve their writing.

The study conducted by Karen Hartman, Sara Kiesler, Lee Sproull and their colleagues (Chapter 3) examines the effects of using network technologies in learning to write on teacher- student and student-student interactions. In a writing course emphasizing multiple drafts and collaboration, two sections used traditional modes of communication (face-to-face, paper, phone); and two other sections, in addition to using traditional modes, also used various electronic modes (electronic mail, bulletin boards, etc.). The patterns of social interaction were measured twice: six weeks into the semester and again at the end of the semester. Results indicate that teachers in the networked sections interacted more with their students than teachers in the regular sections. Whereas teachers in the regular sections marginally increased their use of traditional communication over time, teachers in the networked sections substantially increased their use of electronic communication over time without significantly decreasing their use of traditional modes of teacher-student communication. In addition, they found that teachers communicated more electronically with less able students than with more able students and that less able students communicated more electronically with other students.

In Chapter 4, Helen J. Schwartz uses experiences gained in an introductory literature class over the course of five semesters to explore the evolutionary process of answering the questions: “How and why should technology be used in a particular discipline?” and “How does it serve urban commuters in particular?” Nontraditional urban commuter students used computers in class and out to discuss course work as a supplement to face-to-face classes. Experience with five different configurations of pedagogical methods are described, including the use of a computer program developed by Schwartz for use in her classes. These helped shape procedures in a distance- education course, with subsequent replanning. Her current conclusions are presented, but she feels that teachers who learn from them must also evolve and discover their own answers. Dramatic changes in theories of language and literacy learning have been underway for some time and have taken into account ideas of pragmatic coherence, authenticity in interpersonal dialogue, and situational constraints on communication. Only recently, however, have there been consequences for classroom practice at the postsecondary level.

In the fifth chapter, Russell A. Hunt describes one set of strategies, called “Collaborative Investigation,” for embedding written language in social situations in educational contexts. This strategy has been used in recent years in a wide range of disciplines and for students ranging from freshmen to those in graduate school. More specifically, it describes one way in which computer network technology has been utilized to address the logistic and practical difficulties posed by such uses of writing and reading and to facilitate treating language in authentically dialogic ways. A class collaboratively investigating 18th-century English literature used electronic mail for communication between student and teacher and between students, an electronic bulletin board for “class discussions” and decision making, and a dedicated common directory for creating, sharing, and editing research reports on various aspects of the subject and for producing a “class book”-a desktop-published result of the work of the course, of which each student got a copy.

Edward Barrett’s chapter (Chapter 6) describes the Networked Educational Online System (NEOS) that was developed by writing faculty with support from Project Athena at MIT. NEOS does not model presumed cognitive states in students; rather it models the interactions among all members of a writing class. NEOS supports the creation, exchange, annotation, and display of text in real- class time, as well as out of class at numerous workstations throughout the fully distributed MIT network. Use of NEOS in the electronic classroom and out of class empowers students as peer reviewers and can significantly improve their writing skills. Barrett finds that many students prefer it to the traditional classroom for its ability to integrate theory and practice and for the greater interaction it supports among all class members and instructors.

In Chapter 7, Cecilia G. Manrique and Harry W. Gardiner describe some of the ways in which faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse have employed electronic mail in fulfilling the institutional trilateral goals of bringing together computing, writing and internationalizing the curriculum. Manrique and Gardiner include communication with students in foreign countries as components of Political Science and Cross-Cultural Psychology courses. Attention is given to some of the advantages and disadvantages of using electronic mail in specific courses, and they show where it has been successful as well as note some of the pitfalls that accompany such a nontraditional method of delivering education. Suggestions are made for incorporating electronic mail into a variety of courses through resources available to students and faculty in “netland.”

Ted J. Singletary and Holly Anderson, in Chapter 8, describe the First-Year Teacher Network that was instituted by Boise State University to help ease the difficult induction process of new teachers entering the profession. Twenty-five first-year teachers in 10 southwestern Idaho counties communicated through an electronic bulletin board system on a wide range of classroom and emotional topics. The support program, now in its fourth year of operation, has been successful in providing neophytes with access to university expertise, online databases, and other services. The First-Year Teacher Network is perceived as a valuable source of peer support and as a way to reduce feelings of isolation.

Karen Bruce’s discussion (Chapter 9) briefly elaborates on the importance of information technology in medicine, outlines the use of various types of CMC in that educational setting, and presents outcome data from a project implementing a 2-year longitudinal computer curriculum at East Carolina University School of Medicine. Bruce determined that the information explosion in medical practice and science had profoundly affected the information management needs of physicians and physicians-in- training. Over the last 60 years the structure and goals of medical education have remained essentially unchanged. The volume of medical knowledge, however, has grown exponentially. The sine qua non of a good medical education remains knowing all you need to know, not just knowing how to discriminate what you must know most of the time and where to find what you cannot possibly know all of the time. Current information technology, including computer-mediated communication (CMC), provides a number of tools to improve medical practitioners’ management and utilization of this information. The value of information obtained via CMC continues to improve rapidly; however, as Bruce points out, the ability of physicians and physicians-in-training to use this technology has not kept pace.

Gail Thomas’ chapter describes the development and presentation of two courses featuring online training for online information retrieval systems. Beginning and advanced courses use the Online Training and Practice (ONTAP) databases of Dialog Information Services, Inc., and the asynchronous computer conferencing capabilities of Unison’s PARTI software to deliver skills training over the modem. Both beginning and advanced courses have been offered since 1989 for graduate academic credit through Connected Education, Inc., and the Media Studies Program, New School for Social Research, New York City, NY.

In the final chapter, Mauri Collins presents a brief introduction to the various wide area networks (BITnet, Internet, Fidonet, etc.), networking, and the use of Internet information retrieval tools. Common networking acronyms are defined and explained, and instructions for the use of the file transfer protocol (ftp) and the remote login protocol (Telnet) are given. The format for electronic mail addresses is decoded and explained. Listserv and Usenet discussion groups are introduced and differentiated and instructions are given for joining Listserv discussion groups. The chapter concludes with a short list of sources for further networking information.

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