Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)
Asynchronous: Advantages of these tools include independence of specific time and place requirements, ease of student-teacher and student-student communication, promotion of thoughtful discussion, facilitation of student collaborative projects, online submission of assignments and file sharing, and the potential to actively involve students in the production of learning. There are few disadvantages, though sometimes students require incentives to participate, discussion can develop slowly, and there is a potential for inappropriate comments. For more information, see Diversity University's summary of the main characteristics of Archived Messaging Systems; the more detailed discussions of E-mail and Mailing Lists and Computer-Mediated Communication in JTAP's Guide to Online Tools; and Nancy Chism's Handbook for Instructors on the Use of Electronic Class Discussion. Nicenet provides a free online Internet Classroom Assistant that can be used to set up asynchronous discussion boards for a class; the ICA also provides online class scheduling, plus link and document sharing.
Example of a simple use of course-specific e-mail lists: I posed a challenge to the students in two concurrent courses; participation in the discussion was optional and I later put the discussion on the web so that the students could see how their peers in the other course responded.
Example of a complex, multi-college course discussion board: This Archaeology course, given by the Associated Colleges of the South, could not have taken place without internet technology; participation in this discussion forum was a required and graded part of the course. To view the discussion, click here, then click on Guest, then select Discussion.
Synchronous: Advantages of these tools include the immediacy and spontaneity of real-time communication, ability to brainstorm and receive immediate responses, lack of expense (if using text-based conferencing) and, in the case of MOOs, potential for role playing, resource creation, and imaginative immersion in other times, places, languages, and cultures. Scheduling, however, can prove difficult, the tools work best with relatively small numbers of participants at a time, and technological lag or slow typing can impede discussion. Video conferencing is still awkward and unreliable unless all parties involved have access to very expensive technology (and sometimes even then). For more information, see Diversity University's summary of the main characteristics of Text-Based Conferencing and Lingua MOO's list of MOO teachers for such subjects as writing, English, computer programming, microbiology, dentistry, and languages. V.R. Sites gives some idea of the number and variety of educational MOOs available; the Diversity University MOO hosts classes and activities for many different institutions. See also Tapped In, a web-based MOO that hosts an international online community of education professionals.
Example of an international VSNS Biocomputing Course conducted on Bio MOO, including Biocomputing in a Nutshell, which introduces the handbook Biocomputing for Everyone that was compiled by course participants, and subsequent courses and course materials.
Example of a MOO created for the teaching and learning of classics through the VRoma Project; connect via the Web Gateway and follow instructions for connecting as a guest or browsing anonymously.
Computer-Managed Learning Environments: Also called Virtual Learning Environments, these pre-packaged programs provide a single interface that incorporates many technological tools for online delivery and management of courses, typically including various types of asynchronous and synchronous communication, web pages, file-sharing, online quizzes and tests, etc. Normally these packages are adopted institutionally. They can provide tremendous savings in time for faculty and familiarity and ease of use for students, though the single interface can give a cookie cutter look and feel to courses. Examples of popular programs are Blackboard and WebCT.
|Information Literacy on the Web|
|Literate users of the web are able to
World Wide Web
Designing Web-Based Assignments: The possibilities are nearly endless. The following types of assignments are arranged in ascending order of difficulty and complexity. The first three are designed to develop and assess information literacy on the web in conjunction with learning course content.
1. Finding and Evaluating Information on the Web: Knowing how to locate information on the web is a crucial skill that everyone should possess, not only for academic and professional success, but also for many facets of daily living. It is very important that students be taught how to search effectively and how to evaluate web sites when found. A history professor at Texas Tech University, T. Mills Kelly, has been assessing the effects of incorporating web assignments into a required survey course (see Western Civilization: A Course Portfolio); one of his conclusions is that students rarely evaluate web sources critically unless repeatedly forced to do so in structured assignments.
Designing search/evaluation assignments that can be used in any type of course.
2. Using the Web as a Research Tool for Critical Essays: Besides being able to locate web sources and evaluate the quality and accuracy of their information, students also need to learn how to cite web sources and how to integrate them effectively with print sources. Citing Electronic/Internet Resources, by Marsha Keenan of the James G. Gee Library, provides an up-to-date collection of links to various citation styles. For examples of this type of assignment, see Research Paper Guidelines for American Legal History II (Sally Hadden, Florida State University) or Research Paper for International Law and Business (Albert D. Spalding, Wayne State University).
3. WebQuests: The WebQuest is a educational model for designing web assignments originally developed at San Diego State University. WebQuests are problem-solving projects intended to develop and assess all the aspects of web information literacy mentioned above; in the words of the developers, WebQuests are designed to use learners' time well, to focus on using information rather than looking for it, and to support learners' thinking at the levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation. WebQuests emphasize authentic tasks and products. The WebQuest home page includes very detailed training materials as well as many examples drawn from different educational levels. Some of the best examples have been developed for high school students, but these can give us good ideas for college students as well. Here are some good illustrations of different types of products: journalistic (Reflections of Vietnam), creative (Sworn to Serve), consensus building (Searching for China), persuasive (The Amistad Case: A Mock Trial), evaluative (Evaluating Math Games).
4. Applying Analytical Frameworks from the Course to Analyze/Critique the Internet Itself: This type of assignment uses the internet as a field for critical analysis rather than as an information tool; the internet offers an easily accessible, convenient, and inexpensive way to practice their analytic skills on the world outside the campus. This type of assignment can also effectively integrate the classroom and the internet if coupled with an oral presentation, as demonstrated in my Gender in Cyberspace project.
5. Using Student Web Publishing as an Assessment Device: Besides helping students to develop a valuable skill, web publishing can be a powerful incentive for students to produce high-quality work, to learn the importance of paying attention to details, to learn how to direct their work to a particular audience, and to develop writing and synthetic skills. An example is provided by my Ancient Rome final examination . The University of Warwick's TELRI project is sponsoring a number of pilot courses based on the incorporation of web-based resources and student web publishing; see, for example, their brief case studies on courses in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. In the French course, project directors reported that the student web publishing was successful in increasing communication in the target language; providing a purpose and focus for expressing and exchanging meaning; enabling independent learning.
6. Using On-line Databases or Resource Sites: The internet is a rich source of primary materials that are organized but not digested or interpreteddata, archival materials, case studies, statistics, etc.that make it possible for students to learn about and actually conduct original research with primary sources in a way that was rarely possible before. Some of the sites even include educational tutorials, such as the following outstanding web sites:
When designing assignments that require students to conduct research in primary sources available on the internet, it is very important to provide structure and guidance (the amount will of course depend on the students' level and expertise in the discipline).
NB: The animated image at the top of this page is available free from the Animation Factory.Barbara F. McManus