Collaboration Stressed at
CNI’s New Learning Communities Conference
Faculty, librarians, technologists, instructional designers, and others collaborated in what one participant termed a “crash course on learning communities” during CNI’s New Learning Communities Conference held August 22, 1997. “It felt like a crash course and that’s what I expected. That’s what was needed,” said Victoria A. Montavon, Associate Provost for Libraries and Information Services at Wright State University. “It was quite an enlightening experience. We had an opportunity to share just what we can do and what we already have done,” concurred Nancy Utternback, Professor, University of Louisville.
The conference was designed for those individuals interested in collaborative teaching and learning that includes the use of information resources on the Internet. In addition to the Coalition, ACRL, AAHE, and Educom co-sponsored the conference. The event was part of CNI’s New Learning Communities Program, which is supported by a grant from the US Department of Education.
The conference opened with a presentation of examples of New Learning Communities led by Carolyn Argentati of North Carolina State University and Mary McMahon of Gettysburg College. “I was particularly interested in collaborative learning and some of the ideas discussed in this presentation regarding collaboration,” said Mimi Gronlund, Head Librarian, Instructional Services, Northern Virginia Community College. Participants then enjoyed a collaborative learning video presented by Sharon Hamilton of Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI).
Susan Perry of Mt. Holyoke College, then piqued the interest of many of the attendees with her examination of the characteristics of new learning communities. Perry used examples of communities she had examined in her research to give participants a realistic view of learning efforts, including grade schools in Palo Alto, California where second graders used e-mail in their Spanish studies. Perry explained the many advances occurring in the classroom, stating “Students are going to arrive on our doorsteps saying “where’s my Website?”
Perry also examined a common misconception regarding funding new learning communities. “Groups and organizations are definitely willing to help foot the bill,” said Perry. She pointed out that organizations such as home institutions, the National Science Foundation, the World Bank, the Texas Cancer Council, the Texas Environmental Center, and AT&T had all funded new learning projects.
According to Perry, new learning community pioneers learned many lessons, including:
— faculty could handle more students than they thought in distance learning;
— faculty, computarians (Perry’s term for computing professionals), librarians, language specialists, and others all have to work together to make projects successful and;
— technology helps to engage students in the learning process.
Finally, Perry spoke about the four main issues to watch in new learning communities: assessment, team impact on organizations, scaling projects to reach many more students, and infrastructure. “One of the interesting things we learned is that people felt closer to their teams than their home departments,” said Perry referring to her findings on the team impact on organizations.
Philip Tompkins and William Orme of IUPUI then followed Perry’s presentation with a discussion of the developmental stages of instructional teams. The types of individuals involved in their institution’s teams include teaching faculty, academic advisors, technologist, student mentors, and librarians. Tompkins stated that while the faculty appropriately led the bulk of new learning communities activities, “our ideal is that everyone, all of the parties, come together as equal partners.”
The four phases of team development Tompkins and Orme addressed included:
- team formation;
- design and development;
- implementation; and
In the evaluation phase, Orme explained that not only were students achievements being assessed, but also those of the teams.
Throughout the discussion, Tompkins and Orme both emphasized the themes of collaboration and the value of learning with regards to new learning communities.
“Collaboration is one of the buzz words of this conference. We’re talking about people whose jobs would normally not overlap and we’re trying to create teams of service providers whose goal is ultimately the student,” said Melissa Thibault, Interim Multimedia Services Librarian, North Carolina State University.
After the instructional team discussion, participants broke into small groups to conduct a force field analysis for each of their respective organizations. After examining their organization’s existing elements of collaboration, participants discussed inhibiting and supporting efforts related to these existing models of collaboration. At the University of Maryland, College Park, for example, a supporting factor is the existence of a center for teaching excellence. Inhibiting factors at Maryland included the challenge of dealing with information literacy and the fact that there were so many projects on the campus that it was difficult to be plugged into all of them.
“It’s extremely useful to find out what’s going on in other places,” said Richard Werking, Librarian, Associate Dean and Professor of History, U.S. Naval Academy. Werking commented that learning the specifics of the new learning communities, as occurred during the conference, aided his efforts greatly.
Tompkins and Andrea Bartelstein of the University of Washington then led a discussion of infrastructure issues as they relate to new learning communities, focusing on facilities design. “There has to be a meeting of the minds between all of the individuals who have input into the planning process,” stressed Tompkins. He then discussed the need for the availability of equipment and for training students and staff.
Bartelstein followed up Tompkins presentation with an explanation of the UWired project taking place at the University of Washington. The project’s goal is to integrate information technology into teaching and learning. During the first phases of the project, a few chosen University of Washington entering freshmen were given laptops and tables, termed pods, where four students would work in cluster and collaborate on projects. The project is now being expanded to upper level University of Washington college students and additional facilities are being developed.
Another interesting project, the JHU MAT Program, sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, provided conference participants with other insights into new learning communities. David Wizer, currently an assistant professor at Towson University and formerly at JHU and Kelly Karwacki, a graduate student in the JHU MAT Program, explained the intricacies of the project. During the spring of 1997, students in graduate program in teacher preparation placed portions of their portfolio on the Internet. The portfolios included student’s resumes, a listing of goals, teaching materials, and photographs. “We are working to have the best of these portfolios placed on the Internet as homepages that will allow for an in-depth analysis of teaching experience and connection to a range of content resources located at other sites on the Internet,” explained Wizer.
The conference concluded with a brief discussion by Bartelstein on assessing new learning communities. “Institutions are looking for pay offs,” stressed Bartelstein. With Bartelstein and selected participants serving as moderators, attendees divided into groups for discussions on the subject of assessment as their final activity of the day.
The conference was the capstone of a multi-year CNI New Learning Communities project. Previous events included two invitational conferences for teams who had active new learning communities programs in place and two preconferences in conjunction with the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).
CNI’s Assistant Executive Director, Joan K. Lippincott, stated that under the leadership of Philip Tompkins and Susan Perry, who served as heads of CNI’s Working Group on Teaching and Learning, CNI developed a program of national and international significance which promoted a model of using the Internet in collaborative learning in higher education. Lippincott stated, “This program has had an impact on those who were pioneers in using the Internet’s information resources in teaching and learning by recognizing and encouraging their work and by providing opportunities for peer consultation. In addition, we have disseminated information about the new learning communities concept and provided models for others to emulate through other conference programs, reports, and via CNI’s Website.”
Further information on the New Learning Communities program, including reports and descriptions of the programs of the teams who participated in the invitational conferences, can be found at <http://www.cni.org/resources/historical-resources/new-learning-communities/>.