Creating New Learning Communities via the Network:
Coalition for Networked Information Holds Workshop
Course innovation using the Internet as a vehicle involves more than technological innovation. Many of the participants at the Creating New Learning Communities via the Network workshop found that in their curriculum projects, the development of their course changed the way they interacted with other colleagues on campus, who became part of an instructional development and delivery team. “Re-thinking the entire process is crucial,” Philip Tompkins, one of the workshop organizers said. “We are developing a model where faculty are experts who need to work with teams of other experts and do so in broader settings than the isolated classroom environment.”
Ten institutions participated in the New Learning Communities workshop, which brought together teams who have been developing new learning communities through the integration of networking and networked information into higher education teaching and learning environments. Participating teams have used new information technologies and network-based applications to support and build groups of faculty and students using collaborative strategies to improve both course content and the teaching and learning process. The workshop was held at Estrella Mountain Community College Center in metropolitan Phoenix, Arizona on July 31 – August 1, 1994. The meeting was hosted by the Coalition for Networked Information with the sponsorship of EDUCOM, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE). Participating institutions included: University of Arizona, University of Central Arkansas, Montana State University, Northern Arizona University, University of Binghamton, San Diego State University, Kenyon College, Ohio State University, Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), and SUNY Empire State College.
Some of the projects that were represented included a simulation activity in which classes build working models of communities in a historically plausible future Solar System, using a Multiple-User Domain (MUD) program, communication on the network via e-mail, and other Internet applications (Northern Arizona University and eleven other campuses); a project offering science and mathematics courses nationally to high school teachers over the network (Montana State University); an institute that assists faculty members in learning how to integrate search strategies and information technology into their teaching and to encourage student use of technologies (Kenyon College); and, development of Electronic Seminars, for example one on Africa and Its Peoples, used in a distance education setting (Empire State College).
Teams from over thirty institutions in four countries responded to the Coalition’s Call for Participation, inviting institutions to submit a description of their program in order to be selected to participate in the workshop.
Each team incorporated collaborative relationships with individuals from different sectors of the institution, often including faculty, information technologists, librarians, and students as part of the community developing the project. One of the Coalition’s goals is to encourage and facilitate cross-sector partnerships in the development of networked information resources and services.
One participant expressed the opinion that the team as it works is negotiating a new reality, which may mean giving up some of the individuals’ former authority and redefining the members’ roles. He commented, “Every time we include new perspectives on a team, we have to learn a new language, a new culture, a new perspective.” Many agreed that explicit attention to the dynamics of the collaborative undertaking was a key to the success of their project.
The workshop provided an opportunity for the teams from each institution to share their experience with each other, engage in small group problem solving discussion, and assist in the development of findings and recommendations, which the Coalition for Networked Information will distribute, to assist other institutions who wish to undertake similar endeavors. The Coalition’s Working Group on Teaching and Learning co-leaders, Philip Tompkins of Estrella Mountain Community College Center and Susan Perry of Stanford University, conceptualized the program as a means of providing support for those involved in developing network-based learning projects and an opportunity for refinement and interchange among early adopters of networking technology for teaching and learning.
In addition to collaboration among the members of the development team, participants emphasized the collaborative nature of learning in network-mediated courses. A common theme among participants was the observation that in network-based courses, social hierarchies tend to dissolve and need to be re-created; much more peer-mediated learning takes place over the network than in the traditional classroom environment. Many of the faculty felt that providing students with situations in which they can learn as teams is essential to their future. One faculty member related how he had to be out of the country for two weeks under circumstances where he would not have Internet access. He apologized to his students and left town, expecting that the course would be suspended until his return. To his amazement and ultimately delight, he found that the students had organized themselves over the network and assigned tasks and roles and made substantial progress with the course in his absence.
Another theme of the workshop was the notion that working with technology has a strong social dimension and that spaces must be designed with that in mind. Most computer labs are set up in traditional lecture format with an instructor’s workstation in front and student workstations in rows. They are not set up in formats conducive to collaborative learning. The workshop site, Estrella Mountain Community College Center, opened in August 1992 as the tenth of the Maricopa Community Colleges. It is an example of a college planned from the beginning to support the development of learning communities with information access and computer access across the curriculum. Estrella Mountain’s Provost, Homero Lopez, noted that “the workshop is a wonderful opportunity to rub shoulders with instructional teams from across the country who regard the world as their classroom.” Participants appreciated being exposed to the physical and technological facilities available at the Estrella site.
Challenges to implementing new learning communities over networks were also discussed. Some of the common problems mentioned were the need for training in skills to use the underlying technology (by faculty, students, and librarians), the difficulty of dealing with multiple technology platforms both on campus and in distance education environments, convincing some students that the increased need for independence and the less formal structure of many of these courses were positive features, the costs associated with developing and implementing the programs, scaling of the programs to accomodate more students and other institutions, recognition of work on projects such as these in promotion and tenure decisions, intellectual property rights, and the assessment of both mastery of course content and the collaborative learning process.
Participants commented that they now had a support group of the other nine attending institutions. While the content and implementation method of the programs varied greatly, many felt that they had far more similarities than differences.
One participant commented, “I take away a half a dozen specific aplications I can use in my courses. I have a better understanding and appreciation of team work, the resource issues, and assessment and, in general, a new sense of how radically (use of networking) alters the teaching/learning process.
A report and project descriptions will be available on the Coalition’s Internet server. In addition, a videotape of excerpts from the workshop will be available for purchase in the Fall.
The Coalition for Networked Information, a joint project of the Association of Research Libraries, CAUSE, and EDUCOM promotes the creation of and access to information resources in networked environments in order to enrich scholarship and to enhance intellectual productivity. Currently 202 organizations and institutions are members of the Coalition Task Force.
EDUCOM is a consortium of leading colleges and universities seeking to transform education through the use of information technology.
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) is the largest of the eleven divisions of the American Library Association and fosters the profession of academic and research librarianship.
The American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) is a national organization dedicated to the common cause of improving the quality of higher education.
Contact: Joan K. Lippincott Assistant Executive Director Coalition for Networked Information 202-296-5098 or Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org