“Using the Web is intrinsically engaging and inherently encourages active learning,” stated one of the participants in the Coalition for Networked Information’s New Learning Communities workshop held in Indianapolis, November 17-19, 1995. Many of the participants in the workshop, all of whom had created collaborative teaching and learning projects in the networked information environment, agreed. The attendees, early adopters of networking technologies into the teaching and learning process in higher education, are finding that many others on their campuses are seeking their expertise and insights in order to develop programs in additional content areas. The key challenge for many institutions is to find a way to scale these early initiatives and to build a campus infrastructure to support these new modes of learning.
Under the leadership of Philip Tompkins, Indiana University – Purdue University of Indiana (IUPUI), and Susan Perry, Mount Holyoke College, CNI’s New Learning Communities Program seeks to promote cross-fertilization of professionals in higher education institutions across the country who use networks such as the Internet and networked information resources to enrich their curriculum and broaden their students’ learning experiences. The program brings together institutional or inter-institutional teams of faculty, librarians, information technologists, instructional technologists, and students, to share perspectives, critique each other’s programs, and develop a set of “best practices” for the benefit of the larger educational community.
The goals of the program are:
- To provide a mechanism and a venue where experienced, collaborative teams of individuals working on curricular programs involving the use of networks and networked information can benefit from peer advice, moral support and program critiques.
- To provide the means for others in the academic community, nationally and internationally, to benefit from the expertise and experience of teams who have implemented teaching and learning programs using networks and networked information.
- To encourage and assist information technology professionals and librarians to serve as partners with teaching faculty members in the design and delivery of instruction using networking and networked information.
CNI’s first New Learning Communities workshop was held in Phoenix at the Estrella Mountain College Center of the Maricopa County Community College District in July, 1994. The workshop was co-sponsored by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), and Educom. CNI received a grant from the Department of Education’s HEA Title II-B “Library Education and Human Resource Development” program to assist with the funding of a three-phase implementation of the New Learning Communities Program in 1995-6. The first phase of the work under this grant was a three-day meeting at IUPUI.
Teams were selected to participate in the Indianapolis workshop based on their responses to a call for participation issued by CNI earlier this year. The ten teams selected and their projects were:
- “Collaboratory,” University of Hawaii at Manoa;
- “Collaborative Development of Web Pages for Students in a First Year Colloquy Series,” Gettysburg College;
- “Distance and Electronic Education Project: A Mini-Grant Program,” Johns Hopkins University;
- “LC Online,” Louisiana College;
- “UWired: Teaching, Learning and Technology,” University of Washington;
- “The California Young Scholar Program,” California State Polytechnic, Pomona;
- “Student Directed, Information Rich (SDIR) Learning,” North Carolina State University;
- “Fine Arts 121: A Model for Developing a Digital Undergraduate Curriculum,” University of Southern California;
- “Integrating Networked Information into Instruction,” Mesa and Estrella Mountain Community Colleges; and,
- “The Delta Project: Integrated Database: Biological Sciences and Art,” California State University System.
These projects speak to the wide range of subjects and types of institutions that are integrating networking and networked information resources into the curriculum. The content for the courses represented included the fine arts, English, natural resources, nursing, and social sciences. Higher education institutions of all types–from community colleges to liberal arts colleges, to large state and private universities–have innovative projects involving new learning communities. In addition to team members from the faculty, library, computing center, and instructional development center on campus, some programs also collaborated with local museums, high schools, and university bookstores.
Team members attended presentations by selected IUPUI administrators and faculty on such topics as the nature of faculty work (William Plater, Executive Vice Chancellor and Dean of Faculties), collaborative learning (Sharon Hamilton, Professor of English), teaching, learning and technology (Garland Elmore, Associate Executive Vice Chancellor), and assessment (Trudy Banta, Vice Chancellor, Susanmarie Harrington, Assistant Professor of English, and Joe Lovrinic, Management Advisory Office). But, most of the work at the conference was done in small group sessions during which teams were paired to share information about the successes of and problems with their projects. Other small group sessions allowed each team an opportunity to reflect on their project and plan next steps. Participants particularly enjoyed the opportunity to see each project in action during a demonstration session in IUPUI’s Center for Teaching and Learning.
The participants discussed many aspects of their collaborative projects. At least two kinds of collaboration were identified: collaborative development of the course content and delivery mechanisms by a cross-sector team of faculty and professionals; and, collaborative learning among students and among students and faculty during the delivery of the course. Based on their experiences and the frameworks provided by the speakers, the team members described some of the most important features of their programs. They included: students working as self-directed learners; students learning to work collaboratively; and, verbally reticent students expressing themselves on the network. One project team noted that the integration of visual materials, sound, and text made possible by today’s technologies can improve the ease and quality of learning in some fields, particularly in music and art. Many of the team members reported that faculty became excited and motivated by working with other developers in a team environment, projects prompted collaboration among units on campus that previously had not worked together, and interaction between colleagues was deepened.
Some advice that team members had for others developing similar efforts was:
- to keep the central role of faculty in the process
- to encourage students to be part of the development team
- to incorporate information literacy into the curriculum
- to learn about each team member’s competencies
- to have students build a network resource that has genuine use for the course as part of the curriculum, and
- to tie the use of technology closely to the curriculum.
One team’s advice to others is simply, “Start!”
Key impediments identified by the teams included:
- insufficient infrastructure (networking, personnel, equipment, facilities, etc.)
- difficulty scaling projects (reaching more courses and more students)
- the time commitment required to develop such projects
- problems with off-campus access, and
- copyright of materials that might be incorporated in the networked resources.
In the sixteen months since the first New Learning Communities workshop, a number of differences could be observed in the projects described in the 1995 event compared to those represented at the 1994 event. Some of those differences were that now some projects were being developed within a campus infrastructure that supports network-based teaching and learning, there are fewer problems with the technology, there is heavy reliance on the Web and associated browsers (e.g. Netscape), there is more cross-sector collaboration, and more projects include an assessment component.
Some of the issues discussed most by the participants were the scalability of their projects (how to enable large segments of their institution to use similar techniques without heavier investments in technology and personnel), and how to encourage and assess “engagement” by students in this environment.
In order to assist other institutions who wish to develop similar initiatives, case studies of each project will be mounted on the Web for access by the entire Internet community. Under the direction of Jana Bradley, Assistant Professor at IUPUI, each team member completed a template providing initial information about their project and the process that they used to develop it. Bradley also interviewed each team at the workshop to assist her in understanding key elements about the project. Abstracts of each project and the meeting agenda are currently available on the CNI’s Internet server.
CNI expects to produce a videotape with excerpts from the workshop. A videotape from the 1994 New Learning Communities workshop along with a handbook of materials to assist institutions with developing a similar program at the local or regional level is available from the Coalition for $25.00.
In late spring 1996, CNI will hold a conference on New Learning Communities for collaborative teams that are just starting teaching and learning projects or who wish to gain some insight into how to begin such an effort. Participants from teams from the two previous conferences will present their programs and assist with small group facilitation. The date and place of this conference have not yet been set.
On July 5, 1996, a full-day preconference on “Librarians as Leaders in New Learning Communities” will be held at the American Library Association in New York City. Under the auspices of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the program will focus on the role of the librarian on collaborative teams.
Information on New Learning Communities can be located on CNI’s Web site at http://www.cni.org/resources/historical-resources/new-learning-communities/.
Additional information, particularly on ordering the videotape or registering for a future conference, can be obtained from:
Joan K. Lippincott Assistant Executive Director Coalition for Networked Information 21 Dupont Circle, Suite 800 Washington, DC 20036 202-296-5098 Fax: 202-872-0884 Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org