Build An Electronic Classroom Support System For Your Classes
Project Number Four – 1992
Ralph J. Lewis, Associate Professor
Department of Management/Human Resources Management
California State University, Long Beach
1250 Bellflower Blvd.
Long Beach, California, 90840
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the last several years I have built an Electronic Classroom Support System (ECSS) on the foundation of my campus computer facilities and the connectivity offered by CSUNet, a network based computer supported cooperative work system for instruction and education. My electronic classroom support system is based on Internet and CSUNET communications. It provides the student with on-line resources to select topic assignments, conduct bibliographic literature searches, access remote information servers, prepare written reports, review and comment on others’ reports, conduct peer evaluations, as well as receive input and feedback from the class instructor. I have found that an electronic classroom support system is an enabling technology which has empowered my adult college students to participate in the learning process; to increase the quality of their education even within the severe resource and budget constraints we are currently operating under. In the future I see further resource constraints and increasing costs for educational providers. The ONLY factor in the current and future cost equation that is becoming more cost effective is the category of information services. The freefall of hardware and software prices, the exponential growth of capacity, and the wide availability of resources makes information technology the key to successful and cost effectiveness future education delivery. Moreover, we are educating knowledge workers for the post-industrial information society. I believe that by utilizing the tools of the information age in our classes now, we better prepare our students for their future role as professional knowledge workers.
In this paper I would like to outline the components of an ECSS system and indicate how you might begin to utilize some of these facilities in your classes. In this era of resource constraints we tend to focus on what we don’t have (reproduction services, student assistants, readers and graders, library search funds, etc) and overlook the fact that we have access to a world wide network connecting all major corporations and educational institution that has been called by various writers a Matrix, network, supermind, cyberspace, or, Noosphere, which we could use as an educational resource if we chose. The door to this universe of information is as close as your (and your students) phone line or networked desktop personal computer.
Components of an ECSS
In my classes students are actively involved in the learning process and the network provides various support for them. Many of the same facilities could be used in most classes. In some classes specific resources may be needed but it is likely that these more specific resources could be shared in a cost effective manner with other classes within our system. I will focus now on the specific facilities I have found useful.
- First, you will want to consider using a Bulletin Board (BBS)/Information server that allows the students to access a class database of documents replacing the usual class handouts and supplementing the library reserve room. Unlike the use of class handouts, once the BBS is set up, the instructor incurs no additional labor costs each term to reproduce documents for their classes. The departments save on what reproduction budget they may have and there is no need to worry about students losing handouts and missing handouts given to class. In fact, if the agenda for each class session is posted on the BBS, the instructor is freed from answering the famous question “I missed class, did we cover anything important?” Unlike the reserve room the information server is accessible 24 hours a day/7 day a week. The EIS/BBS system currently installed on swrl/33 is an example of this type of classroom information server. If you want to see how I have utilized this CSU developed system feel free to telnet to eis.calstate.edu or use CSUNET to connect to swrl/33 and login as lewisnts.
- Second, E-mail for student to student and student to instructor communication will allow person-to-person communication and is available on almost all campus systems. E-mail keeps me connected with all my students in a timely manner. I have found that e-mail quickly and inexpensively solves the problem of “telephone tag” and frees up much office hour time.
- E-mail is a one-to-one communication format. You will want to consider the use of a conferencing system in your classes so students can post papers they write for other students and the instructor to read and comment on. Conferencing systems allow for collaborative student activities and knowledge sharing that no other communication format provides. There are various software systems available to CSU faculty so they can use computer conferencing in a virtual work technology mode to provide their students the experience of working in a decentralized, project oriented, collaborative and distributed organizational environment. Most of our campuses have USENET available. By adding local class newsgroups to your Usenet system you have an instant conferencing system. Additionally, the CSU system has a site license for CoSy/Unix, an excellent conferencing system. I have used both CoSy and USENET in my classes with excellent results. I have found that with the ability to archive ongoing discussion, and the addition of some simple text processing software, I was able to implement an online instructor and peer evaluation system so class discussion could be evaluated and student performance measured and included as a component of the class grading procedures.
- An on-line interactive reservation system was written by one of my former students to allow student to select class projects and topics that they wish to work on. This gives the student the freedom to select topics and change topics on a “first-come /first- choice’ basis. (If you want a copy of the reservation system I can send one to you. It is written in C running under UNIX)
- I teach an organizational behavior class and often administer questionnaire instruments so I can give the score to the student so they have greater personal insight in the theories being discussed in class. I wrote a simple questionnaire/survey feedback system for self awareness exercises for my classes which saves considerable class time for administration and scoring. Because the results are completed before class, I can run local norms to include in my lectures.
- Your classes will automatically have access to reference materials in library catalogues and reference search facilities available over the network as well as other network wide information services.
With these six basic facilities I have found students can be drawn into the educational process as professional, adult learners preparing for their future as sophisticated knowledge workers.
I have also found that there are somethings I can do using an ECSS to enrich my classes which could be done in no other way. This academic year I, in conjunction with other professors across the county, have linked our class discussion conferences together in a listserver called COMCONF. There are currently five classes at universities across America participating in COMCONF. These classes have a common interest in organizational behavior, leadership, motivation, and communication. The classes involved in the discussion are drawn from various academic fields ranging from schools of communication, business, psychology, and social work at the upper division and graduate level. Conjoint computer mediated class discussions are a pioneering application that would not have been possible without the ECSS.
The university must prepare large numbers of students to be active vs. passive learners, proactive vs. reactive future managers, and technically sophisticated innovators who can adapt and prosper in the cooperative, collaborative, competitive future workplace. Our student body at CSULB is drawn from a large urban area. Our working students are often under severe pressure to balance time commitments for school and employment obligations. Network connectivity provides student access from campus labs, off-campus via campus dial-in lines and CSUNET statewide dial-in ports. Students who work at sites with INTERNET connections also access the system via telnet, FTP, and INTERNET E-mail. Given the wide variability in student computer literacy skills and life styles, the flexible access allows students to use facilities consistent with their level of computer literacy, which they then integrate with the demands on their time and schedules.
The use of computer mediated communication saves considerable class time and provides all students an equal opportunity to contribute to class discussion. It is possible to achieve the ambiance of a small seminar of 7 to 12 students in a large class section of 35 to 40 students. Rather than being dehumanizing, computer mediated communications support classroom activities and allows the student to work productively anytime and anywhere they wish, using world wide resources.
I would encourage faculty to explore the various resources available over the network as a means to enrich their classes and their own lives as professional educators.
Dr. Lewis won the CERFnet award for Networking Applications in Education.
Info on COMCONF below
COMCONF—an Experiment in inter-university cooperative education.
COMCONF is private hotline for an experiment in inter- university cooperative education. There are currently several classes at universities across North America participating in COMCONF. These classes have in common an interest in organizational behavior, leadership, motivation, and communication. The classes involved in the discussion are drawn from various academic fields ranging from schools of communication, business, psychology, and social work at the upperdivision and graduate level.
Most of the students have had no previous exposure to computer mediated communication before participating in this experiment in interuniversity computer supported collaborative work.
Some COMCONF History
COMCONF emerged from a series of discussions on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institutes’ COMSERVE CMC hotline over the spring and summer of 1991. Several instructors at various institutions were discussing the application of computer mediated communication in their classes on the CMC hotline. Several of these instructors had utilized various CMC technologies in the delivery of instructional materials and to support class student-to-student and student-to- instructor communication. Integrative computer technologies included BBS’s, conferencing systems such as CoSy and CONFER, and E-Mail. These technologies however tended to be campus centered and as discussion turned toward the idea of creating an intercampus collaborative system it was apparent that the existing technologies would not be easily extendable to a multicampus domain. Compounding the problem of one technology for a multicampus discussion methodology was the fact that the various sites that wanted to participate were on Bitnet and Internet, so a telnetable conferencing system would not be a feasible option.
COMSERVE offered their Listserver as an option. Since all sites had E-mail capacity via Bitnet and Internet the problem of intercampus communication was resolved.