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Forwarded message: > > Date: 8 May 92 01:21:38 GMT > X-From: brewster@Think.COM (Brewster Kahle) > Subject: WAIS-discussion digest #52: Etools in the Classroom > Newsgroups: alt.wais,list.wais-discussion > > Forum On Wide Area Information Servers and Electronic Publishing > Brewster Kahle > > Contents: > Electronic Tools in an actual classroom (Sheldon Annis) > > ------------------------------ > Date: Wed, 6 May 92 09:28:52 PDT > X-From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Sheldon Annis) > Subject: Electronic Tools in an actual classroom > > [This is an crisp article on how different electronic tools have faired in > a college classroom. They have not used WAIS yet, but I think it is still > approprate for this list. Sheldon has asked for comments both directly and > to the list. Forwarded with permission. -brewster] > > Article submitted to Professional Geographer, March 1992 > > > > TELEPHONE AND COMPUTER CONFERENCING IN GEOGRAPHY > INSTRUCTION AT BOSTON UNIVERSITY > > Sheldon Annis, Department of Geography > > Virtually every facet of our personal and professional lives > has been affected by the ease with which we can now obtain > information and exchange ideas through advanced communications > technology. Yet teaching has remained remarkably unaffected. In > general, most undergraduate courses today are conducted just as > they were 20, 30, or 90 years ago -- through lectures, assigned > readings, term papers, individual study, and exam-taking. For > the most part, the information retrieval and extraordinary new > kinds of intellectual interactions that are now possible through > electronic communication have not penetrated the way that we > conduct the university's most fundamental business: teaching. > Given the financial stress within higher education, it is > perhaps not surprising that sophisticated state-of-the-art > technologies, such as videoconferencing and hypermedia, are not > common in classrooms. These are not only unfamiliar, they are > expensive. But it is surprising that relatively mundane, low- > cost tools, especially speakerphones and modems, are not being > put to more widespread use. Indeed, these tools are affordable > and easy to use. The key limitation in this case may simply be > that we haven't learned quite yet what to do with them. > How can potential tools such as telephone conferencing and > computer networking be adapted to classroom settings? With an > eye toward future applications, the Department of Geography and > Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University > has experimented with several phone-based, undergraduate courses > since 1990. This article briefly describes the techniques that > have been employed, reports on some initial results, and > speculates on how their use might evolve in other classroom > situations. > > Classroom Experimentation in the Department of Geography > The Department of Geography offered its first fully > developed pilot course ("Poverty, Natural Resources, and Public > Policy in Central America, GG562") during the spring and fall > semesters of 1991. Substantively, the course explored the > relationship between poverty and environmental degradation in > Central America. It examined the causes and consequences of > environmental deterioration, current debates among scholars and > policy makers, and the range of policy and institutional > responses that are being attempted in the region. About 15 > students took the course the first two offerings. Most of these > students were upper-level undergraduates and graduate students, > representing disciplines such as geography, anthropology, > economics, environmental studies, and international relations. > The second course, "Grassroots Development in Latin America > (GG532)", was offered to about 30 students in Spring 1992. This > course explored local-level development processes in light of > broader economic trends and social changes within contemporary > Latin America. This course covered topics such as small-farm > agriculture, cooperativism, peasant movements, self-help housing, > informal-sector business activity, and the urban popular > movement. Most students had done previous work in economics, > international development, and Latin American studies. Many of > these students are from Hispanic family backgrounds. Few had > significant computer experience beyond wordprocessing, and none > had had prior experience working with networking. > Both of these course were designed to be about half > "traditional" and half "phone-based". In the "traditional" mode, > readings were assigned, lectures were given, and seminar-like > discussions were held one day a week. Although the students > genuinely enjoyed the non-traditional, phone-based elements, they > tended to respond negatively if they perceived the mix to be "too > technological." They viewed the phone-based tools as > complementary and enriching, not as a substitute for more > familiar classroom instruction. The only traditional elements > they appeared fully ready to throw out were textbooks and exams. > The novel, phone-based elements for the classes are > telephone conferencing, asynchronous and real-time computer > conferencing, e-mail within and beyond campus, and the use of > data bases and external networks for research. The key > electronic elements are employed as follows: > > 1. Telephone conferencing to bring in outside speakers. > Teleconferences are simpler and initially more engaging than > computer conferences. For most students, the most successful and > popular element of these classes is the part that is > technologically simplest: the use of a speakerphone to enliven > class sessions with outside guests. This is done by plugging a > speakerphone (about $75) in to a regular phone jack and making a > pre-arranged, long-distance call. Using the university's US > Sprint service, an hour-long phone call within the United States > usually costs under $15; an hour-long phone call to Central > America costs about $50. Students quickly become accustomed to > classroom guests who "look like telephones." > Guests are selected on the basis of complementary expertise > or "real world" experience. Despite some initial awkwardness, > most guests express pleasure at the opportunity to interact with > bright college students who are interested in what they are > doing. For reasons of cost, we have not attempted live video or > "slow-scan" interaction, but several guests have sent outlines, > maps, transparencies of graphs and tables, videos, photos, and > slides that can be shown to the students during the talk (i.e., > Guest: "Flip to the third slide. Can you see that. . . . ?"). > Presentations and discussion with the guest usually lasts > about an hour. When the call is completed, the class then > usually discusses the presentation for another 20 minutes. > For the Central American class, guests have included: > > > -- The former editor of National Geographic, who > described his work with complex ecotourism project in > the Mayan area of Guatemala. > > -- A young geographer who is studying the distribution > and needs of indigenous populations in Honduras and > Nicaragua. > > -- A Washington economist who is a specialist on the > economic and environmental consequences of > nontraditional agricultural exports. > > -- A technical advisor to a movement of small farmers > in Nicaragua who are experimenting with low chemical > input agricultural techniques. > > -- A World Bank expert on parks and protected areas. > > -- A forester in a major environmental organization who > explained the notion of "extractive reserves" in the > Mayan lowlands. > > Most of these talks were planned and arranged beforehand in > accordance with the structure of the course syllabus. However, > some themes develop a life of their own. For example, after a > lecture and several assigned readings on parks and protected > areas, one class developed particular interest in the financing > of conservation activities -- especially, the idea of debt-for- > nature swaps. A leading technical expert on debt-for-nature > swaps in Washington was consulted; and he explained this complex > mechanism in precise detail. Similarly, after a lecture and > readings on rainforest issues, the class interviewed a > distinguished tropical ecologist who is helping to develop an > international Biosphere between Costa Rica and Panama. This > discussion in turn raised a new set of issues about the politics > of conservation. The class then spoke on two occasions with a > BriBri Indian leader in Costa Rica, who articulately explained > why he bitterly opposes the formation of an international > Biosphere. > The course on "Grassroots Development in Latin America" is > particularly conducive to phone interviews. Students enjoy > talking to young and mid-career professionals who work on > development projects, as well as to local leaders and > participants in grassroots projects. In Spring 1992, the kinds > of persons interviewed from the classroom included: > -- The program officer at a US government agency who > makes grants to grassroots organizations in Haiti > > -- An expert on Latin American agricultural > cooperatives > > -- The leader of Costa Rican small-farmer federation > > -- The manager of a rural cooperative in Bolivia > > -- The director of the Small Projects Fund at the > Inter-American Development Bank in Washington > > -- The director of a federation of nongovernmental > organizations in Colombia. > > For the coming year, the course will begin to develop > interactions in which there is also a speaker phone at the other > end -- that is, a discussion that can connect the Boston > University classroom to a group of street children in Sao Paolo > or to committee of local farmers in Belize. Similarly, we > anticipate discussions among ourselves and university students in > special phone-linked classrooms on each of the five Central > American campuses. > > > 2. On-line organization of the classroom. The management of > the course, assignment-giving, and considerable interaction > between instructor and students is conducted through a semester- > long computer conference. A "computer conference", in this > sense, is a specially created, shared "electronic space". Class > members exchange information in an organized fashion through the > campus computer system and personal computers that are connected > to the campus through modems and outside phone lines. > In the first offering of the Central American course, this > class-only conference was set up through the BYTE Information > Exchange (BIX), an electronic conferencing system affiliated with > BYTE Magazine. A restricted, class-only conference (called > BUCENT, for Boston University Central America course) was set up > through BIX at the cost of $25 per student. All students > connected to the class conference through a local phone call from > a modem-equipped personal computer. A great advantage of BIX is > its user-friendliness. Most students became comfortable with its > straightforward command structure within a hour or two of work. > Using BIX, the course was structured so that major syllabus > topics were introduced by lectures, class discussions, and the > long-distance speakerphone presentations. Topics such as > deforestation, coastal resource management, and sustainable > agriculture were then set up within BUCENT as subconferences, > referred to by the class as "threads". Students kept individual > threads running by adding comments to the particular > subconferences, raising questions and carrying on student-to- > student debate, writing short critiques of assigned readings and > of each other's work, and posting queries and tips for those > doing research. > As students became more skillful network users, they would > reinforce some threads through their discussions and by importing > relevant material from the hundreds of other conferences within > and beyond BIX. Often, vast amounts of highly up-to-date, > technical material could be found that would carry the discussion > far beyond the initial class presentation. > Some threads would spin off new threads; others would die > out. In this way, the class managed simultaneous engagement in a > dozen or so ongoing topics. Students were usually able to manage > these threads and keep interest running with or without the > instructor's prompting (though that helped). No students > participated in everything; rather, each student created a unique > pathway through relevant material, following his or her interest, > skills, and penchant for exploration. > BIX's easy-to-use e-mail system allowed students to > communicate not only with each other, but with thousands of other > BIX users around the globe. In addition to communicating with > them through message-based conferencing, BIX also supports > interactive conferencing, called CBIX. That allowed several > students to engage in lively keyboard discussions in "real time." > On two occasions, the group used CBIX to meet electronically as a > class from their respective home computers. Though entertaining, > the experience proved too chaotic for a serious exchange of > ideas. With physical dispersion not a real constraint, the class > returned to its classroom for real real-time discussions. > A serious weakness of BIX is that it is not a node on the > Internet, the vast, national "electronic highway system" that is > the principal inter-university communication infrastructure. > Therefore, BIX could not be dialed up from the university > computer system -- meaning, the course could initially be > available only to students with their own computers and modems. > To make student access to the course more equitable the second > semester, the class-only conference was switched to PeaceNet, a > not-for-profit network that is an Internet host. The conference > could then be accessed (through Telnet) from any networked > computer on the campus, as well as from home computers. This > connection made the course accessible to non-computer-owning > students. More importantly, it made the course idea more > expandable within the university and created a support > relationship with the university's excellent services in academic > computing. In this instance, PeaceNet charged a flat network > use rate of $40 per student. > > 3. Student research through PeaceNet and other electronic > gateways. > Scores of environmental organizations and thousands of > activists and scientists make regular use of PeaceNet and its > associated networks around the globe. They have created 800+ > thematic conferences, which constitute the core of PeaceNet > activity. At the outset of the semester students are encouraged > to browse widely in these conferences in order to deepen their > understanding of subjects in which they have already done work > and to explore new areas of interest. > Because the courses themselves are about environmental and > development issues, examples of the kinds of conferences that > students are likely to explore are: > > dev.humansettl -- Information on cities and towns, and > discussion of issues relating to human habitat. > > rainfor.general -- General information on rainforests. > > centralam.hoy -- Discussion of political issues in > Central America (in Spanish). > > ga.announce -- Announcements, bulletins, and notices > regarding the activities of nongovernmental organizations > networking internationally on greenhouse and climate change > issues. > > ax.fondad -- A forum dedicated to discussion of > Third World debt and development > > en.bioanaerobi -- Discussions of alternative methods of > recycling waste products for fuel > > en.unced.general -- A participatory conference on the U.N. > Conference on Environmental and Development, to be held in > Brazil, June 1992. > > en.agriculture -- Discussions on sustainable > agriculture, especially in developing countries. > > > Individual students may get to know as many as 30-40 of the > network's 800+ conferences. As an initial required assignment, > they browse widely and select a "regular conference list" -- that > is, a list of 6-8 conferences particular to their interests. New > activity within these conferences is flashed to their computer > terminals whenever they log on to PeaceNet. At the outset of the > semester, students tend to participate in these conferences > somewhat passively. They relate to them as if they were books -- > reading messages, taking notes, and sometimes importing > ("downloading") information for general use within the class-only > conference. Gradually, however, they learn that they can "talk > back" from their keyboards; and they begin to engage more > aggressively in two-way communication. For more mature students > -- in particular, the graduate students in environmental studies > -- the course structure fades into the backdrop as they begin to > relate more directly to their self-discovered communities of > common interest. Typically, their energies are captured by > conference participation and the requirement to produce an > original research paper. > Students are encouraged to take on research projects that > require blending new information sources, such as those > described, and the more familiar resources of the library. For > example, two students examining the environmental costs of the > war in El Salvador used PeaceNet to identify bibliographic > sources as well as to follow the ongoing peace negotiations. > They became involved in electronic discussions that involved > participants such as Naom Chomsky; the Secretary General of the > United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar; and representatives of > the key guerrilla organization, the FMLN. To deepen their > understanding, they used PeaceNet to identify persons living in > Boston who they were able to interview in person. Their final > papers reflected and cited all their diverse sources. > For their class research project, two undergraduate > journalism students took on the task of producing a substantive, > weekly newsletter ("Issues from the Isthmus: The Newsletter of > BUCENT"). The idea was to glean information from key PeaceNet > conferences, selecting material relevant to the evolving > "threads" of the class. Primarily, the students made use of non- > copywritten news stories available on-line from the Inter-Press > Service, the world's fifth largest wire service. The newsletter, > in turn, became part of the assigned reading material for the > course. In principle, each class member was considered a > contributing editor who could also enter material into the pool > of relevant material; in practice, however, the two journalism > students did most of the gleaning and editing. > Students in these courses have scratched only the thinnest > surface of information resources available on PeaceNet -- much > less, the resources available on dozens of other specialized > networks and on the incomprehensively vast Internet itself. > Teachers at other universities -- for example, New York > University, University of California-Davis, and Sonoma State -- > are conducting other kinds of experiments to apply tools such as > Peacenet in their respective classroom settings. The Chronicle > of Higher Education has started running a regular technology > column to introduce faculty members to the kinds of innovations > with educational applications that are popping up everywhere. > An increasing proportion of university students and faculty > will come to be network-literate in the very near future. As > this happens, the separation between educational experiences in > disparate classrooms will inevitably narrow, and opportunities > for inter-campus interactions will certainly evolve. > Take, for example, the creation of a "virtual reality" that > was created by a BU graduate student working in Micromuse, an > experiment housed at the Artificial Intelligence Lab of MIT (see > Kort 1990; or contact "email@example.com"). By applying > her background in tropical ecology and computer programming, the > student was able to construct the shell and initial biological > population for a "virtual rainforest". (This is a text-based > simulation of a rainforest environment, something like the > popular adventure games on personal computers. In this case, a > "player" receives messages something like, "You hear a fluttering > screech and look up through the green canopy where you see a > troupe of howler monkeys . . . " ) > Though kinetically less dramatic to students than the > competition in video arcades, such "games" are intriguing for > several reasons. First, although these prototypes are "crude" in > that they just use text, in the foreseeable future multimedia > versions will incorporate full sound and visual display; these > are trial runs. Second, they can be freely accessed through the > Internet from virtually any networked campus computer (via > "firstname.lastname@example.org"), but unlike adventure games, they can > accommodate hundreds of players in real time who are working > interactively within the created environment. And third, their > educational content could be developed in highly sophisticated > ways by succeeding generations of players and rainforest-makers. > For example, the plant and animal population of the "virtual > rainforest" -- which now contains just a few species -- could be > biologically expanded; the forest could be populated by slash- > and-burn farmers, cattle ranchers, chicle tappers, and ecotourism > operators; archaeological sites could be added; an > internationally managed Biosphere could be created; scientific > instruments and research methods could be "field tested" through > simple simulations. As a resource freely within the reach of > thousands of universities, the rainforest could "grow" into a > shared educational property. Advanced students (like the pioneer > graduate student at BU) could continue to add dimensions of > ecological and political complexity to the environment; others > (including high school students) might simply be told, "Some time > before the end of the semester, `take a walk' through Subsector 8 > of Micromuse. (Predictably, they would be diverted into the > simulations of Boston, space stations, Arctic wastelands, and the > like). > > Future Classroom Applications of Network Technology > The applications of network technology described here -- > ranging from simple long-distance telephone calls from a > speakerphone to the creation of imaginary virtual rainforests -- > are relatively "low tech" educational opportunities. Farther > reaching experiments can be applied to many different kinds of > classroom and disciplinary settings, not just geography and > environmental studies. It is easy to imagine innovative uses in > foreign language study, the humanities, area studies, and social > science disciplines such as sociology and anthropology. > Several broader trends on campuses are sure to encourage > continuing innovation and change in this direction. > First, physical campus computer networks are being extended > and telephone service is undergoing widespread upgrading. At > Boston University, for example, any office phone can easily be > upgraded to accommodate a 6-person conference call; most > classrooms can easily be fitted with a voice or data jack. In > the near future, even larger quantities of information will soon > be within reach of any mundane jack. The development of > broadband communications services (sometimes called B-ISDN, for > Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network) means that > communication rates will be measured in the tens, hundreds, and > then thousands of megabits. This will allow for the concurrent > transmission of voice, data, and full-motion video (all just > different manifestations of "data" of course). Without doubt, > the advent of affordable video will trigger another order-of- > magnitude change in classroom experience. > Second, commercial and academic computer networks will > certainly continue their rapid evolution. Inter-campus > connectivity through the Internet will surely expand. At the > same time, individual users and physically dispered communities > of shared interest will necessarily have to discover new methods > to break down vast information flows into usable human > experiences. > Third, market-driven advances in computer technology will > certainly be strongly felt on campuses. As laptop and notebook > computers become relatively cheaper, more powerful, even smaller, > and easier to use, they will increasingly become a standard > accoutrement to student life. The next generation of commercial > development will include attributes such as wireless > communications, pen-based interfaces, voice generation and > recognition, digital sound and video, information stores, as well > as 2D and 3D display technologies. These improvements will power > the next wave of applications and vastly increase market > penetration. "Personal computers" may well become more pervasive > and important than telephones are today. Thus, the now odd > notion of taking a class, at least in part, through a computer > connection will surely seem obvious in light of what we > will experience in other spheres of our lives. > Fourth, the extension of on-campus training, tutorials, and > support services will continue to broaden the disciplinary base > of campus network users. Technology that is now implicitly > assumed to be the bailiwick of engineering, computer science, or > academic administration will increasingly find its way into > unfamiliar nooks and crannies of the university. > Fifth, the public and potential students will increase > demands upon universities to find ways to make better use of > existing resources, to increase the quality and not increase the > cost of higher education. For reasons of cost and efficiency, > the use of new teaching tools will be explored. > In the meantime, much needs to be learned about phone-based > teaching tools. For example, we do not understand the cognitive > processes that accompany network-based instruction. Do students > in these settings learn more, less, or differently? How does > educational experience of this sort affect the ways that students > read, write, or go about problem solving? > As teachers, we do not know how to organize educational > experiences when the boundaries of the traditional classroom > break down. In an age of supra-abundant information that can be > pinpointed to individual's interests, how do we think about > assigned readings, textbooks, and the traditional course > syllabus? How do we think about class meetings, grades -- and > indeed, who and what is tomorrow's teacher? > > > Literature Cited > > Bolter, Jay David. (1991) Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, > and the History of Writing. (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence > Erlbaum Associates, Publishers). > > Gopal, Sucharita. (1991) "Computer Networks in a Classroom > Setting: An Analysis of a Questionnaire Survey > Conducted in the Department of Geography, Boston > University," Unpublished report, Department of > Geography. > > Kort, Barry. (1991) "Computer Networks and Informal Science > Education" Impact! (The Boston Computer Society > Social Impact Group) April 1991. > > Kroll, Ed, (1989) "The Hitchikers Guide to the Internet," > RFC118 (Menlo Park CA: Network Working Group, SRI Network > Information Center). > > LaQuey, Tracy L. (1991) The User's Directory of Computer > Networks. (Bedford MA: Digital Press) > > Quarterman, John S. (1990) The Matrix: Computer Networks and > Conferencing Systems Worldwide (Bedford MA: Digital Press). > > ENDNOTES > ------------------------------ > End of WAIS-discussion Digest 52 > ************************ > ------- > ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Gleason Sackman BBS: email@example.com Coordinator, Technical Operations Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org SENDIT - NoDak's K-12 Telcom Network Bitnet: email@example.com BOX 5164, NDSU Computer Center Voice: (701)237-8109 Fargo, ND 58105 Fax: (701)237-8541