Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 3 / March 1, 1995 / Page 39

Computer-Mediated Communication and the
Online Classroom in Higher Education

by Zane Berge ( and Mauri Collins (

The following is an excerpt from the introductory chapter of Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom in Higher Education, second volume of a three-book series, Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom, published this year by Hampton Press (Cresskill, NJ).

In the first volume in this series, Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom: Overview and Perspectives, we noted that the term computer-mediated communication (CMC) was used to encompass the merging of computers and telecommunications technologies to support teaching and learning. We surveyed the range of educational users of CMC from several different perspectives.

In response to increased pressure on universities and instructors to provide instructional delivery systems that go beyond the traditional "chalk-and-talk" form of lecture, computer-mediated conferencing has emerged as a tool for instructional communication not bound by prescribed meeting times or by geographic proximity. Successful integration of CMC into the curriculum, however, depends on one's ability to design and use CMC applications that meet course goals, delivery goals, or both. As part of course planning, we must address issues such as course goals, hardware availability, and student readiness. Large expenditures on CMC for the classroom will not help unless teachers understand how the technology helps fulfill the goals of the course. To this end, the chapters in this volume provide examples and practical advice.

In Chapter 1, Robert Nalley describes the instructional design process that led to the incorporation of CMC into two existing courses and offers practical guidance in instructional design to those who would consider CMC as an instructional tool.

Michael Day's and Trent Batson's chapter (Chapter 2) demonstrates how a particular application of CMC, Electronic Networks For Interaction (ENFI), is being used to change the social dynamics of the writing classroom. ENFI is not a specific software package but rather an electronic implementation of the concept that writing can actually be taught in a computer lab with a network supporting real-time CMC. Because ENFI allows teachers and students to explore, collaborate, and expand on ideas in class in writing, and allows them to see each other in the process of developing ideas, writing to and for each other and not just to "the teacher," ENFI supplements and expands on the activities teachers can use to help students meaningfully participate in a discourse community and improve their writing.

The study conducted by Karen Hartman, Sara Kiesler, Lee Sproull and their colleagues (Chapter 3) examines the effects of using network technologies in learning to write on teacher- student and student-student interactions. In a writing course emphasizing multiple drafts and collaboration, two sections used traditional modes of communication (face-to-face, paper, phone); and two other sections, in addition to using traditional modes, also used various electronic modes (electronic mail, bulletin boards, etc.). The patterns of social interaction were measured twice: six weeks into the semester and again at the end of the semester. Results indicate that teachers in the networked sections interacted more with their students than teachers in the regular sections. Whereas teachers in the regular sections marginally increased their use of traditional communication over time, teachers in the networked sections substantially increased their use of electronic communication over time without significantly decreasing their use of traditional modes of teacher-student communication. In addition, they found that teachers communicated more electronically with less able students than with more able students and that less able students communicated more electronically with other students.

In Chapter 4, Helen J. Schwartz uses experiences gained in an introductory literature class over the course of five semesters to explore the evolutionary process of answering the questions: "How and why should technology be used in a particular discipline?" and "How does it serve urban commuters in particular?" Nontraditional urban commuter students used computers in class and out to discuss course work as a supplement to face-to-face classes. Experience with five different configurations of pedagogical methods are described, including the use of a computer program developed by Schwartz for use in her classes. These helped shape procedures in a distance- education course, with subsequent replanning. Her current conclusions are presented, but she feels that teachers who learn from them must also evolve and discover their own answers.

Dramatic changes in theories of language and literacy learning have been underway for some time and have taken into account ideas of pragmatic coherence, authenticity in interpersonal dialogue, and situational constraints on communication. Only recently, however, have there been consequences for classroom practice at the postsecondary level. In the fifth chapter, Russell A. Hunt describes one set of strategies, called "Collaborative Investigation," for embedding written language in social situations in educational contexts. This strategy has been used in recent years in a wide range of disciplines and for students ranging from freshmen to those in graduate school. More specifically, it describes one way in which computer network technology has been utilized to address the logistic and practical difficulties posed by such uses of writing and reading and to facilitate treating language in authentically dialogic ways. A class collaboratively investigating 18th-century English literature used electronic mail for communication between student and teacher and between students, an electronic bulletin board for "class discussions" and decision making, and a dedicated common directory for creating, sharing, and editing research reports on various aspects of the subject and for producing a "class book"-a desktop-published result of the work of the course, of which each student got a copy.

Edward Barrett's chapter (Chapter 6) describes the Networked Educational Online System (NEOS) that was developed by writing faculty with support from Project Athena at MIT. NEOS does not model presumed cognitive states in students; rather it models the interactions among all members of a writing class. NEOS supports the creation, exchange, annotation, and display of text in real- class time, as well as out of class at numerous workstations throughout the fully distributed MIT network. Use of NEOS in the electronic classroom and out of class empowers students as peer reviewers and can significantly improve their writing skills. Barrett finds that many students prefer it to the traditional classroom for its ability to integrate theory and practice and for the greater interaction it supports among all class members and instructors.

In Chapter 7, Cecilia G. Manrique and Harry W. Gardiner describe some of the ways in which faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse have employed electronic mail in fulfilling the institutional trilateral goals of bringing together computing, writing and internationalizing the curriculum. Manrique and Gardiner include communication with students in foreign countries as components of Political Science and Cross-Cultural Psychology courses. Attention is given to some of the advantages and disadvantages of using electronic mail in specific courses, and they show where it has been successful as well as note some of the pitfalls that accompany such a nontraditional method of delivering education. Suggestions are made for incorporating electronic mail into a variety of courses through resources available to students and faculty in "netland."

Ted J. Singletary and Holly Anderson, in Chapter 8, describe the First-Year Teacher Network that was instituted by Boise State University to help ease the difficult induction process of new teachers entering the profession. Twenty-five first-year teachers in 10 southwestern Idaho counties communicated through an electronic bulletin board system on a wide range of classroom and emotional topics. The support program, now in its fourth year of operation, has been successful in providing neophytes with access to university expertise, online databases, and other services. The First-Year Teacher Network is perceived as a valuable source of peer support and as a way to reduce feelings of isolation.

Karen Bruce's discussion (Chapter 9) briefly elaborates on the importance of information technology in medicine, outlines the use of various types of CMC in that educational setting, and presents outcome data from a project implementing a 2-year longitudinal computer curriculum at East Carolina University School of Medicine. Bruce determined that the information explosion in medical practice and science had profoundly affected the information management needs of physicians and physicians-in- training. Over the last 60 years the structure and goals of medical education have remained essentially unchanged. The volume of medical knowledge, however, has grown exponentially. The sine qua non of a good medical education remains knowing all you need to know, not just knowing how to discriminate what you must know most of the time and where to find what you cannot possibly know all of the time. Current information technology, including computer-mediated communication (CMC), provides a number of tools to improve medical practitioners' management and utilization of this information. The value of information obtained via CMC continues to improve rapidly; however, as Bruce points out, the ability of physicians and physicians-in-training to use this technology has not kept pace.

Gail Thomas' chapter describes the development and presentation of two courses featuring online training for online information retrieval systems. Beginning and advanced courses use the Online Training and Practice (ONTAP) databases of Dialog Information Services, Inc., and the asynchronous computer conferencing capabilities of Unison's PARTI software to deliver skills training over the modem. Both beginning and advanced courses have been offered since 1989 for graduate academic credit through Connected Education, Inc., and the Media Studies Program, New School for Social Research, New York City, NY.

In the final chapter, Mauri Collins presents a brief introduction to the various wide area networks (BITnet, Internet, Fidonet, etc.), networking, and the use of Internet information retrieval tools. Common networking acronyms are defined and explained, and instructions for the use of the file transfer protocol (ftp) and the remote login protocol (Telnet) are given. The format for electronic mail addresses is decoded and explained. Listserv and Usenet discussion groups are introduced and differentiated and instructions are given for joining Listserv discussion groups. The chapter concludes with a short list of sources for further networking information. ¤

Zane Berge is Director of the Center for Teaching and Technology and Assistant Director for Training Service, Academic Computer Center at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Mauri Collins is a doctoral student in Instructional Systems at the Pennsylvania State University and instructional Television Program assistant at WPSX-TV.

The above excerpt is from the introductory chapter of the second volume of the three-volume series, Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom, from Hampton Press (Cresskill, NJ). For more information on these books, send email to with the message body "GET intro2.ham."

Copyright © 1995 by Hampton Press. All Rights Reserved. Printed by Permission

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