The purpose of this paper is to highlight two Web-based projects with preservice teacher education students in undergraduate educational psychology. First of all, we have designed the “Smartweb;” a Web-based undergraduate educational psychology course created in the summer of 1997. There are a variety of pedagogical activities embedded in Smartweb activities; including case reflections, chapter discussions, field observations, and other weekly activities. Many of these electronic activities lead to students’ final “smart school” creations and presentations. Most Smartweb activities are intended to foster higher-order thinking, social dialogue, and cooperative learning. Secondly, one component of the Smartweb is the use of the asynchronous conferencing tool called Conferencing on the Web (i.e., COW). COW has been used for the past few semesters to link educational psychology theory and concepts to situations students observed in their early field experiences. Students in dozens of classes, including the Web class, have been creating cases in COW based on their field observations, while receiving feedback from practitioners, instructors, peers, and conference moderators. Recently, this project expanded to include feedback from students and faculty from other countries and locales.
This paper begins with the justification for changing undergraduate educational psychology courses based on the simultaneous rise of new collaborative learning technologies and the emergence of sociocultural theory. In the following section, a Web based educational psychology course for preservice teachers is detailed. Both individual and social tasks will be described. Third, recent enhancements to the Web class as well as a few future directions for educational psychology on the Web are noted.
The Reality of Technology
Technologies for learning and collaboration have become increasingly interactive and distributed, such that individual learners and instructors have available the means to participate in incredibly sophisticated networks of information and resources (Harasim, 1993). For instance, Web navigation and communication tools have brought to our desktops and to our classrooms an immense array of text, video, sound, and other resources not possible just a few years ago. Owston (1997, p. 27), in fact, pointed out that, "Nothing before has captured the imagination and interests of educators simultaneously around the globe more than the World Wide Web." As Web based learning tools proliferate in higher education settings, there is a need for focused research on how such technology augments and redefines academic learning environments (Koschmann, Myers, Feltovich, & Barrows, 1994).
Information and communication technology are having a profound impact on the way we learn. As learners begin to access virtual classrooms, electronic learning groups, online libraries, and collaborative learning circles (Riel, 1993), these technologies will hopefully become integrated with pedagogy to enhance and expand the ways humans connect, communicate, and create communities. Because electronic networlds can connect people all over the globe, it is vital to experiment with electronic learning situations wherein students, especially those in teacher education, share ideas and resources, access information about current events and historical archives, interact with experts, and use online databases.
Most research on the use of collaborative educational technologies in higher education fails to provide extensive theoretical grounding (Koschmann, 1994). Faculty and public school teachers, moreover, sorely lack important information about the effects of various tools and how to embed these tools in their classes. As a result, teacher training programs need to not only advance and accelerate preservice and inservice teacher background in educational technologies, but also foster their pedagogical skills to innovatively and successfully incorporate emerging technologies in their instruction. Insight is needed into the more effective mechanisms for transferring the technology training of teachers to classroom settings. In some cases, preservice teachers simply need more experiences. In other cases, they need to feel empowered as learners through the varied use of new technology tools. If innovative, student-centered ideas can be implemented with technology tools in teacher training programs, teachers will be simultaneously exposed to both the tools and teaching practices of the 21st century. Electronic conferences can, in fact, be used as a training ground for the professional development of teachers in the use of many such tools and techniques.
Rethinking and Reforming Educational Psychology
Interestingly, these technological developments have converged to offer new perspectives on the teaching and learning process (Bonk & Cunningham, in press) at the same time that educational psychologists have engaged in discourse about reforming their instructional practices and epistemological frameworks (Anderson, Blumenfeld, Pintrich, Clark, Marx, & Peterson, 1995). The discourse in the Educational Psychologist, for example, has been enlightening in presenting educational psychologists with ideas related to the role of educational psychology in teacher education and how we need to rethink the topics and instructional methods of such courses (Shuell, 1996). Others in the discourse, such as Rocklin (1996), point to the continuum of needs and changing nature of students, instructors, and institutional settings within these courses. Still others like Anita Woolfolk Hoy (1996), not surprisngly, elaborate on alternative approaches for using educational psychology textbooks and ancillary materials. Unfortunately, other than the use of videotapes, there have been few ideas generated on the role of technology in undergraduate educational psychology courses in this seminal discussion. That is the objective of this paper--to link technological advances to calls for better pedagogical practices among educational psychology instructors.
Despite the absence of the role of technology in the recent debates, some of the discussion has naturally centered on how various psychological perspectives play a direct role in teacher training (Marshall, 1996; Strauss, 1996). Ideas related to learner-centered instruction and sociocultural theory have direct relevance here. In fact, the American Psychological Association Division 15 Ad hoc committee on the Teaching of Psychology produced a report which recommended that teacher education programs attempt to develop a “contemporary educational perspective” (Anderson et al., 1995) wherein learners socially construct meaning by engaging in social interaction and negotiation situations relevant to many teaching and learning contexts.
Given this focus on student social construction of meaning, what role might technology play in the teaching of undergraduate courses in educational psychology? In attempting to answer this question, there are many terms related to sociocultural theory that find applicability in technology enhanced learning environments. For instance, when using Web technology in undergraduate educational psychology courses, one might focus on creating intersubjectivity in a shared social space (Schrage, 1990). To accomplish these goals, many Web courses have cafes and personal profiles that can help create such a social space to help learners to build intersubjectivity (Rogoff, 1990), negotiate meaning, and perceive multiple perspectives in problem solving. But will student intersubjectivity or temporarily shared collective reality (Gallimore & Tharp, 1990) become more permanent due to electronically posting messages? What happens when students can refer back to previous text and ideas from prior semesters and continue to add to the legacy of a course? Just who are the students in such a course? Perhaps from these rich class activity files and conversations, students in educational psychology can begin to understand why their peers have ambitions to enter the field of teaching. Perhaps they will begin to understand themselves better as well.
Another important sociocultural issue to consider in electronic environments is how the teacher can assist or guide social interaction among participants and, ultimately, enhance student learning (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988; Rogoff, 1995). Electronic teaching assistance might include modeling, coaching, questioning, scaffolding, feedback, task structuring, and pushing to explore and articulate ideas on the Web (Bonk & Kim, 1998). My experience has shown that of these teaching methods, modeling is the most difficult to implement on the Web since electronic modeling loses some of the important social cues. In contrast, task structuring and feedback are more prevalent and vital Web based instructional techniques.
With the varied forms of electronic learning assistance, Web based conferencing technology may be the ideal vehicle to accelerate the shift among educational psychology faculty members from a didactic instructional model to a more interactive and consultative form of instruction. In the two semesters that I have been teaching on the Web, I have yet to lecture. Sure, at times, I have defined terms and elaborated on concepts, but this semblance of “direct instruction” arose only after students discussed and debated their text chapter or field observation material.
In contrast to direct instruction, the Web offers a near ideal environment for scaffolded and mediated learning. As per Vygotskian theory, such scaffolding is intended to provoke or rouse to life new mental skills and functions (Wertsch, 1985). An instructor, for instance, might enter into an electronic conference and offer hints, guiding questions, simplifications, requests, and other relevant comments. Through such scaffolded guidance, the learner can be supported at the edges of his or her zone of proximal development (ZPD) to solve problems or learn new skills that ordinarily would be beyond his or her independent reach (Vygotsky, 1978). Since the sun does not set on such a course, the possibilities for teachers to prompt and push student learning to the boundaries of their ZPD is standard practice on the Web. Instructional helpers or graduate students, moreover, can be given guide sheets to help them mentor and scaffold students electronically. While we have yet to determine all the possible forms of electronic mentoring (Bonk et al., 1998), we do know that the possibilities for electronic mentoring are extensive.
As will be alluded to in this paper, technologically rich learning environments offer new possibilities for creating learning apprenticeships. In a cognitive apprenticeship, an expert will scaffold, model, and otherwise assist in the learning process within an established community of practice and then gradually cede control of the task or activity to the learner (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991). There are many technologically enhanced learning environments for mentoring preservice teachers including electronic case discussions of field observations (e.g., Admiraal, Lockhorst, Wubbels, Korthagen, & Veen, 1997; Bonk, Hansen, Grabner, Lazar, & Mirabelli, in press; Bonk, Malikowski, Angeli, & Supplee, 1998) and simulated student cases or virtual schools in a learning laboratory (Copeland, 1989; Fischler & Matuga, 1998). Electronic mentoring might come from an known scholar or expert as well as peers, practitioners, instructors, graduate students, and conference moderators (Bonk et al., 1997). In any of these situations, the goal is for the simulated or virtual environment to offer students a chance to experience problems and situations they might later encounter in the field, or to discuss with others situations that they are in the midst of encountering.
How else does sociocultural theory impact student thinking and learning in a Web environment? Since, from a Vygotskian (1986) perspective, all human mental functioning has its roots in social relations, a key sociocultural goal in a conferencing environment is to foster student negotiation of meaning and social discourse. And since individual learning and development is mediated by the tools and signs in one’s culture, as technology advances to add new cultural artifacts in one’s learning environment, so, too, does it potentially alter mind (Bonk & Cunningham, in press). Teacher education programs, therefore, must no longer ignore emerging technologies for engaging students in discourse and collaboration. Computer conferencing tools, for instance, offer opportunities for extending class discussion, structuring role play, linking students to mentors, providing exam preparation, interacting with guest experts, exploring personally meaningful topics with one’s peers, and working on small group projects (Bonk & King, in press; Chong, in press). If educational psychology programs want to take seriously the notion of socially negotiating meaning and providing students with useful examples of contemporary learning theory, then certainly these conferencing and collaborative writing tools warrant a look. According to Marshall (1996, p. 32):
Since July, 1997, my graduate students and I have been developing an undergraduate educational psychology course on the World Wide Web (WWW) nicknamed the Smartweb (See Figure 1 for most of the activities of this course; also http://www.indiana.edu/~smartweb). This course has been taught during the fall of 1997 with 20 students and during the spring of 1998 with 24 students (enrollment was somewhat restricted due to the experimental nature of the course). During these initial pilot offerings of the course, enrollment was restricted to Indiana University students. The typical clientele for the class are music majors and a few returning adult students, two groups who need the time and place independence of such a course. Since all students live within a 50 mile radius of campus, we have had two live classroom meetings at the beginning of the semester to explain the class and two meetings at the end of the semester for student final presentations and small group work.
As with most undergraduate educational psychology courses, this one
covers theory, research, and applications related to human learning and
development, cognition, motivation, classroom management, individual differences,
instructional design, special education, and assessment and evaluation.
Students in this class sign up for a three credit class, plus an additional
credit for laboratory (for field reflection discussions and practice teaching),
and an additional credit for 12-20 hours of early field observations, or
five credits in total. The reason that the Web site is named the Smartweb
is that students are reading Perkins’ (1992) Smart Schools book and have
to create a smarter school in small groups as part of their final course
Insert Figure 1 about here
As alluded to earlier, in many ways this course parallels some of the constructivist and social constructivist task ideas mentioned by Anderson et al. (1995) as important to educational psychology courses. For instance, they argued that such courses should foster multiple representations of key ideas, contain complex and authentic feeling tasks, make teacher conceptions and beliefs explicit, enable extensive student-student and teacher-student public interactions, and offer consistent grading.
What happens socioculturally on the Smartweb? Well, to foster student intersubjectivity and common knowledge, students are asked to complete a personal profile on the Smartweb that lists their major, e-mail address, Web homepage (if applicable), computer background, interests and hobbies, strengths and weaknesses, and hometown. In addition, a class picture is created for students to recognize their peers. However, to maintain some security for these students (the Smartweb is not password protected), their weekly work in the Smartweb is collected in a portfolio account under a unique avatar name (e.g., Scoop or Spock). Their work is appended into this particular portfolio every week. As a result, students as well as their instructors, peers, and Smartweb guests, can review their coursework for the entire semester. In addition, they can print out their course activity at any time.
Writing Activities: Before specifying other activities on the Smartweb, we must consider the pedagogical significance the Web. Leslie Walker (January 16, 1997) of the Washington Post writes:
What specific types of writing are my students engaging in? First of all, on the Smartweb, there is extensive reflective writing. Each week students must choose between two options for reflecting on the opening case in the chapter and relating it to various relevant concepts for the week. In addition, there are one or more class activities directly below it for students to complete. These activities might include an additional analysis of a chapter case from another point of view, reviewing a movie related to teaching and learning and evaluating it for key class concepts (e.g., Mr. Holland’s Opus or Dead Poets Society), brainstorming a David Letterman-like Top Ten list on how to spot an ineffective classroom manager, or exploring an interesting Web site. In each case, students are writing and communicating.
Another way in which students are encouraged to write is in the mentoring and feedback they provide to their peers. As will be elaborated later on, at the start of the semester, my students are assigned to small groups according to the grade level they want to teach for their final project of creating a smarter school. From these small groups, students are assigned e-mail pals with whom they correspond and offer weekly feedback related to peer Smartweb posts. An e-mail pal reads the work of a peer on the Smartweb each week and provides him or her with task specific feedback to consider. In this way, the instructor does not have to read every post of each student throughout the semester. Additionally, such peer feedback is hyperlinked within students electronic portfolios. As in the prior examples, when doing the weekly e-mail pal activity, students are writing.
Still another writing related activity on the Smartweb is to make Web link suggestions for the course. When the Smartweb was created, it contained both instructor and student Web link suggestion options. For example, after selecting this option, a student (or the instructor) notes the URL location, the name of the Web site, and then is asked to state rationale for adding this link to the course. An hour or two after submission, the Web site is automatically hyperlinked to the week in the course semester that the submitter decided it belonged to. Such an activity forces students to decide where the site belongs and why it is important to the course. Recently, international Web link suggestions were added to help the course promote issues of multicultural education and diversity. In addition, library related Web link suggestions were added to make available the multitude of resources now available on the Web.
Thinking Skill and Cooperative Learning Activities: In addition to enhancing writing skills, Smartweb weekly class activities are also intended to foster critical and creative thinking as well as cooperative learning. Somewhat ironically, I mapped out a set of 10 strategies for each of these areas six months before actually developing my Web class (Bonk & Reynolds, 1997). I believe that I was successful in developing the Smartweb, in part, because I used aspects of each of the 30 suggested Web activities noted in that manuscript. Based on such experience, it may be prudent to write a paper or draft a plan of Web goals and possible activities before actually developing a Web course.
What were some of these strategies? On the generative or creative side, students might role play a school board meeting related to outcomes-based education, create metaphors related to teaching and learning in their respective field placements (i.e., “this school is like a prison” or “this school is like a garden.”), or freely write about best teacher practices from their K-12 experience. These generative activities are intended to help the learner become more spontaneous, original, open, and less rigid. On the evaluative side, are critical thinking activities. Critical thinking activities are perhaps easier to implement in a Web course due to student previous experience with many of these techniques. For example, students might evaluate the pros and cons of a particular teaching method, compare and contrast Web sites, fill in Venn diagrams comparing learning theories, complete flowcharts on a teacher’s decision making process, summarize chapter discussions or ideas generated, rank peer ideas from brainstormed lists, complete or modify hierarchically organized concept webs, or write rebuttals and replies to articles found on the Web. Every week there are one or more critical and creative thinking activities on the Smartweb.
In addition to these generative and evaluative tasks, I want to built a sense of teamwork within the Smartweb. A number of other cooperative activities are explained in the next section related to computer conferencing in this Web class.
In addition to weekly class activities on the Smartweb that were much more individual in nature, students also engaged in more conversational discourse in a Web-based conferencing tool called Conferencing on the Web (i.e., COW) (see Figure 2). Though COW is discussed separately here, it is an important component of the Smartweb course. COW is a tool with a preset structure of three levels: (1) the Conference level; (2) The Topic Level; and (3) the Conversation level (for more information on COW, see Bonk et al., 1997). By using COW, students in the Web class can discuss chapter readings, reflect on field experiences, work on small group smart school projects, and create and reflect on cases based on their early field experiences. Students in more traditionally taught educational psychology sections also participate in electronic case discussions within COW as part of their course lab requirements. Note that this electronic conference can be found at: http://education.indiana.edu/COW/; one should write to the author for password clearance.
Insert Figure 2 about here
Administrivia: Of course, in a Web class there are weekly if not daily questions about due dates, tasks, and instructor expectations. Consistent assignment problems are sometimes handled within COW in the topic called “administrivia.” Here, students will find listings of small group members, e-mail pals, testing instructions, and weekly assignment responsibilities. While general task structuring is found here, most day-to-day issues are still handled via instructor e-mail to students.
The Cafe Latte: As a means to foster a learning community, as in the Smartweb, at the start of the semester, students describe themselves; their major, hobbies, year in school, etc., in the Cafe Latte of COW. Later in the semester, the Cafe Latte is used to raise or pose questions for the class. For instance, a current issue is whether this class should have any live meetings at the beginning and end of the semester or be totally electronic. The Cafe has also been used by the instructor to post examples of student ideas or summary lists of their best responses (e.g., the top ten responses to....). In the Cafe, then, students tend to share more personal information and, therefore, get to know each other better.
Starter-Wrapper Activity: In moving away from instructor lecturing, one critical pedagogical activity in the Web class has involved the use of the starter-wrapper activity within COW. In this activity, Smartweb students sign up to start a chapter discussion once during the semester as well as wrap it once during the semester. In the intervening weeks, students simply become participants in the discussion. As a starter, the student is to read the chapter before the rest of his/her classmates, and then write a 200-500 word summary of this chapter and any supplemental instructor handouts by Monday morning. Starters are to include at least 7 terms related to the chapter material and two usable ideas or principles in their summary with specific page references. As a wrapper, the student is to perform a 200 or more word super summary by Friday morning that connects together, synthesizes, and interrelates that all the discussion for that week.
When students are not a starter nor a wrapper, they are to respond to the discussion. In the most recent semester, they have been asked to choose a role from a role sheet with 28 roles (optimist, pessimist, bloodletter, comic, coach, explorer, questioner, debater, devil's advocate, connector, sage, compromiser, intuitive, idea squelcher, inspirer, etc.) that fits their viewpoint. While their username will appear at the beginning of their post, they can sign their post under any assumed name (e.g., Connie Chung as Commentator/Reporter or Counselor Troy as mediator/peacemaker). It is important to note that to maintain reasonably sized discussions, there are two weekly conversations, one for students interested in teaching elementary students and the other for those with secondary teaching intents. As a general rule, separate discussion groups are vital when the number of conference participants extends beyond fifteen.
During such discussions, the instructor can act as a coach or consultant (Bonk & Smith, in press). From such a role, the instructor guides or nurtures discussion, if he or she intervenes at all. As alluded to earlier, positive feedback and task structuring seem to be more important than direct instruction on the Web. Therefore, during the past two semesters on the Smartweb, I have typically commented on student chapter related postings at the end of each week and indicated where students have gone astray as well as where they have been on target. Given that the students are assuming a teacher role here, the starter-wrapper activity seems similar to reciprocal teaching (Palincsar, 1986). As in this method, once the starter reviews the chapter highlights, the focus is on scaffolded discussion and personal reflections of how one may have witnessed various concepts in action.
But this is not the complete task here. In the final week, students must write a 2,000-3,000 word super summary of what is important in this course. In this final summary, they must specifically refer to the comments of at least four starters or wrappers from four different weeks in the semester. All this work will go into a chapter activity portfolio detailed below.
Field Reflections: In addition to chapter discussions, students are engaged in weekly field experience reflections, once again, divided into elementary and secondary discussions. Here, students reflect on their field observations in light of current chapter issues or concepts posed by the instructor. For example, they might be asked to count the seconds of wait time in the class they visit and reflectively post their findings in COW or throughly describe resources in the learning environment of the class they are observing. Such activities help students understand the diverse as well as common ways in which educational psychology concepts are applied in the classroom. Field reflection activities are typically of high interest to my students.
During the semester, students were also asked to teach something to someone for a self-determined length of time and then reflect on it in COW Field Reflections. This practice was adopted as a substitute for microteaching activities that typically occur in the laboratory component of our undergraduate educational psychology class. Such hands-on “service teaching” activities are meant to foster linkages between key course concepts and authentic experiences. Service teaching might include giving demonstrations, explanations, depictions, or providing definitions of key concepts and issues in a content area in which students are knowledgeable. In their COW reflections on this experienec, they might inform the class of what worked and what did not and what they would do next time. This activity is typically a highlight for students as it takes them from text learning and field observation reflections to actual classroom strategies and practices.
Smart Schools Small Group Activity: Even though this class is nearly entirely Web based, I have found it important to train students in the technology tools at the start of the semester and also reconvene the class at the end of the semester to exhibit what was learned. In the “Smart Schools Small Group Task” within COW, students work in diverse small groups of 4-5 students on a final “smart schools” project to be presented to the class on the final day. To be successful in creating a “smarter school,” students read the “Smart Schools” book by David Perkins (1992), find other information on the Web, go to the library, borrow videos, books, and other information from the instructor, and discuss ideas related to their explorations in COW. In terms of the Perkins’ book, this task uses a variation of the jigsaw method of cooperative learning wherein each student in the group is responsible for two distinct chapters of the book and must explain it to his/her teammates as part of the preparation of their presentation. In drawing up their plan for creating a "smart school," students must describe their philosophy, basic learning principles or tenets, goals or objectives, timeline, budget, plans for working with local community groups and parents, and, of course, the school location, grade levels, school name and nickname, school motto, etc.
Although every group presents on the same material, they have quite a bit of latitude. For instance, they might design a power point slide show, demonstration, skit, class role play, learning adventure, town meeting, symposium, panel of experts debate, or presentation and discussion. Each group has 20-30 minutes to present their report. During these presentations, students are encouraged to identify at least 3-4 principles that capture many of the ideas that went off in their heads during this semester. They are also asked to state why certain learning/teaching principles are important and how they might be applied.
Case Creations and Reflections: Using COW, we have developed a part of the lab experience for the above course to include student case discussions on the Web of their early field experiences and feedback from local and foreign peers. This project extends efforts of the teacher education program at Indiana University to reconnect students to the campus when in early field experiences local public schools. Even though the Smartweb has existed for just two semesters, this case-based reasoning activity within COW has been utilized for three semesters now in a number of undergraduate educational psychology courses (Bonk et al., 1997, in press). For instance, during the spring of 1997, five sections of 146 students used COW to create cases within two distinct environments: one with extensive feedback and scaffolding and one with weak scaffolding (i.e., peer only) (see Bonk et al., 1997). During the fall of 1997, we had six sections of 167 preservice teachers in undergraduate educational psychology involved in case discussions in COW for two full months. In the current spring, the COW conferences include approximately 30 teacher education undergraduate students from two universities in Finland and 85 Indiana University students in three sections of educational psychology engaged in cross-cultural collaboration and mentoring. In addition, 20 IU students engaged in their Cultural Immersion Project teaching practicum have been given clearance to act as electronic mentors for these students. Here, we have attempted to connect Indiana students doing their student teaching in the Cultural Immersion Program in other countries and locations (e.g., England, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and Native American reservations) back to their university setting. Finally, 4 practicing teachers and 3 associate instructors have been given small stipends this spring to be student electronic mentors on the Web.
What is the task that students were assigned each semester? Students
were asked to post two cases scenarios of problems or success stories related
to their early field experiences. The conference topics to choose from
were established by the instructors prior to the start of the semester
(e.g., motivation, adapting to students different from you, and elementary
cases--reading and writing). Basically, students in educational psychology
create a series of case problems on the Web based on problems and success
stories they observe in schools during their early field experiences; importantly,
all school, teacher, and student names are kept anonymous. Students then
receive feedback on their cases from both foreign and domestic peers, instructors,
practitioners, and other electronic mentors. This spring, for instance,
IU students are creating two cases and replying to the cases of 6-8 of
their IU and Finnish peers (see Figure 3). While
students are asked to include at least two concepts and references to their
textbook in their cases, few do. At the end of a two month conferencing
period, each student is asked to electronically summarize his/her case
Insert Figure 3 about here
The above activity clearly links to the sociocultural perspective advocated earlier for undergraduate educational psychology courses. For instance, the discourse in the Educational Psychologist on improving and reforming undergraduate educational psychology courses has been replete with sociocultural themes such as the following from Anderson et al., 1995 (p. 152):
One way this might be accomplished is to design tasks that require students to explain publicly the reasoning and theories underlying their actions and decisions. When this occurs within a community in which all ideas are respected and individuals are encouraged to express and to revise their ideas publicly, such public expression can aid personal development of knowledge.
What is the goal of such an experience? We have included this case-based reasoning activity in these classes in order to make learning more relevant, exciting, and interconnected. We hope to link many text-related concepts and ideas to actual school activities while reducing the depersonalization of early field experiences. Since this project is on the WWW, our students can join COW conversations without having to be on campus. In linking graduate student instructors, public school teachers, faculty, and students, this project is truly a university-school partnership.
It is critical for student electronic mentoring to take place on both a horizontal (peer-to-peer) basis but also a vertical or expert basis (i.e., instructor or K-12 teacher to student). For instance, mentors have been given stipends to give students positive reinforcement and feedback, ask them questions, offer recommendations and suggestions based on their experience, provide task structuring when students are off-base, describe similar situations in their schools, etc. Since “expert” teachers are giving students case-specific feedback on the Web, students hopefully will become more aware of “real” issues they will face in the field. With such practical advice and experience, moreover, this task meshes with the apprenticeship theme mentioned earlier.
What is perhaps most unique about the case discussions this past semester is that both Web-based learning tools and videoconferencing were utilized. During the past spring, we have had a couple of videoconferences with students and faculty from the Universities of Oulu and Jyvaskyla in Finland. The first videoconference was intended to establish rapport and team building among students participating in the electronic conference. Once mutual understanding and expectations were established, students could participate in COW discussions more freely. Additionally, this initial videoconference helped establish the project expectations and social interaction structure for the Web-based conference. The second videoconference, in contrast, was established to share global problems and success stories seen in schools in Indiana and Finland, and reflect on the positives and negatives of the COW conference. Insight into common problems as well as differences will hopefully help our undergraduates better appreciate the utility and range of knowledge offered within their educational psychology course.
Class and Lab Portfolios
What happens, though, when students complete all of these activities? Students can print out their avatar electronic portfolios in the Smartweb, while their COW conversations can be printed out in total or in pieces. When done, student avatar printouts, COW chapter discussions, and a 2,000-3,000 word summary serve as their class portfolio. For their lab portfolio, students are asked to print out their field experience reflections as well as their service teaching reflections and discussions. While the class portfolio is dimensionally assessed for coherence, completeness, originality, and other features, the lab portfolio is graded on a pass-fail basis.
New Features and Future Trends
After teaching the course one time, there were a number of lessons learned. First of all, I decided to reduce and simplify the syllabus as the number and complexity of Web tasks was too daunting for college sophomores. Second, I moved a couple of mastery tasks up earlier in the semester to reduce early course anxieties as well as shift the balance of work away from the grading of final course portfolios. Third, in an effort to build intersubjectivity early and consistently throughout the course, I decided to use class peers as personal mentors or e-mail pals instead of graduate students. Fourth, I had students choose personally appropriate roles each week based on interest for COW chapter discussions, instead of only taking roles a few times during the semester. Fifth, as noted above, we added student feedback and mentoring from other countries (with appropriate logos to indicate country and university of origin).
In addition to these structural and pedagogical improvements, there were a series of technology changes and upgrades made to the Smartweb course during the second semester of operation. For instance, peer and teacher feedback links were added to the electronic portfolios. Anyone can decide to give a student feedback for any week for which there is a Smartweb posting. Once the feedback is submitted, there is a color coded indicator button that such a link has been made. Hyperlinked indicators also exist at the top of each avatar portfolio to signify the weeks that students’ work has been posted to the Smartweb. In addition, there is now a summary list of participant weeks posted and weeks with peer or instructor feedback. This summary list is extremely informative since it allows students and instructors to find out who is up-to-date and who is slacking off. And if students need additional notice that their work has been posted, they can now ask for e-mail verification for weekly Smartweb submissions. Other useful technological feature added during the past few months include making Web link suggestions cumulative by week and adding links to student work from previous semesters to provide model answers.
Of course, the Smartweb is still undergoing more development. For instance, we plan to: (1) expand the hyerlinks in the course to other useful educational psychology material on the Web; (2) expand our list of international and multicultural Web link suggestions; (3) generate a new list of Web link suggestions for library materials and electronic database searching; (4) place student course surveys on the Web to help with evaluation; (5) create hyperlinks within the cases students generate in COW to show similarities between countries; and (6) create an electronic (and paper) summary list of the best Web cases created from the database of 700-1,000 electronic cases generated to date and making this site accessible for others to explore. Clearly, this Web course is constantly evolving.
The Smartweb is one of the first undergraduate educational psychology courses available on the WWW, even though it is required by most teacher education programs. Our two semesters of Smartweb work illustrate that posting student ideas and work on the Web creates opportunities for international sharing and mentoring that would not occur in a traditional course. In such a course, students have a chance to not only electronically share ideas and opinions among peers, but to simultaneously get feedback and hear perspectives and reactions from students in other counties and locales.
As is detailed above, there are hundreds of pedagogical activities embedded
into the Smartweb. As described in Table 1, most of these relate to ideas
from sociocultural theory or the learner-centered principles from APA (Bonk
& Cummings, in press). This is fortunate since placing the learner
at the center of instruction and allowing choice, autonomy, building on
prior knowledge, etc., as promoted by these viewpoints, is well suited
for distance learning environments with adult learners (Wagner & McCombs,
1995). The Web, therefore, appears to be an exciting environment for applying
sociocultural theory and learner-centered principles to higher education
Insert Table 1 about here
One key objective here is for students to connect text material to their field observations. Our hope is that students will critically reflect on their growing pedagogical content knowledge and move down the path to expertise. Justification of reasoning and the utilization of other critical thinking skills will be key indicators of such success. Another goal of my research during the past decade has been to electronically promote social cognitive and perspective taking abilities of students. This particular project is a significant step in this direction. Questions here include whether the problems faced by teachers, schools, and students will be similar. Will students find the application of learning theory and instructional principles to be the same in other countries?
Perhaps global networlds can serve as safe harbors for preservice teachers to try out instructional ideas and reflect on their early field experiences. If learning is a process of acquiring the culture of a professional community, it may be possible to electronically recreate teaching and learning environments. It is also conceivable that electronic discussions of problems witnessed in schools can force students to externalize school culture and pedagogical values. Electronic reflections on teaching and learning situations observed in schools might also foster reflection on concepts applicable to the real world of teaching. Such activities might help electronically apprentice preservice teachers into the field of teaching as well as allow practicing teachers a chance to discuss common problems and issues while using their expertise to suggest solutions.
The pedagogical activities on the Smartweb combine to offer just one
example of how to rethink educational psychology for preservice teacher
training using available technology. There are undoubtedly thousands of
other examples of how teaching on the Web or with videoconferencing tools
meshes with social constructivist ideas about teaching and learning. While
time and feedback issues are salient issues that hinder further Web development,
we hope to continue our course development efforts with ideas such as electronic
conferencing and collaborative learning with preservice teachers and students
from around the world. As these activities get added in, the Smartweb becomes
smarter; so, too, we hope our students become more competent through innovative
pedagogical activities on the Smartweb.
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|I. Smartweb Activities||Sociocultural Link||II. COW Activities||Sociocultural Link|
|1. Weekly Chapter Activities||Connecting concepts to cases and life experience; viewing terms from multiple perspectives.||1.Starter-WrapperDiscussions||Resembles reciprocal teaching; students become the teacher and the instructor guides learning; also builds student intersubjectivity and common knowledge.|
|2. Web Link Suggestions: Students, Instructor, International, Library||Pushing students to explore personal interests.||2. Field Reflections||Connect field observations to key course concepts and read about how others are doing so; apprentices learning.|
|3. Student Personal Profiles||Builds intersubjectivity among participants.||3. Cafe Latte and International Cafe Discussions||Builds intersubjectivity; new perspectives; shared space for discussion.|
|4. Student Portfolios||Continually assess student progress and view dynamic changes over time.||4. Field Observation Case Discussions and Sample Cases.||Assist in the learning process by scaffolding student understanding of key events; teleapprentice students into field of study; build meaning from authentic experiences, and foster the internalization of key course concepts.|
|5. Feedback on Portfolios||Peer scaffolding within ZPD.||5. Small Group Discussions||Share results of individual learning quests, understand views of team, build group ZPD.|
|6. Class Picture||Builds sense of learning community.||6. Optional Whole Class Discussion||Raise unresolved or interesting issues on a social plane; nurture learning community.|
|7. Links to Previous Semester Work||Provides peer and instructor modeling; class legacies.||7. Service Teaching||Cognitive apprenticeship wherein student shares how he/she taught something and then he/she obtains expert feedback.|
|8. Web Assignments Postings Chart||Provides visual overview of who has completed work and received feedback; also offers hyperlinks to text.||8. Volunteer Explorations||Extends class in new or important directions based on student choice.|
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Last updated: April 19, 1998