FW: ON COURSE NEWSLETTER: Adding High-Tech Tools to Learning-Team Activities
- I am amazed at the following high-tech adaptations that are suddenly
becoming a major part of our teaching/learning strategies as webcourses
and hybrid web courses are surging in enrollment at our community
colleges. Do any of you have experiences with these tools and students'
Subject: ON COURSE NEWSLETTER: Adding High-Tech Tools to Learning-Team
ON COURSE NEWSLETTER
Innovative Learner-Centered Strategies for
Promoting Student Success and Retention Across the Curriculum
* * * * *
1. FEATURE ARTICLE: High-Tech Tools & Learning-Team Activities by Ryan
Watkins Faculty, Educational Technology Leadership George Washington
Learning activities that engage students in small group or team projects
have become a component in many college and university courses. From
science and engineering to economics and art history, many instructors
value the dynamic role that group activities can add to student
learning. At this time, however, few instructors are capitalizing on
the communication technologies that students are using in their everyday
lives (e.g., cell phones, instant messages, the Internet, and Blackberry
devices) to enhance the learning and effectiveness of student teams.
While these, and other, technologies have dramatically changed how
students communicate with one another outside the classroom, most
college courses continue to rely only on conventional class sessions and
small group meetings for promoting interactions among members of
learning teams. By integrating technologies into group activities and
assignments, instructors can effectively guide students in the
appropriate use of technology for enhancing team learning. Even with
limited guidance, student teams can apply technologies that improve
interpersonal communications, add flexibility to student schedules,
increase student involvement in the development of team products, make
team processes more efficient, and/or document group interactions. In
addition, the introduction of technologies into team projects assists
students in developing valuable skills they can use in work environments
where collaborative projects are often the norm.
Here are eight examples of how technologies can facilitate any course's
small group or team activities:
1. SHARED ONLINE CALENDARS FOR SCHEDULING TEAM EVENTS. Arranging
meetings (either online or in person) and managing the development of
group products can be challenging for college students who have
conflicting schedules. Shared online calendars offer a solution by
helping student teams stay organized and overcome the challenges of
trying to find times when everyone in a group is available to work on
the team assignments. Students can find free online calendars from such
services as Calendars.net, YahooGroups, Visto, or SuperCalendar. These
calendars will give students the tools to post a timeline of deliverable
products for the project (e.g., draft one of the introduction to be
complete by Ron on March 26th), or to share their weekly schedules in
order to more efficiently set team meetings (e.g., Landon and Jae Hoon
are busy on Wednesday afternoons so we shouldn't schedule team
activities on those days). Shared online calendars can also be useful
for the entire class. If you do not have a calendar feature already
available through the college you may want to sign up for one of these
free services to share information (e.g., due dates for class
assignments, your office hours, times for student presentations) with
students throughout the semester.
2. INSTANT MESSAGES FOR DISCUSSING PROJECT TASKS. Instant messenger
(IM) programs offer students a valuable tool for communicating with
other project team members. Instant messenger programs typically run on
student computers and offer real-time text-based discussion tools.
Unlike email, instant messenger programs keep a list of people and
report which ones are presently online and available to chat. When
people from a project team are online, they can send messages to each
other that will be delivered instantaneously. From quick questions to
sharing files, IM programs can add real-time communications options to a
project team. In addition, with newer IM programs (e.g., Trillian,
Vista, Odigo, Easy
Message) students can now communicate with other group members no matter
which IM software they use (i.e., students who use ICQ instant messenger
software can communicate with other students who use AIM or Yahoo). The
advantages of instant messages - over email, chat rooms, or discussion
boards - are the privacy, real-time interaction, and ease of
3. EMAIL FOR EXCHANGING DRAFT DOCUMENTS AND OTHER FILES. Students can
easily share draft documents and other files with group members by
attaching files to emails. From Word files to PowerPoint presentations,
nearly any files that students create for their team assignments can be
exchanged with other team members using email.
When sharing draft documents via email, students often find it useful to
create a sequence (or chain) of editors. For instance, after creating
the initial draft document, Rebecca may email it to Julie for her
comments and edits. In her email, Rebecca would then indicate that upon
completing her review, Julie should send the next draft of the document
to Sandy, and then Sandy's draft would go on to Troy who will submit the
final paper to the instructor. Much like a chain letter, in this manner
email can be used to effectively and systematically to organize the work
of student teams.
4. MICROSOFT WORD FOR TRACKING CHANGES, EDITS, AND COMMENTS.
Microsoft Word has many tools for assisting teams in developing their
assignments. By using the "track changes" feature of Word (under
Tools), students can share draft documents and the software will trace
the changes (i.e., additions, deletions, edits) made by each group
member, illustrating the individual changes to the document with
different colors for each reviewer. This tool can be quite valuable to
students as they work on collaborative class assignments. In addition,
instructors can benefit from the color-coded changes when evaluating the
individual contributions of group members.
In addition, the "merge documents" tools of Microsoft Word can be of
value when student teams are working on group assignments. The "merge
documents" feature allows for multiple versions of the same file (e.g.,
Roger's comments and edits on the draft paper, along with Jan's and
Jac's comments) to be combined together into a new document. This
feature can be of great value when several group members each offer
additions, subtractions, or edits to a project document and then want
all of those edits to be merged into a final document for the
instructor. For more information on how to use these and other tools in
Microsoft Word you can visit http://office.microsoft.com
5. CHAT ROOMS FOR HAVING REAL-TIME TEAM DISCUSSIONS. Chat rooms
provide student teams with the ability to have "real time"
discussions regarding team projects in a completely online format.
>From discussing the requirements of an assignment to debating the bestpresentation format, the conversations students have in a chat room with
other group members can be of value and extend the learning beyond the
boundaries of the classroom or campus. As a benefit, most chat rooms
will also provide transcripts of the team discussions that group members
may later use in the development of project documents. At colleges and
universities using course management systems (e.g., BlackBoard, WebCT,
eCollege) students will have access to chat rooms through the course
area. Other free chat rooms are available to students through services
such as ICQ, YahooGroups, TalkCity, and MSN.
6. YAHOOGROUPS FOR MAINTAINING SHARED FILES WITHIN A SMALL GROUP.
A variety of group communication tools (such as file sharing, discussion
boards, chat rooms, and shared calendars) are available to students
through the YahooGroups website at no cost. As a result, it is often
useful to encourage student teams to use these resources in both
managing their group processes as well as developing team assignments.
Tools like YahooGroups can also provide teams with a storage place for
draft documents and other project files so students with Internet access
can effectively share resources with group members at any time and from
any place. If your college or university doesn't currently offer an
online course management system (e.g., BlackBoard, WebCT, eCollege) then
the development of YahooGroups area for your courses can be a valuable
tool as well. For more information on YahooGroups you can visit
http://groups.yahoo.com or learn more about similar resources at
http://clubs.wanadoo.co.uk and http://groups.msn.com
7. DESKTOP VIDEO-CONFERENCES FOR COMMUNICATING WITH OFF-CAMPUS
STUDENTS. When group members can't meet face-to-face on campus, desktop
video-conferences can offer a convenient tool for helping student teams
hold meetings and share information. Although most desktop
video-conferencing systems require broadband Internet access (e.g., DSL,
Cable modem), the cost and technology skills required to have online
video-conferences has been reduced significantly in recent years. Many
desktop video systems are now available for less than $50. For an
excellent article with more information on effective strategies for
using video-conferences in your courses you can visit
8. CELL PHONES FOR HOSTING TEAM CONFERENCE CALLS. Cell phones are a
technology that most students use everyday in their personal lives, and
with conveniences such as 3-way calling and text messages the modern
cell phones can offer student teams valuable tools for communicating
with one another. Group conference calls, for example, can offer
student teams the flexibility and conveniences often necessary to ensure
that all group members can adequately participate in the development of
team products. Using the 3-way calling features built into many modern
cell phones (or even more sophisticated conference calling plans for
additional participants in the conference call), student teams can
effectively hold meetings and make import team decisions at almost any
A second useful tool available with many cell phones is text messaging.
Similar to the real-time communication tools of instant messenger
programs on the computer, text messages are a popular tool for students
to communicate using text with a cell phone. These typically short text
messages often do not cost as much as telephone calls and can be sent to
either one or multiple cell phone users.
For student teams these tools can provide another technique for
communicating with one another outside of the traditional classroom, and
for instructors many cell phone providers will offer Internet based
tools for sending text messages to cell phones if you do not feel
comfortable writing the message using your cell phone.
As you can see, today's technologies offer student groups the
flexibility that is often necessary to work effectively as a team.
In creating team assignments it can therefore be helpful to integrate
the technologies that many students commonly use outside of the
classroom into their group projects. For example, when assigning teams
for a course project you may want to require that each team start a
YahooGroups area where they can share their calendars, distribute files,
and have online discussions. You may even want each group to provide
you with access to the YahooGroups area so you can monitor their
progress. As another option, you may want to hold office hours once a
week in an online chat room in order to encourage students in the class
to utilize similar technologies in their studies. Not only will online
office hours add flexibility to your schedule, but it may give students
who have to work off-campus additional opportunities to interact with
you throughout the semester.
The valuable tools included in Microsoft Word can also become part of
your everyday teaching routine. From providing feedback on papers using
the "track changes" feature to requesting that small groups "merge"
their draft documents together before submitting them, you can promote
the use of technology among your students.
Many students will value the opportunity to apply technology to their
efforts in college courses. The integration of technologies into small
group activities can help students stay organized, share files, manage
time, communicate with group members, document group processes, submit
team products, and/or create comprehensive online portfolios. These are
great skills for succeeding in college and for excelling in the
technology-oriented work world our students will soon be entering.
Ryan Watkins is an associate professor at the George Washington
University in Washington DC. He is an author of the books *75
E-learning Activities: Making online courses interactive and E-learning
Companion: A learner's guide to online success*, as well as several
other books and articles on distance education, needs assessment,
strategic planning, and performance improvement. In addition, Ryan was
recently a visiting scholar (IPA) with the National Science Foundation.
For more information please visit http://www.ryanrwatkins.com
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- I teach online using D2L (aka "Desire2Learn"). We are supposed to have
a shared online calendar function. It is extremely useful. However, our
IT people had to disable it because the ever-expanding number of
Minnesota online courses (this is a statewide system) perpetually
overloads the D2L servers!
--- In SACC-L@yahoogroups.com, "Lewine, Mark" <mark.lewine@...> wrote:
> I am amazed at the following high-tech adaptations that are suddenly
> becoming a major part of our teaching/learning strategies as
> and hybrid web courses are surging in enrollment at our community
> colleges. Do any of you have experiences with these tools and
> Subject: ON COURSE NEWSLETTER: Adding High-Tech Tools to Learning-Team
- Mark et al.
At our small CC in rural NE Connecticut, we made a commitment back
in the "early days" of the WWW (starting with the first graphical
web-browsers in 1994-95) to make sure that we kept at least some of
the emerging technologies always available to "students first..."
We had a strong sense that these were going to be key resources for
higher education--- especially because we could already see what the
K-12 kids "down the road" were already doing!!
When upgrades are called for (hardware, software etc.) they are in
our public labs usually before they are on most faculty's desks...
Many of our students would otherwise not be able to access such
things at home, in our relatively economcially depressed region of
We now use a course-management system for every class (whether on-
ground or online) at the very least to make syllabi, internal
email,and hreaded discussions available to all students. We are
grappling with network security issues so that we can also make
wireless available throughout the school; students with cell phones
can already access our webpages etc.; I and a few others teach
courses via 2way video conferencing between our two campuses. It
won't take much to make everything that is now online routinely
available through pda's etc.
This is not just to have the latest "toys"; we are very careful to
discriminate between what we perceive to be 'fads' vs. signifcant
emerging technologies, though this is always a matter of discernment
And the most challenging thought in all this is that already the
kids in K12 have more skill (and higher expectations) with any of
this than many of the most advanced planners in higher ed!
It is FUN, besides, and opens up so many new possibilities for
learning and connecting. I often makes me wonder why, especially in
anthropology, there haven't been more efforts like the Mayaquest
project back in the late 1990's, or the online international
associations like the WAOE (of which I was a founding member back in
1998 or so).
--- In SACC-L@yahoogroups.com, "Lewine, Mark" <mark.lewine@...>
> I am amazed at the following high-tech adaptations that are
> becoming a major part of our teaching/learning strategies aswebcourses
> and hybrid web courses are surging in enrollment at our communitystudents'
> colleges. Do any of you have experiences with these tools and
> Subject: ON COURSE NEWSLETTER: Adding High-Tech Tools to Learning-
> Activities(Previous messages deleted: refer to origial post for remainder of
earlier messages in this thread)