Electronic Communication in Classes
A Demonstration (Evolving Over Time)
Photo: Rick Ells
This is a quick directory (used in numerous presentations) for the sites
which make up the major ways in which I have used the available E-mail and
Web page capabilities for my classes at the UW.
- Preamble: None of my undergraduate classes in which Internet
tools have been used are outright "Internet classes". It is made clear to
students that no prior electronic background and, subsequently, only
minimal electronic skills (related to the use of E-mail, UWIN, UNIX and
browsers) are required. However, there is frequent reference to Internet
activities in all of my classes either due to geography's inherent
concern with telecommunications as a mode of spatial transaction or due to
economic geography's increasing interest in the diversity of
information-related services, occupations, jobs and careers.
- Purposes and Objectives of the Use of Web Sites in my Classes (A
- Provide the larger context: Any 10-week course which
claims any degree of depth represents necessarily only a slice of a larger
context and discipline. A system of Web sites facilitates such a broader
- Add diversity to the presentation of class content (in
addition to the use of lectures, in-class discussions and hard-copy
- Facilitate and improve outside-class communication between
instructor and students thereby, for example, reducing the need for
intervening, intermediating teaching assistants.
- Reduce necessity for
lengthy Q & A periods dealing with logistic matters thereby saving
valuable class time and limiting dependence on instructor to core
- Provide a seminar or small group atmosphere
for discussion even in larger classes and encourage participation of
students who might otherwise not participate.
- Accommodate special
needs of a student population with highly diverse backgrounds and skill
levels (i.e. create multi-level learning environments).
- Integrate the
teaching of a broader range of library- and internet related resource
skills into the presentation of subject areas.
- Provide opportunity to
students to experiment with hypertextual presentation of projects.
- Encourage students to accept partial responsibility for their own
education and ownership of their learning processes through active,
electronically enhanced learning experiences and creation of a learning
infrastructure in their own system of Web sites.
- Provide more
continuity between quarters by permitting preparations before and
follow-ups after any particular 10-week course
- Promote collaboration
and acquisition of teamwork skills.
- Instill in students the idea that
they -- through their work on class projects -- are making contributions
not just to themselves, their grades or my office paper collection but to
their peers and, possibly, larger segments of society.
- Enable students
to organize their daily (home-job-campus) logistics more efficiently in
time & space
- Enable students to gain valuable computer communication
- Facilitate boundary-spanning communication and activities
between disciplines and, as importantly, between class and community. In
Economic Geography, such activities include student research, internships
and Service Learning / Community Outreach arrangements.
- It all started with E-mail use in class some years ago:
There is a page on appropriate E-mail use in my
introductory lecture class (Geog.207).
- Class-related Web Sites and their Uses:
- My classes are part of a learning program in Economic & Business Geography which has a
great deal of internal cohesion. This page permits students
to recognize this larger context of the discipline beyond a particular
This is an "electronic survival"
page designed to
help students at different electronic levels to get to the next level
- Weekly Agendas: The summary entries for weekly lectures,
readings and resources are broken up into more detailed weekly "agendas"
While students are promised that the Syllabus will not change
during the quarter, no such promises are made for the weekly "Agenda"
which remains a dynamic document right up to class-time. These agendas are
usually printed out and distributed at the beginning of the week.
- Thematic Resource
Pages providing seed sources for students' specializations and
participation in projects. Students are urged to take part in the
further development and maintenance of these pages.
- Pages for Class Messages and Announcements:
These pages serves as an archive for e-mail messages to the class making
it easier for students to go back to earlier messages without having to
save such messages in their own disorganized Email file systems:
- Student Home and Project Pages
on projects and other work in groups outside
class has been negatively affected by students' increasingly demanding
work schedules off-campus. At the same time, pedagogic insights and
economic necessity point into the direction of collaboration and peer
education. Well-developed personal home pages and project-oriented
academic Web sites of students permit ready access to the kind of peer
information which is breaking down barriers and facilitate student
interaction. This is the Collaborative
Group Membership Page for my ongoing class (Geography 207,
- Cyber Discussions: Early evidence suggests that Web sites are
excellent platforms for electronic class discussions supplementing or
continuing live discussions in class. My trials involved students sharing
their enthusiasm and frustrations
with electronic communication in class. I have begun to use forms
[developed by Charles Hendricksen, Rick Ells and Gabriel Chrisman]
with which the students can send their discussion contributions
statements, rebuttals and final statements) directly to designated Web
sites. In an earlier trial in a larger class, these contributions arrived
via E-mail and had to be aggregated and transferred (via ftp) to the
discussion page. I foresee and plan to modify these forms for use in a
variety of different contexts.
* * IT IS IN THIS INTERACTIVE (INTRANET) REALM WHERE I
SEE THE GREATEST POTENTIAL PEDAGOGIC BENEFITS OF FUTURE WEB SITE USE.
- Other Class Logistics:
- Evaluation & Grades:
- Detailed and continuous monitoring of the success,
weaknesses and failures of the experiences with these new modes of
communication is vital, particularly since there is relatively little
documentation of prior experiences available. University supplied
evaluation forms are designed to serve different purposes [measuring
instructor popularity and student happiness] and cannot be
used to follow a student's academic and electronic attitudes, preferences,
needs and, particularly, learning outcomes during the quarter.
- In Geography 207, in addition to conventional testing of course
content, students were asked to fill out and submit hard copy or
electronic questionnaires related to their prior computer and Internet
background and anxieties and their end-of-quarter progress and feelings
toward electronic communication.
- Collaboratory "Labs" associated
with my classes are conducted with the help of validation lab-sheets:
These and other sources of information were used to track students during
the quarter as well as to assess the successes and failures of various
class components. However, this massive collection of data not
only exhausted students' willingness to fill out questionnaires and was
time consuming, but also has otherwise only rather
limited value. First, there were no resources available to evaluate the
data fast enough and systematically; even if the funds were available, the
students preparations, attitudes and expectations are
presently changing too rapidly to make large-scale data analyses very
meaningful. Thus, the instructor's trials and errors, the immediate
feedback and personal experiences were far more useful for making quick
adjustments and advancing the trial-and-error cycles in quick succession.
- Students often seem obsessed with wanting to know the details of my
grading policy. A
page on grading policy (for all of my classes, still "under
construction") will ensure a consistent
message and save class time for more important subjects.
- Further References:
Please forward your comments,
suggestions and questions (use this form, click here) related to this
document and the issue of using electronic communication technologies in class contexts. Thanks!
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