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The Use of Internet Tools to Supplement Communication in the Classroom

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  1. The Use of Internet Tools to Supplement Communication in the Classroom Kenrick Mock kenrick@uaa.alaska.edu

  2. Overview • Author’s Experience using Online Tools • Case study as opposed to wider generalizations • Online bulletin boards • Ways to stimulate interaction • Online chat • Via web-link • Via instant messaging • Other tools, e.g. surveys • Discussion

  3. Introduction • Universities and instructors have jumped on the WWW and Internet bandwagon • Web pages for everything • Course syllabus, assignments, textbook site, solutions, etc. • At UAA : 1400 courses online via Blackboard • Common tools in place • Bulletin boards (newgroups)  Discussion Group • Real-time chat and whiteboarding • File sharing • Email • Assignment “drop box” • Grading tools for students & faculty

  4. Online Discussion Groups Some worthy goals for online discussion groups [Karayan and Crowe] • To facilitate or extend class discussion on an equal basis. Students that are shy, outspoken, slow to respond, or impulsive all become equal in the online discussion group. • To encourage group interaction. • To build classroom community, sharing, and mutual learning through student-to-student or student-to-faculty interaction at their own time and convenience. • To encourage ESL speakers to become more fluent in English. Survey in CS0/1 class: 85% intended to work from home, less opportunity for interaction in a lab; satisfy with online groups?

  5. Tinkering with Online Tools • All of these goals require participation and motivation on behalf of the students to make the online discussion forum a success • What steps can an instructor take to maximize use of the discussion forums? • What tools are most effective to achieve some of these goals? • E.g. online chat vs. instant messaging?

  6. Initial Experiment – Online Bulletin Boards • Appears to be a natural form to foster community, sharing, and discussion • 1996 – Local Usenet newsgroups • Not promoted in class, not really used, students needed to make an extra effort to read the newsgroup, learn newsreader • 1997 – CGI Web-based bulletin board • Just click on a link, read, post messages • Minimal instructor effort expended • Posted a few hints on homeworks, clarification of problems • Fantastic response! • Students posted regularly, helping one another • Auxiliary discussions • Students continued to post messages after the course was over

  7. If you build it, they will come? • Alas, such voluntary participation appears to be the exception rather than the norm. Subsequent courses: • Three posts over the entire quarter • Most courses averaged about a dozen posts with only one or two threads based on course content • With encouragement by the instructor to post questions online: • Rationale that all students can benefit by seeing another student’s question and answer in case they had a similar problem • Handful of additional questions • 5-7 content-based threads • Activity dominated by a small number of students

  8. Reasons Cited for Lack of Use • Nobody else posting, why should they? • Is anyone actually reading the web board? • Perhaps a hit counter might be useful • Overall lack of motivation • Hypothesis • Perhaps web board did not build “critical mass,” a point where it can take on a life of its own

  9. Exploring Critical Mass – Mandatory Assignment to Post • To explore the critical mass idea, an assignment was created that required students to post a message introducing themselves • Used for Intro to Computing courses • Perhaps build critical mass early by stimulating the board with activity • Served dual purpose of ensuring students had their accounts, could get online • Result • After completing the mandatory assignment, activity dropped off to same levels as before • Apparently not enough useful content in the contrived exercise

  10. Modification : Post Useful Content • To investigate if the content-free posts were the problem, I required students to post their source code solution for a particular problem • CS1 course • Students given the ability to post anonymously • Only 15% elected to do so • Students encouraged to view posted code, not to copy • Potential issue of plagiarism • In some cases poor code posted online, errors • Provided a good forum to point out errors, improvements • Activity picked up in the context of the posted assignments • Discussion forum can be active, appears to require faculty involvement, motivation (coercion?)

  11. Forced Participation? • Karayan and Crowe • survey indicated students felt online participation should be optional and not affect their course grade • CS1 course survey • Rated online exercise as “Very Useful”, “Somewhat Useful”, “Undecided”, “Somewhat Not Useful”, or “Definitely Not Useful.” • 20/30 responses • 50% selected “Very Useful” • 40% selected “Somewhat Useful” • 10% selected “Undecided” • Students might not like it, but overall feel it is useful

  12. Online, Real-Time Chat • Online forum good for conversation between participants at different times • But Online chat superior for real-time discussions • Online chat rooms have the capability to build a strong community, sometimes even bordering on an addictive nature • Examples: IRC, MUDS, MOOS

  13. Experiments with Online Chat • Announced “Online Office Hours” in class where I would make myself available online • 1996 - IRC • Used regularly by only 3/40 students • As with usenet, extra effort required to log in, learn program • The three did use the medium heavily (already IRC’ers) • Easier to interact, share code snippets • Enjoyed the instant response • Students would commonly log in, see nobody else there (or I’d be idle), log out and never return • 1997-1998 • Similar behavior using Java-based chat rooms and public chat rooms (e.g. Talk City)

  14. Instant Messaging (IM) • Online chat that appears to more closely match desired interaction by students • Students notified when instructor is online and available Can then initiate chat dialog • Messages can still be delivered if offline when recipient logs in (like email) Not lost like chat rooms • IM clients are popular and software likely already installed for many students

  15. IM in the Classroom • 2000 – When IM use promoted for CS0 course • 35 Students • 35% used IM software for class-related work • Not a high number, but better than before using chat servers • In a survey, all of the 35% rated instant messaging to be either “Very Useful” or “Somewhat Useful” except for one student • Very positive feedback also received on course evaluations • Students that use IM tend to be satisfied

  16. Disadvantages of IM • Additional burden placed on instructor • Students ask questions all hours of day or night, whenever instructor is online • Good for students • Tough for instructor • Could set status to away, not answer questions, say busy… • Too easy to ask the instructor questions? • “It didn’t work, what now?” • Much harder to do this with physical office hours • Of course, the instructor can discourage such questions or not answer • Lack of standards in IM • Yahoo (15%), AIM (30%), ICQ (15%) , MSN (40%) • New standards coming, universal clients... (Trillian, Jabber)

  17. Online Surveys • To help gather some of this data, I used online surveys • Easy to do with common tools • HTML, CGI, JavaScript • As with all surveys • careful controls, wording • at least useful measuring perceptions among the respondents.

  18. Sample Questions for CS1 Course

  19. Some useful data from feedback • Students actually liked that they could provide feedback • Someone cares! • Can provide feedback on student perceptions • E.g. lab in horrible shape? Not according to most students. • Enough activity on bulletin board? • Students also can provide free-form feedback that may not have occurred to the instructor, e.g. regarding bulletin board use: • “I was afraid posting code or answers would be considered cheating” • “Great idea, wish it was used more to discuss homework and problems” • “I don’t want to be responsible for giving out bad solutions if I post my homework online” • “ I did not think people used it; I would of used it more if I thought people read it.”

  20. Conclusions • Online tools can be useful • Measures such as formal assignments may be necessary to increase utility • IM modality preferred to chat, likely to grow in popularity • Many future directions • Better tracking of usage/benefits/results • Tie in with performance? • All interaction through such tools (e.g. distance course) vs. tools to supplement in-class discussions? • Evaluation of groupware, new multimedia tools • Questions? Discussion? • Your experiences with such tools?