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Using the Internet to teach ecommerce: The challenges of digital pedagogy. Howard Rosenbaum <> 10.11.01. I. Introduction • The challenge of digital pedagogy

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Using the Internet to teach ecommerce: The challenges of digital pedagogy

Howard Rosenbaum




I. Introduction

• The challenge of digital pedagogy

• Collaboration technology, problem based learning, and the internet

II. Teaching ecommerce with a virtual economy

• How the VE works

• Using PBL in the VE

• Student and shopper experiences

III. The value of a net-based simulation

• Pedagogy and the “real world”


I. Introduction

• The challenge of digital pedagogy

We spend many hours at work immersed in digital environments using information and communication technologies (ICTs)

This is extending into our social and private lives as well

We expect that our students are going to spend many years working in networked organizations

What are the most effective ways to prepare our graduates for work in these environments?


In the discourse on socio-technical trends in higher education, we find that

Schools are increasing their investments in ICTs and are integrating them into their curricula

They are offering instruction in different formats to provide students with more flexibility

More curricula are beginning to focus on a range of information environments and information problems

What do these trends mean for the ways in which we educate our students?


An opportunity

A suggestion

An implication

We have an opportunity where we can rethink the ways in which we combine ICTs, the net, and pedagogy

An important focus should be on the investigation of information problems in networked organizational environments

Pedagogical strategy and the socio-technical infrastructure that supports it should immerse students in these problems


• Collaboration technology, problem based learning,

and the internet

Our Masters of Information Science program emphasizes teamwork

The concept of teamwork is grounded in situated learning, which assumes that learning and cognition require social interaction and physical activity

“Communities of practice” form where learning is constituted through the sharing of purposeful and patterned activities

Roschelle, J. (1995), Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. (1989)


faces a

which faces a

and uses

leading to a

reinforcing the

Situated learning and collaborative technology

A group

Problematic situation

Community of practice

Collaboration technologies

Successful resolution


Information professionals learn to recognize typical problems that arise in their workplaces

They develop a repertoire of information behaviors that allows them to resolve these problems

Collaboration technologies are important resources in this work helping people

Jointly produce shared knowledge

Generate communities of practice

Mutually produce new practice

Interact, communicate, and work with each other

In a sense, this is the “real world” we hear so much about


How can we provide students with learning experiences that prepare them to enter this world?

Is there a way to simulate the complex organizational environments that they will face upon graduation?

How can we create a class that requires students to spend an extended period of time grappling with a difficult problem?

Are there pedagogical approaches that focus on problems?

Are there net-based collaboration technologies that can support this approach?


Problem based learning (PBL) is an approach that foregrounds “the problem”

Learning is motivated by a problem that should resemble one students might face in the workplace

The problem should be complex and ill structured

It should have no clear-cut and easy answers

It should have nuances and subtleties not apparent upon first analysis

It should have relevance to students who can analyze it using prior knowledge and experience

(Abdullah, 1998; 1)


PBL reverses the traditional approach to teaching and learning

As they work on the problem, students propose plausible explanations or hypotheses

They develop plans and strategies to resolve the problem

They gather data that to test their hypotheses or critically evaluate their explanations and plans

The instructor provides relevant information, but only if students offer a good reason for wanting it

(Margetson, 1998; 194)


Using PBL, students

Take responsibility for their education

Learn about problem solving in situations resembling those they will face in their professional careers

Learn to recognize and analyze problems, taking into account their contextual and dynamic natures

Develop, evaluate, and select among alternative resolutions

Engage in self-directed study resulting in knowledge that can be used in problem analysis

Present and defend their ideas in front of their peers


I. Introduction

• The challenge of digital pedagogy

• Collaboration technology, problem based learning, and the internet

II. Teaching ecommerce with a virtual economy

• How the VE works

• Using PBL in the VE

• Student and shopper experiences

III. The value of a net-based simulation

• Pedagogy and the “real world”


II. Teaching ecommerce with a virtual economy

Challenge: to design and develop an inquiry-based networked, learningenvironment for teaching ecommerce

Objective: providestudents with a challenging, novel, technology-focused, and learner-centered educational experience

They learn by “doing” ecommerce instead of listening to someone talk about “doing” ecommerce

Technology: a working, robust, and web-based virtual economy (VE: Web, Cold Fusion, and Oracle)



• How the VE works

The virtual economy is a distributed digital marketplace

It is a simulation of a competitive environment for buying and selling digital products


Students start up, design, and operate e-businesses which compete in the VE

This is a semester long project

Shoppers use digital money to purchase information products and services

They participate for eight weeks


Structure of the virtual economy

Store 1

Store 1

Store 2

Store 2


Portal page


Store 4

Store 3

Store 4

Flow of digital money Entering the VE Traversal to store To portal



The VE is based on HTML, Cold Fusion, and Oracle

It uses no pre-existing code and is a proprietary design written to be transparent to the participants

No programming knowledge is required to set up storefronts or to shop in the VE

The programming is modular, portable and runs on a Solaris platform on a Sun Enterprise 250 server

Cold Fusion can encrypt the code for the primary functions (product catalogs, shopping cart, and digital bank), so the VE is relatively secure


The VE is a collaboration technology

It provides a shared work space for store teams to develop their businesses

Each team works out its own norms of interaction and rules for working together

It also provides a means for store teams to engage in customer relationship management as they attempt to initiate and build relationships with the shoppers

In past iterations of the VE, this has involved the use of email newsletters and chat rooms


Synergia: information services

Vegas Casino: entertainment

GetBusy: information, services

DigiTeam: collaboration services information


Business Bistro: bundled information

Succinct: subscription


• Using PBL in the VE

The problem is how to start up, design, and manage a web-based ebusiness

This is complex, messy, and ill-structured

Students work in small, self-directed teams and investigate issues involved in creating ebusinesses

They determine what they need to learn to develop and manage their stores

They draw upon a range of disciplines to resolve the problems they face


The work is evaluated against real-world benchmarks

Sales, repeat customers, traffic analysis, and customer feedback

Students apply what they learn to the basic problem as it evolves over time

This is “authentic learning” because “students publicly exhibit their learning, and there are often real life standards of quality”(Gordon 1998: 391)

Outcome: “higher levels of comprehension, more learning and knowledge-forming skills, more social skills”(Rheem, 1999)


Structure of the course and timeline for the VE

Week 1: Introduction: Developing a start-up company

Week 2-7: Design, build, and test the site

2: Present business plan, begin content development

3: Database population, evaluation of sites and development of initial prototype

4: Development of advertising and marketing plan

5: Final design; online ad auction

6,7: Presentation of customer service and support strategies, testing and redesign

Week 8-15: Operate the storefronts


The simulation becomes more real in several ways

There is competition: bonuses added to the final grade for the most profit and the most traffic

They never meet the shoppers face to face

Real digital products are being sold for real purposes

There is initial investment and costs that have to be managed

The banner ad auction

Web hosting

Consulting ($125/hr)

Market research (~$400 for a report)


• The student experience in the VE:

Store owners:

Develop and implement business plans

Design working storefronts

Design content pages (product descriptions, help pages, etc)

Used a template page to set up a product catalog, transaction procedures, and an order form

Develop content

Annotated bibliographies and collections of articles, web site reviews, newsletters, subscription services, editing and consulting activities, and entertainment



Create advertising and marketing strategies, banner ads for the portal page, sales, and other promotions

Participate in an ad auction

Set up customer service and loyalty programs

Develop policies to protect customer privacy, handle grievances, complaints, and technical support

Manage their businesses

Monitor store accounts, handle customer service and support, and maintain inventory

Add and remove content and redesign pages


Over the term, store owners raised fascinating ethical issues


Took advantage of the architecture of the VE

Looked at each others’ store directories

Read each other’s weekly reports

Searched for pricing information

One group downloaded at least one of another group’s articles and sold it as their own

When do business practices cross the line between competitive and unethical?


The student experience in the VE


Had to develop familiarity with ecommerce

Used the VE extensively

Checked their accounts and purchase histories

Provided extensive feedback to store owners and the instructor

Committed fraud

Claimed files were corrupted or never delivered

Took advantage of closing strategies

Formed buying circles


I would like to thank my faculty colleagues and collaborators:

Australia: University of Canberra: Ric Jentzsch University of Queensland: Sophie Cockcroft

UK University of Bath: Richard Vigden, Joe Nandhakumar University of Greenwich: Margaret Lennox

US The Citadel: Janette Moody Duquesne University: A. Graham Peace, William Spangler Kennesaw State University: Martha Meyers Lehigh University: Catherine Ridings Georgia College and State University: Ric Bialac

I also received assistance from talented SLIS students, some on the payroll and some with independent studies

Sun Microsystems and Ameritech have also supported this work


I. Introduction

• The challenge of digital pedagogy

• Collaboration technology, problem based learning, and the internet

II. Teaching ecommerce with a virtual economy

• How the VE works

• Using PBL in the VE

• Student and shopper experiences

III. The value of a net-based simulation

• Pedagogy and the “real world”


III. The value of a net-based simulation

• Pedagogy and the “real world”

This course shows that a complex simulation can provide students with a real world experience

Internet-based collaborative technology be used as the basis for such a simulation

Much has to change in the pedagogy of a course built around a semester-long simulation

Teaching and learning change

Technology and pedagogy can be used to bridge the gap between “knowing what” and “knowing how”


This combination of pedagogy and internet technology is a useful way to prepare students for their careers in IT

They learn that their implicit knowledge is legitimate and useful when facing apparently unfamiliar tasks

Because of the range of problem resolutions, they learn that heuristics are not absolute

Students generate their own solutions, which makes them creative members of a culture of problem- solving and community of practice


They acquire new cultural tools

A shared vocabulary

Workable methods of problem analysis

Collective problem solving

The means to discuss, reflect upon, evaluate, and validate community procedures in a collaborative process

Groups give rise to insights and solutions that would not come about without them


Displaying multiple roles

Successful problem resolution helps them learn about the many different roles needed for most cognitive tasks in the workplace

They can confront and discard ineffective strategies and misconceptions

They refine their collaborative work skills

They learn about project management

They learn that ecommerce is hard work!


Abdullah, M.H. (1998). Problem-Based Learning in Language Instruction: A Constructivist Model. Eric Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication, Bloomington, IN.

Brown, J.S., Collins, A., and Duguid, P. (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning, Educational Researcher, 18, pp. 32-42.

Gordon, R. (1998). Balancing real-world problems with real-world results. Phi Delta Kappan, 390-394.

Margetson, D. (1998). What Counts as Problem-Based Learning? Education for Health: Change in Training and Practice, 11(2): 193-202.

Rheem, J. (1998). Problem-Based Learning: An Introduction. The National Teaching and Learning Forum. 8(1).

Roschelle, J. (1995). What Should Collaborative Technology Be? A Perspective From Dewey and Situated Learning.


Using the Internet to teach ecommerce: The challenges of digital pedagogy

Howard Rosenbaum