Beth Shiner Klein, Ed.D.
State University of New York at Cortland
Juanita Jo Matkins,
University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
Starlin D. Weaver, Ph.D.
This paper provides an update on the Teaching Across Collaborative Highways (TEACH) project and examines the process of using collaborative technologies to team teach elementary science methods courses across three different institutions; Salisbury State University, the State University of New York at Cortland, and the University of Virginia. The first semester of the TEACH project is described in an article published in the Electronic Journal of Science Education, by Klein, Matkins, and Weaver (1999). This paper focuses on the second and third semesters of the collaboration and shares student outcomes that were measured by use of a pre- and post survey, by analysis of journal entries and written evaluations of the project, and by faculty observation and evaluation of student projects. Faculty also share their perspectives on their own growth and experiences with this collaborative teaching model.
The Need for Authentic Educational Technology Infusion
In survey results reported by Topp (1996), most first year teachers believed that using technology with their instruction is important. However, Willis, Austin, and Willis (1994) found that more than half of the recent graduates that they surveyed reported they were poorly prepared or not prepared at all to use technology. A later study conducted by Strudler, et al. (1999) found a similar situation. According to Willis and Mehlinger (1996) " . . . students are not learning to use technology in their [teacher preparation] programs and without significant changes in teacher education programs, that will continue to be the case" (pp.1019-1020).
Although many programs address the technology education of preservice teachers with a stand-alone educational technology course (Strudler, et al., 1999), additional emphasis should be placed on modeling technology throughout coursework (Bitter & Yohe, 1989; Novak & Berger, 1991; National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1997; Willis & Mehlinger, 1996). Unless preservice teachers have an opportunity to see the effective use of technology modeled in their methods courses and teaching placements, it is likely they will graduate with "limited professional skills in this area and harbor a questionable attitude toward the use of technology in education" (Willis & Mehinger, p. 999). Handler and Pigott (1994 in Willis & Mehlinger) found that 58% of the first year teachers who "felt prepared" to teach with technology reported having experienced at least one methods course where the instructor modeled the use of technology.
This indicates the need for teacher educators who can provide this model for the preservice teachers. As Barone et al. (1996) points out,
On the one hand, [teacher educators are] expected to use technology to teach their academic specializations. On the other, they [are] expected to introduce preservice and in-service teachers to technology that can be used with their K-12 students. These are distinct and separate applications of technology, neither of which currently supports the other. . . . Teacher educators find themselves struggling to figure out not only what technology can do for teacher education in higher education classrooms but also what technology can do in K-12 classrooms (p. 1139).
The three elementary science methods course instructors who participated in the three semesters of this collaborative project have explored strategies for sharing instruction and resources while adapting the available technologies to the specific higher education and K-12 application needs of elementary science methods course instruction.
The three faculty used a variety of Internet-based tools in their teaching. Tools included Internet video-conferencing, application sharing tools, discussion lists, web-based resources, email, and chat groups. Using collaborative technologies in this course enabled the students to benefit from sharing information, not only from their own class, but also from two other classes at different colleges. They also had the opportunity to learn from the expertise of all three science education faculty members with different research agendas, experience, and expertise. The students worked in cross-college groups to conduct educational research, develop a written report and make a 3-way interactive Internet-based presentation of their findings.
During semester one, the three collaborative sessions included an introductory session, a session that focused on gender issues in science education, and one that focused on alternative assessment in science education. The introductory session included an overview of the project and a review of team responsibilities. This session, which included a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, was facilitated by two instructors.
During the initial stages of planning, it was anticipated that collaboration technologies would be available enabling full three-way audio and video interaction. Please refer to Klein, Matkins, and Weaver (1999) for a full description of the technology used and the results of the first semester of the collaboration. Between the first and second semester of the collaboration, Dr. Klein moved from her position at St. Norbert College, to SUNY Cortland in upstate New York. This both reduced some of the difficulties experienced in the first semester, and added new challenges.
Fall 1999 (Semester Two)
One of the challenges experienced during the first semester of TEACH was the variety of course lengths (10 weeks vs. 15 weeks), start and end dates, and breaks. The second semester of the project, Fall 1999 found all three classes on a full 15-week schedule. Class times, however, did not overlap so that all three courses could be synchronous. The NY course met from 1:00-1:50 Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The MD class met 12:30-1:45 on Monday and Wednesday. The VA course met on Monday from 2:00-3:00 and Friday from 1:00-3:00. This enabled synchronous sessions on Wednesday between NY and MD, and on Friday between NY and VA. To accommodate this scheduling situation, students in the NY class split in half, with half meeting on Wednesday with Maryland and the other half meeting on Friday with Virginia. Approximately 45 minutes of live collaborative teaching was possible during each session. All three instructors were available during all of the live sessions, whether their students were participating or not. This was especially important during the teaching sessions. For example, when Dr. Weaver was presenting on using children's literature to inspire science investigations, she needed to present both on the Monday session for her MD students and the first half of the NY students and then again on Friday for the VA group and the rest of the NY students.
The students were introduced to the project by their instructor using a jointly prepared Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. Next, the students in each class assigned themselves to one of six groups. Each of the faculty members presented an overview of the six science education topics: standards, diversity issues, assessment, curriculum resources, teaching methods, and integration across content areas, for their students to investigate.
Student teams in each state were required to develop two documents. One was a short paper on the selected topic and the way that issue was addressed in their state. The second document was a comparison paper developed by the cross-state teams on the same topic. All papers were intended for posting on the TEACH web site, and students were informed that their products would be posted on the Web. All documents involved telecommunication efforts across states. The teams had to agree on a few essential questions about their topic before they could begin their research about the topic from the perspective of their own state. In addition, the development of the summary paper involved the submission of several rough drafts and the negotiation of the content of the final comparison paper via email and other telecommunication avenues. Once the summary information was agreed upon, the in-state teams made class presentations at their respective sites. In these presentations teams shared the material from their state and cross-state papers as well as directed a discussion component that was facilitated by the students. Many of the teams used either Microsoft PowerPoint or a web page as a guide for their presentations.
Real-time collaborative class sessions between New York, Virginia, and Maryland included a session that focused on gender issues in science education, one that focused on alternative assessment in science education, and one that centered on the integration of children's literature into elementary science instruction. Dr. Matkins (UVa) led the gender issues in science education session, which focused on her research about the lives of six women scientists (Matkins & Miles 2000). It included a readers theater-style presentation of case studies. Six students, three from each location, played the part of the six women scientists in this interactive session. Following the case study presentation, the instructor facilitated a discussion, using a shared Microsoft PowerPoint discussion outline via Microsoft NetMeeting, about gender issues in science education.
The class on alternative assessment in science education was led by Dr. Klein of SUNY Cortland. All students were asked, via a listserv posting, to read a section of an online resource about alternative assessment. In this collaborative session, college students reviewed samples of answers to an open-ended question created by fifth grade students. Preservice teachers at each location created scoring criteria to evaluate the answers and shared their approach to the process and their results using the both the whiteboard feature in Microsoft NetMeeting and by emailing attachments. This was followed by a live discussion, using a shared Microsoft PowerPoint discussion outline on alternative assessment strategies for use in elementary science teaching.
Dr. Weaver (SSU) conducted a session that focused on using childrens literature as a catalyst to begin the inquiry process in elementary school science. Again, a Microsoft PowerPoint Presentation was shared that emphasized essential points. Students were introduced to the topic and instructed to use science processes to design an investigation. Students were also provided with a rationale for using literature to teach science.
During the collaborative session on children's literature between SUNY-Cortland and SSU, network problems prevented a successful collaboration. However, in the same session with SUNY Cortland and UVa a successful collaboration occurred. The other sessions on alternative assessment and gender issues were also technologically successful.
Spring 2000 (Semester Three)
In the third semester, there were three-way synchronous meetings each time a session was held. The New York course met from 1-2:15 on Monday and Wednesday; Virginia met Monday and Wednesday from 1-2:30, and the MD class maintained their Monday/Wednesday 12:30-1:45 meeting time. This gave a 45-minute period each Monday and Wednesday when all three classes could be synchronous.
As with the second semester the students were introduced to the project via their instructor and assigned themselves to one of six groups. The student research topics remained the same.
For this semester, the students assumed more responsibility in producing and presenting their three-way collaborative presentation. In a demonstration of what was expected of the students, the faculty demonstrated the collaborative presentation model when they shared a brief introduction of the teacher education program at each college. One instructor had the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation loaded on her computer and via Microsoft NetMeeting, each faculty member was able to take control of the presentation with all of the students viewing the same image at their respective sites. Audio was carried via speakerphones into each of the classrooms. Shortly after initiating this first session, connectivity from UVa was lost with SSU and SUNY Cortland. After several failed tries to reconnect, the session was rescheduled. In a follow-up telephone conference among the three faculty members, Dr. Matkins explained that a faulty Internet connection at her university had interrupted service that afternoon. After that experience, the instructors decided to change the way the student collaborations would be conducted. Instead of students using Microsoft NetMeeting to share the Microsoft PowerPoint application, faculty requested that the presentations be developed using Microsoft PowerPoint and that a copy of the presentation be run on local computers. As the semester progressed, student projects were accomplished in this manner. Student teams prepared the state paper, and shared those documents with their cross-state teams as they had done previously. Then, instead of preparing a cross-state paper and then conducting a local presentation for their peers as in previous semesters, the cross-state teams prepared and conducted a three-way collaborative presentation. Because of bandwidth limitations and the relative greater reliability of the traditional telephone system, the audio channel was shared over speakerphones at each location.
Collaborative technology used at each site varied based on available resources. During the fall 1999 semester, Dr. Matkins used a University of Virginia collaborative classroom (described by Bull, et al., 1999). This classroom was equipped with a rear-mounted projector and a PC equipped with the following: Microsoft NetMeeting Software, video digitizer, video switch, SoundBlaster, sound editing software, and NetShow. Additional hardware included an electronic whiteboard, a document camera, a video camera, a tripod, and a full-duplex telephone with a microphone and additional microphones throughout the classroom. At SUNY Cortland, a "smart" classroom was secured for the collaborative sessions, which included a PC, equipped with Microsoft NetMeeting Software, a USB digital video camera, and a ceiling mounted projector. A speakerphone was connected to the telephone jack already present in the classroom. At Salisbury State University, a portable projector and laptop were brought into the classroom. A speakerphone was connected to a 100 foot telephone cord that snaked through the hallways (thank goodness for duct tape) to an office telephone jack.
For the spring 2000 semester, the UVa class consisting of 36 students would not fit into the seminar-sized collaborative classroom. Portable equipment including a laptop, projector, and full-duplex speakerphone were brought into Dr. Matkins' science methods classroom during collaborative sessions. Dr. Weaver at SSU managed to obtain funding for a full-duplex speakerphone and the installation of a telephone jack into her science methods classroom (no more 100 foot telephone cord). At SUNY Cortland, a portable projector and laptop were placed on a cart for use in the science methods classroom. A telephone jack was already present in the room and a speakerphone was attached via this connection.
Technology used by the students varied over the semesters. During both the Fall 1999 and the Spring 2000 semesters, students used listserv, email, online databases, web browsing, and word processing. During the fall 1999 semester, students also used an area on Blackboard.com where a web forum was set up for student use, and assignments were posted. In addition, during the fall semester, faculty also modeled and a few students assisted in the use of the digital camera, speakerphone, and managed the keyboard during the live collaborative sessions.
During the Spring 2000 semester, students used iVisit to chat with each other during an introductory meeting and some groups used it to continue conversations. Students were given a more active role in developing and managing Microsoft PowerPoint for their presentations and setting up and using the speakerphone, laptop and portable projector. Students also had use of several listservs during this semester. Seven different listservs were hosted at UVa for this project. One served the entire TEACH population, the six other listservs were topic specific, one for each cross-state research team. The three instructors were on all seven listservs.
Technology competencies of the students varied. All of the UVa students had taken a required technology course prior to participating in the science methods course. The students at SUNY Cortland were concurrently enrolled in a Teaching with Computers course at the time they were taking this science methods course. The students at SSU were not required to take a technology course as a part of their program. Between two to four students had either already taken or were concurrently enrolled in an optional Computers in the Classroom course while they were in the science methods course.
Students were given a pre and post survey that was a variation of the Attitudes toward Computer Technologies/Self-Efficacy for Computer Technologies (ACT/SCT) instrument, developed by Delcourt and Kinzie (1993), and administered near the beginning and the end of each science methods course. The ACT assessed perceived usefulness of and comfort/anxiety with computer technologies, and the SCT measured perceived self-efficacy with computer technologies (including word processing, email, spread sheets, database programs, statistical packages, and CD-ROM databases). The survey used a Likert-type scale that provided the choices "Strongly Disagree", "Slightly Disagree", "Slightly Agree", and "Strongly Agree." Items were added to the ACT/SCT survey for the TEACH project that asked participants to gauge their own attitudes and confidence levels toward educational technologies particular to the TEACH project and toward understanding and applying the science education topics addressed in the collaboration. Similar to the procedures used by Delcourt and Kinzie in their original analysis of the ACT/SCT, a factor analysis was run for the items in the revised survey. Results from this analysis revealed six constructs whose items clustered together in the factor analysis. Three of the constructs related to technology: Comfort with Technology, Belief in the Usefulness and Practical Applications of Technology, and Belief in the Usefulness of Technology in Teaching. The three science education constructs were: Belief in the Professional and Personal Benefits of Understanding the Issues in Being an Elementary Teacher of Science, Acceptance of the Impact of Science Education Reform Efforts, and Recognition of the Usefulness of Application Science Education Reform Issues.
A paired samples t-test was calculated using the pre and posttest data from the revised ACT/SCT. The Comfort with Technology, Belief in the Professional and Personal Benefits of Understanding the Issues (Benefits), and Acceptance of the Impact of Science Education Reform Efforts (Acceptance) constructs showed significant change at the p<.05 level. All significant changes in these constructs were positive.
End of course student improvement in comfort with technology reflects the impact of the modeling of the collaboration by the TEACH instructors and also the challenges faced by the TEACH students. The assignments in the project required the use of tele-collaborative technologies, listservs, presentation software and email attachments, as well as other technologies. Improvement in the Benefits and Acceptance constructs can be traced to the in-depth examination of standards, assessments, diversity/gender/special needs issues, and other topics examined by instructors and student research teams. The Benefits construct focused upon the student's sense of the benefit of understanding the issues, whereas the Acceptance construct focused upon not feeling threatened by the challenges posed by science education reform efforts.
Journal entries were written by students after each collaborative teaching session in the project, and a final reflection assignment was also available for analysis. Several students wrote comments in the "comments" section of the ACT/SCT. Comments in student journals and conversations and discussions during the student presentations reflected a shift in attention from the technology to the topic of the lessons. The technology ceased to be the focus, and became the vehicle for the content. Instructors noted that these students were more fluent about issues in science education and became more confident in discussing those issues and debating them with each other than students in the other sections of their courses.
Analysis of the journal entries and the end-of-course reflections revealed two major themes: technology and science education issues.
Technology. The most common adjective employed to describe the technologies used was "frustrating." Other descriptors included "glitches", "time-consuming", and "a waste of time". However, a number of students believed that the technology difficulties were a part of the experience, and, overall, it was valuable to work through the frustrations. One student summarized this attitude with:
This project helped me build a web of communication. This will be important in the next couple of years as I begin teaching. I learned how easy this can be with the use of modern technology including the Internet.
Science Education Issues. Comments on the positive value of learning about the science education issues were consistent in both the journal entries and end-of-course evaluations. Some students wondered whether the collaboration was necessary for this, and some students commented they would rather the teacher had simply taught them about the issues than student "expert teams", saying that this approach would have been more efficient. Several students commented specifically about aspects of the collaborative project that led to an understanding of the perspectives among the three states on the issues. This was particularly apparent in the two Fall 1999 faculty presentations on alternative assessment and women scientists. Students in NY and VA synchronously compared their answers on a practice assessment, and were interested that their criteria for evaluation were not similar. Students at each location had "graded" the fifth grade samples using widely varying criteria. In a class meeting following the collaborative assessment session, a student commented "I wish I could have experienced alternative assessment in some of my other classes. I think my motivation to learn would have dramatically increased, if this would have occurred."
The administration of radically different science assessments in the states of Maryland (the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program) and in Virginia (the Virginia Standards of Learning Assessments) provided fertile ground for the collaboration. Student comments in journal entries, reflections, and comment sections showed a qualitative gain in appreciation of variations among the three states.
Prior to this project, I saw the Virginia SOL standardized tests as only a positive thing because they ensure that students are held accountable for the information they should be learning in school. I now see the downfall of Virginia's SOL testing, and after learning about the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, I see ways in which [the Virginia SOL test] can be improved.
The TEACH project effected change in the elementary education students involved in the study. Though it is possible that a portion of the change observed in the survey data and the qualitative data was due to factors external to the project, it is probable that a portion of the change was also due to the project. The conjecture of effect of the TEACH project is supported by the qualitative data collected. Nonetheless, the study would be strengthened by the involvement of a control group, and the faculty involved intend to incorporate that aspect into a subsequent semester.
An aspect that invites examination is the constructs for which there was no significant difference pre to post. Two of the three technology constructs, Usefulness/Practicality of Technology, and Application of Technology to Teaching, did not show significant improvement. In the science education constructs, the change in the Recognition of the Usefulness of Application Science Education Reform Issues was not statistically significant. The qualitative data reverberates with negative comments and attitudes toward the technologies, with a few eloquent and articulate minority opinions interspersed. A comment found in one of the post-treatment reflections was,
There is one problem I had with this project. We are always told that technology is good, but you shouldn't use it when it makes learning less efficient. While I did learn a lot from this project, I spent a lot more time becoming frustrated trying to collaborate through technology use.
It is possible that the technology should not have been used in this project. However, how then are students, professors, and classroom teachers to try new technologies and test their usefulness? If they are to wait until technology runs absolutely smoothly and support staff are always available, then opportunities for use of technology will be missed. A recent AAUW study (1999) cited the differences between girls and boys in choice of computer classes. Girls were more likely to choose clerical-type classes (e.g., word processing), and boys were more likely to choose advanced classes (e.g., graphics design). Student frustrations with the technology in the TEACH project reflect a belief that technology should run smoothly and an unwillingness to accept technological challenge. There were some students whose comments showed an understanding of the processes of working with new technologies such as the distance learning arrays used in TEACH. The nature of groups of elementary science teachers, including the classes in this study, is that the vast majority are young, white, and female. It is possible that elementary science preservice teachers present a particular challenge for introducing new technologies. If so, the positive outcomes of the three semesters of this project were particularly encouraging.
State University of New York Cortland is a small public institution that is part of the larger State of New York Higher Education System. Over 60% of the 7500 student body are majoring in one area of education. The elementary education program is the largest major on campus with approximately 1500 students enrolled, making Cortland the largest preparer of elementary students in New York State and one of the top ten in the nation.
The course that was involved in the collaborative project was one section of the Teaching Elementary School Science course. The course is part of a "block" of education courses taken together. The other block education courses included Teaching Elementary School Mathematics, Teaching Reading and Language Arts I, and Teaching with Computers. Although the faculty regularly communicated, there was usually no formal collaboration between the courses.
Most of the students in the course were in their junior year at SUNY Cortland and had limited exposure to teaching experiences. A few had participated in practicum experiences at community colleges or in volunteer situations. The majority of the students were white, middle class, traditional age, and female.
Initially, the students expressed excitement at participating in this collaborative effort. They explained that they were interested in talking with preservice teachers from other institutions to learn about their programs. They were also interested in seeing and using the collaborative technology. Some of the students were anxious about using technology because some had little experience with using technology, other than email and web surfing.
During the Fall 1999 semester, rather small items combined to become quite frustrating which added to the complexity. This was my first semester at SUNY Cortland, and I found that I quickly had to establish contact with the technology support staff and learn the new organizational structure for "who did what." Going from a much smaller institution where technology support was limited to myself and a few moments of the computer software specialist's time, to a larger institution with a Classroom Media Services staff that tried to provide me with options to make the collaboration work, took some getting used to. Initial discussions with the group finally resulted in some options--which would require extra work on my end. First, I would have to locate an available "smart classroom." At SUNY Cortland this was defined as a classroom with a ceiling mounted projection system, a desktop computer, and other media equipment. After determining the classroom schedules from the registrar, I located a classroom and convinced a colleague to switch classrooms with me during the collaborative sessions. With the classroom identified, a Classroom Media Support specialist loaded the needed software. The next challenge came when it was discovered that the CPU of the computer was securely locked in a cabinet with the required USB port inaccessible. After some discussion, a USB hub was purchased and set in an accessible location.
The next task at hand was to secure the audio connection. I was surprised when I learned that a phone could be placed in the smart classroom within a week into the semester (I had visions of the 100 foot phone cord running down the hall from my office and rolls of duct tape - See Dr. Weaver's perspective). That leap forward was followed by a series of minor set-backs that eventually set me over the edge enough to write an eight page letter to my dean about the lack of appropriate equipment and support, rather unusual for a new untenured faculty member. In discussions with the telecommunications department to attempt to acquire a speakerphone, I was told that the classroom telephone to be placed in the smart classroom would be a local telephone only. No incoming or outgoing off campus calls. Upon further discussion with another telecommunications specialist, it was determined that an outside call could be received by another unit; and then forwarded to the telephone in the classroom. It was then that the next challenge surfaced; the staff advised that the telephone in the room would not ring for incoming calls. It was explained that the telephone in the smart classroom was there for emergency assistance for faculty using the equipment; the system was not designed for incoming calls. I would not know if, or when a call had been forwarded to the number. A plan was devised to have a student from my class wait in the secretary's office until the call from Dr. Weaver or Dr. Matkins was received. Then the student would run upstairs to the classroom and let me know to pick up the telephone. A test of the equipment a few days before the first in-class collaboration led us to a discovery. Surprisingly, the telephone did indeed ring. A call could come into my office telephone and be automatically forwarded (assuming I remembered to press in a special code) to the classroom telephone. No runner or interrupted secretaries would be needed.
The date of the first collaboration finally arrived. The students were very excited. After a few trials, we connected up via NetMeeting and began to see some "pixels" of our colleagues. A test of the chat feature indicated that they were calling us. Why were we not answering? The telephone was not ringing. I picked it up just to make sure; and heard only a dial tone. I quickly typed on the chat area to make sure they had the right number. They tried again and still we heard no ringing. One of my students commented, "Is that a phone I hear ringing down the hall?" Yes, I heard it! After my colleagues had heard the third angry hang-up by the faculty member interrupted down the hall, we decided to scrap the audio for the first attempt at collaboration. After a few unsuccessful attempts to reach the telecommunications specialist, it was discovered that they had recently reassigned the numbers (apparently forgetting that I was going to be using it) and I was belatedly informed of the new number.
During the second collaboration, the telephone worked perfectly, however the video link was unsatisfactory and the NetMeeting software was so slow it was useless. Sometime later it was determined that a gas company digging in the Chicago area had accidentally severed a major Internet artery connecting the West and East Coasts, causing the rerouting of traffic and reducing Internet access to a crawl.
The third collaboration was successful for both the audio and the Internet-based components. My students and I were quite relieved. Up to that point, my students had become skeptical as to whether this project could possibly work.
For the Spring 2000 collaboration, we decided to drop the video due to the poor network performance experienced at both SSU and SUNY Cortland (possibly attributable to the popularity of the MP3 file format). I was also able to secure a portable projector and a laptop to use in the elementary science classroom. A speakerphone was used which was connected via a long telephone cord to an adjacent (and empty) office.
Finally, in the course of this project, I found I grew in my confidence to make this collaboration work. I became more comfortable experimenting with a variety of hardware and software as new challenges were presented to me and my colleagues. The support of both Drs. Weaver and Matkins, with the support I received from my Department Chair, and the positive attitudes of my students, especially during the Fall 1999 semester when I was starting out at SUNY Cortland, were essential for the success of the collaboration. It is interesting to note that as a consequence of my challenges, I have positive working relationships with many technology support staff, and they keep me informed of any new software or equipment purchases that they have made that may be of use to my Internet-based projects. The college has also awarded me internal funds on several occasions to purchase computer equipment and digital cameras.Dr. Starlin Weaver's Perspective
Salisbury State University (SSU) is a comprehensive state-supported institution offering a traditional liberal arts curriculum and a variety of preprofessional and professional programs on both the graduate and undergraduate levels. SSU is located on Maryland's Eastern Shore in Salisbury. The school is approximately ten miles from the Delaware state line and approximately 30 miles from the Maryland and Virginia border. Elementary Education is the largest major on campus, involving over 600 of the approximately 6000 undergraduate students.
The course involved in TEACH was one of my elementary science methods courses. All of the students were concurrently enrolled in two other methods courses, math and social studies. In addition to these courses, most students were also taking reading and communication arts. The students in this course were in the last semester of their junior year or the first semester of their senior year. Most of the students in this class would be student teaching in the fall of 2000. This class of 19 was composed of 16 females and 3 males. Four of my students had taken or were currently enrolled in an elective technology course, Computers in the Classroom.
The first two semesters of the TEACH project at SSU were riddled with obstacles that made the collaboration difficult and tenuous at times. This third semester many of those obstacles were resolved and this resulted in a less stressful collaboration. In the past two semesters, in order to have access to a telephone in my classroom, I was forced to run a one hundred-foot telephone cord from a faculty office. This cord was placed and duct taped to the floor before each collaborative session. This semester a telephone jack was installed in my classroom replacing the need for the cord and tape. I also purchased a full-duplex speakerphone, which aided in clearer sound transmission. These changes were made possible because I received an in-house Faculty Mentor grant from the Salisbury State University Foundation. In addition to these changes, SSU received a US Department of Education Preparing Tomorrows Teachers To Use Technology Capacity Building Grant which provided additional resources, including laptop computers and portable projection systems, which made access to the technology easier than before. These changes and the experience of doing the project two previous semesters allowed the project to progress much more smoothly.
I was able to place more of the responsibility of the collaboration and technology use on the students. I felt comfortable with the technology and was able to mentor my students more efficiently. From my perspective as an educator, I viewed this as a success. The products that my students produced were superior. I was very surprised when the course evaluations for this class were returned to me from my department chair. As a whole, these evaluations were much lower than my other non-TEACH section of elementary science methods. Comments from the evaluations revealed such statements as, "this project was time consuming," "too involved for preservice teachers," " . . . was frustrating," and "was more work than my other methods classes." Being a new untenured professor at a university that prides itself on excellence in teaching, these evaluations are of great concern to me. I feel strongly that I need to provide my students with innovative teaching and learning opportunities, yet the need to maintain excellent student evaluations of my teaching is imperative for my professional future.
The professional relationship and collegiality I share with Drs. Klein and Matkins continues to flourish. We presented three papers at national conferences in 2000 describing the TEACH project. These conferences included Association for the Education of Teachers in Science (AETS), National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), and The Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education Home Page (SITE). We are currently working on additional publications that describe the outcomes and benefits of the project. We continue to redefine the project and modify it to address the changing needs of our students and our individual programs.Dr. Juanita Jo Matkins' Perspective
I am a general faculty member (non-tenure track) in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. This University was founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, and is now known as the "flagship" university in the Virginia public college and university system. In 2000-2001, over 18,000 students were enrolled in the various undergraduate, graduate, and professional development programs at UVa. We are a Research I institution according tot he Carnegie criteria, and the Elementary Education division of the Curry School of Education is consistently nationally ranked in the top 10 of public university programs. The majority of my students are in the five-year Master's of Teaching program with about 1/4 participating in the Postgraduate Master's of Teaching program.
The first semester of TEACH had been exhilarating, much like a roller coaster ride on a new track. Dr. Weaver and Dr. Klein and I had learned a lot about how to make the available technologies work for our goals. The students had accomplished their assignments and left our three classes with an air of professionalism I had not seen before in my students. Previous classes had left my class merely acquainted with the science education issues we chose for TEACH; the spring 1999 class was conversant with six issues, and fluent with the issue they chose to research.
Course schedules continued to present a problem in the fall of 1999. My schedule only corresponded with SUNY/Cortland, and not with SSU. Dr. Klein volunteered to split her class so some students worked with me on the day our schedules overlapped, and some of her students worked with Dr. Klein and Dr. Weaver's students on the day their schedules overlapped. Since we wanted to give the students many opportunities to establish a relationship with us and with their cross-state teams, we maintained the telecollaborative presentations led by each faculty member, in turn. Thus, the students did not participate in three-way collaboration in the Fall 1999 semester; they only experienced a two-way collaboration.
Dr. Kleins assessment session was the first telecollaborative lesson. Twenty-nine students, two parents, a visiting professor, and I squeezed into the seminar-sized collaborative laboratory for the session. Following her lecture and Microsoft Microsoft PowerPoint presentation, Dr. Klein asked me to distribute the samples of student work she had sent me earlier that week. Each team worked for a few minutes deciding upon criteria and a rating for each students work. Then Dr. Klein directed me as I set up a chart on the whiteboard at UVa for entering the student ratings from the teams at each institution. NetMeeting enabled NY and VA to see the chart synchronously as I drew it and entered the data. Thus it was that we all saw the anomalous ratings &emdash; VA had rated one response with the highest rating, and NY had rated the same response with the lowest rating. The discussion that followed bordered on passionate, as students used the speakerphone connection to discuss essential issues in assessment. We learned that NY had based their rating on spelling and syntax criteria as well as science content knowledge, whereas the VA students had based their rating solely on science content knowledge. It was a rich discussion, replete with hints of the dilemmas classroom teachers face daily.
I presented a readers theatre play (Matkins, Miles, and McDonnough, 2001) as the second telecollaborative session of our project. During Dr. Weaver and Dr. Kleins class time on Monday I led the students in reading through the play, and followed with the Microsoft Microsoft PowerPoint presentation that guided us through a discussion of gender issues in science education. It was a good discussion though somewhat subdued, possibly because the students at SSU and SUNY-Cortland did not know me very well. The familiarity factor may explain why the discussion that followed the presentation I led two days later for NY and VA was very different. There were students who questioned whether gender-biased discriminatory practices still existed, and there were students who vehemently held that sexism still holds sway in our society and in our educational system. The latter offered many stories from their own lives. This was the kind of interaction I had dreamed of when we initiated this collaboration.
The last collaborative session was led by Dr. Weaver, and it focused upon her use of childrens literature to develop science inquiry activities. Drs. Klein and Weaver had incorporated an assignment using this idea into their syllabi, but I had demurred due to other assignments I was unwilling to give up. After Dr. Weavers presentation, I offered the same assignment to my students as extra credit. A team of students took the challenge, and produced a charming treatment examining the effect of wind on houses, inspired by the childrens story of The Three Little Pigs. They created a wind tunnel, model houses, and used an anemometer to measure wind speeds.
Meanwhile, students were working on their research topics, e-mailing back and forth. We were using a free service over the Internet, Blackboard.com, for discussions and for resources. (We also placed on the Blackboard.com site the revised Delcourt and Kinzie survey we were using to assess outcomes, having been assured that we could access and manipulate the data whenever we desired.) Student presentations in the fall of 1999 were accomplished without synchronous collaboration. Each state team had already produced a research paper and collaborated with their cross-state teammates to produce a summary paper. Then the state team developed their own presentation, serving as experts teaching their classmates about the topic.
There were many complaints from students throughout the accomplishment of the student projects about the difficulty of communicating efficiently with cross-state teammates, and about the difficulty of sending attachments once papers were written. My students were concerned about having their grade depend upon the behaviors and products of their cross-state colleagues. For the most part, though, the students successfully communicated and produced very informative products, as evidenced by the student papers and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations posted on the TEACH web site.
The technology in Fall 1999 still was not perfect. The video we shared often was broken up into pixels. I was using a seminar-sized classroom, and squeezing 29 students into the available space was becoming increasingly tedious. Probably the most serious technological problem we faced was from an unexpected source, Blackboard.com. About 2/3rds through the semester we attempted to access our pre-test data from the three classes, and blackboard.com was unable to find it. We administered the posttest on paper copies, and will not trust online survey services again until we have solid evidence of their reliability. We still only have posttest survey data, no pretest data, from Fall 1999.
I wanted to know what the Fall 1999 students thought about how the TEACH project went, and added three questions about the project to the end-of-course evaluation. I emphasized to my students that they should be honest about what they thought; I wanted information to improve the project. It was not surprising then, that I got much constructive criticism about the project. I analyzed the information and made copious notes about possible ways to change the project based upon the student input and discussions with Drs. Weaver and Klein about the student evaluations. Therefore, I was prepared when my department chair asked me to talk with him about the evaluations. I believe this is an important issue with these sort of projects that challenge and stretch the boundaries, and this issue may be particularly critical for faculty who try new technological applications with their classes. Many of the TEACH students seemed to expect all technologies in their classes to run smoothly, and, like blaming the weatherman for the weather, they blamed the teacher if there was a "glitch" with the technology.
The following Spring 2000 semester was the first time that the three of us were able to synchronize our class meeting times, and I think this was the best semester so far. Due to the success of the synchronous collaborative faculty presentations in the fall and the mixed reviews in student evaluations about the value of the student project, we decided to concentrate on the students work in the spring. A class chat was added to the schedule, and all three sites were able to successfully chat team-to-team-to-team. I had 36 students this semester, so the chat session was a bit chaotic at the beginning, but the hubbub diminished as the student teams swapped information and ideas for their joint assignment. I did not use the collaborative laboratory this semester because it was just too small for 36 students. Instead, I switched to a computer, projector, speakerphone, and Internet connection in the science laboratory/classroom. The speakerphone was installed because I requested it at the end of the fall semester &emdash; I looked at spring course enrollment and knew the previous collaborative facility would not work. During the spring 2000 semester, the speakerphone was supplemented by a full-duplex telephone, providing adequate volume and distribution for the size of the group and room.
I had enjoyed the use of advanced technologies and technological support, established throughout educational technology faculty, for the first two semesters of the project. Things changed when I moved to the science lab, and I had the opportunity to problem-think and problem-solve my way through using these technologies in a way I had never enjoyed before. The first collaborative session I tried (a session we faculty planned on using to model how to plan and present information from three research teams) was aborted because something happened to the one of the lines out of UVa, and data-heavy flow was backed up to the point that it stopped. There I was, ready to show my students how easy this tele-collaboration would be, certain I had connected everything correctly and was choosing the correct commands, and yet there was no connection! After 20 minutes of futile attempts to connect and reconnect, we three collaborating colleagues decided to cut off the connection. We already had a date to do a conference call, and we used that call to re-schedule the presentation. We also used that call to decide to have the students do synchronous, non-Internet dependent Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. We wanted the primary focus to be the information, and did not want techno-stress to overwhelm their products.
The students still complained about difficulties communicating cross-state, and about being dependent upon their cross-state colleagues for their final products and, ultimately, their grades for their products. However, a very interesting thing happened with the student exchanges. Maybe the interactions were enhanced by the chats, or by the ease of use of the listservs for each individual topic-group. Students began talking to me about their topics and what their cross-state teams were saying, and they were asking rich, insightful questions about their topics. The special needs team had questions about philosophies of across-the-board inclusion, and the teams on standards and assessments had questions not only about the variations across the three states but also about the usefulness of state-imposed standards and assessments for guiding classroom instruction.
The quality of work both in state papers and in the cross-state presentations also revealed a high level of critical thinking about pedagogical issues. We had purposely sequenced the presentations so the issues had a logical flow: standards, assessments, special needs, multicultural, methods, and integrated curriculum. By the third presentation, students took complete control of all the equipment, and I sat back and enjoyed the interactions. The 15-minute question-and-answer period that ended each collaborative presentation was always too short, leaving students with questions that were sometimes answered during the following activity presented by the state teams, and sometimes answered or at least discussed on the listserv.
Students took complete charge of the technology required for the presentations. They created their presentations collaboratively, they reserved the equipment, and students from UVa made the conference call to the other two states. Students commented that the presentation was much easier than they thought it was going to be when it was first introduced.
Following the end of classes in Spring 2000, I invited a small group of students from the first semester of TEACH, the Spring 1999 group, to meet and talk about any impact TEACH may have had on their student teaching and their job searches. Nine students met for an hour, and they related many ways that TEACH had benefited them. Some initiated Internet-based or email based exchanges in their student teaching placements, several reported greater confidence with technological problem-solving, several had had positive exchanges with potential employers because they were knowledgeable about collaborative technologies, or were knowledgeable about science education issues in other states. One student has accepted a teaching job in an international school, and she attributed receiving that job to her familiarity with telecollaboration. I asked the students about the frustrations they reported in their 1999 end-of-semester reflections on TEACH, and they responded that the frustrating qualities of the project were also qualities that helped them learn skills and information that were already proving to be very useful to them.
In contrast to the personal stories told by the Spring 1999 TEACH veterans, the Fall and Spring 2000 end-of-course evaluation comments on the TEACH project were mixed, with some students praising the project and what they got from it, and some students very frustrated with the project and critical of its goals. As a general faculty member, my major responsibilities are not research, but teaching. I am concerned that the immediate post-course evaluations show such a mixture of attitudes about this innovative and far-reaching project, given so many other indications of positive outcomes for the project. As a reflection of the concern of Drs. Klein, Weaver, and myself for the interpretation of and impact of student evaluations, we presented a workshop at the 2001 annual meeting of the Association for the Education of Teachers of Science on the topic of student evaluations and innovative projects (Weaver, Klein, and Matkins, 2001).
I was gratified by the information gained in the focus group meeting, a year after these students were part of TEACH. Given the outcomes reported by the focus group, the results of the TEACH survey, and the products of student work in the 1999-2000 academic year, the TEACH project engendered a high level of professionalism and technological proficiency. Despite the negative end of course evaluations, I believe TEACH presented an appropriate challenge that resulted in student gains that would otherwise not be possible.
The data collected on the students indicated positive change in self-efficacy and attitude toward technology and science education issues. Faculty have continued to become more confident and more willing to take risks in relation to the collaborative project. It must be noted that all of the faculty involved in this project were untenured. Student frustration with lack of their own technology expertise, and with technology glitches can translate to lower student evaluations. Students, especially in the spring of 2000, reported a sense of being overworked or of faculty having "too high expectations of students" and being "too involved for an elementary science methods course". One instructor found a large difference in the student evaluation rating between a section that participated in TEACH and another that did not. It is interesting to note that that instructor felt this the class had gone much better than the TEACH classes before and had seen an improvement in the quality of work in this class versus the first two TEACH classes.
Although the technology glitches have lessened each semester, with upgrades in equipment, skill improvement of the faculty, and better Internet access, problems still had to be overcome to continue the collaborative sessions. Review of the survey data and student products, even in light of negative student course evaluations, indicated that significant student learning was occurring and positive change was taking place. Other outcomes of the project that have added strength to this project included students having a broader sense of the teaching profession and having grown as education professionals.
Collins (1991) suggested that the use of technology in teaching promotes several shifts in instruction. These include a transformation: from large to small group instruction, from lecture and recitation to coaching towards more engaged students, and from all students learning the same thing to different students learning different things. This project represents a possible path to those approaches to teaching and learning.
It is planned that this collaboration will keep evolving as technology continues to change and as the faculty grow in their own understanding of how to use technology to improve their students' learning experiences. Work has begun for each faculty member to acquire a set of wireless laptops to enable direct Internet connections within our regular classrooms. This should enable additional small group sharing and interaction to extend the collaboration, and make it a more natural process. Use of video cameras, adding an additional conduit of communication and personal connection, will improve as university Internet access speeds are upgraded.
Johnson and Johnson (1996) report that there is a lack of conceptual models for collaborative technology integration, that little research has been conducted in the area of technology-assisted cooperative learning, and that there is a lack of guidelines for implementing this instructional technique. As the TEACH project continues, the result may be a model for technology-assisted collaborative learning and procedural suggestions for other teacher educators.
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About the Authors...
Beth Shiner Klein is an Associate Professor of Science Education at the State University of New York at Cortland working primarily with preservice and inservice elementary teachers. She has several years of experience as an elementary and middle school teacher in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Dr. Shiner Kline's applied research interests include integrated methods instruction; applications of technology education into oceanography education, environmental education, and elementary science education; and authentic and performance-based assessment.
Juanita Jo Matkins is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at the University of Virginia with 20 years teaching experience in K-12 classrooms, mostly at the elementary and middle school levels. She is a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Science Teaching. Dr. Matkin's research interests include applications of technology in the elementary science classroom, and potential usefulness of various technologies in meeting the needs of a diverse student population.
Starlin D. Weaver is an Assistant Professor of Science Education at Salisbury University in Maryland. A former high school biology teacher, she joined the faculty at SSU after completing her Ph.D. at Virginia Tech. Dr. Weaver's applied research interests include technology, integration of literature in science problem solving, and authentic assessment.
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