Information and Communication Technology Implemented in Project Organised Studies. Jørgen Lerche Nielsen Department of Communication, Journalism and Computer Science Roskilde University DK-4000 Roskilde Denmark e-mail: [email protected]
; www.ruc.dk/~jln; www.komm.ruc.dk/Laering (To be published in Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L, Fibiger, B., Danielsen, O et. Al: Learning in Virtual Environments, Roskilde University Press, October 2001)
Abstract After an introduction to the alternative approaches to education at reform universities in Denmark (Roskilde and Aalborg) this article presents the author’s experience in exploring how an increased and innovative use of ICT could renew project organised studies in the “on campus” degree program of Communication Studies at Roskilde. Historically these universities were established in the beginning of the 1970’s as innovative places for advanced learning, in response to needs for new qualifications. In order to create flexible and personal competencies, studies were organised as participant-directed, collaborative problembased project work in groups, and with an interdisciplinary approach. Central for the educational strategy was the formation of creative communities of practice that would support exemplary experiential learning processes for the reflexive acquisition of competencies relevant for critical and imaginative involvement in democratic practices in society in general, including the labour market. The author’s intention with the introduction of ICT in his work with students is to find ways of dealing with the problematic aspects of project study in order to revitalize it. The focus of the article is on the challenges and potentialities that computer-mediated communication (CMC) such as e-mail, mailing lists, Internet and conference systems – has for facilitating collaboration among students and between students and teachers. Introduction At the close of the 1960’s a demand for new and flexible qualifications in the labour force became evident - also in Denmark - a manifestation of long-term societal transformations. Not only the student revolt but also OECD pointed out the need to reform universities in order to meet this challenge: they should become less elitist and isolated from the world. The efforts of the Social Democrats to reform the educational sector included the establishment of two new universities in the early 1970’s: Roskilde, 30 kilometres south-west of Copenhagen, and Aalborg in the far north of the country. Both aimed at democratising higher education: admission of all segments of the 1 population both geographically and socially; organisation of internal administration; content and organisation of studies providing competencies relevant for democratic processes in society in general, including the labour market. And both were based on the same approach: project organised group work that is interdisciplinary, focused on problems selected and formulated by students.2 1
Thanks to Thomas W. Webb, Professor Emeritus at Roskilde University, for translation and constructive comments. For a presentation of the conceptualisation of the Aalborg variation of this pedagogical approach – Problem Oriented Project Pedagogy (POPP) - see Dirckinck-Holmfeld in this volume. A common feature of the Aalborg and Roskilde versions is their distancing themselves from Problem-Based Learning (PBL) which “... takes its point of departure in 2
At Roskilde, this way of organising study was informed by Negt’s “principle of exemplarity” (Negt  75); his particular reformulation of Dewey’s more inclusive conceptualisation of “experiencing” as an active, productive process in a societal context;3 Piaget’s emphasis on the active, creative character of learning and on the differentiation between assimilative and accommodative processes (Piaget 1954 and 1972); and Kurt Lewin’s notions regarding the dynamic and social character of group processes (Lewin 1951). The learning environment was designed as a community of practice among teachers and students, with value placed on the teacher’s critical yet loyal opposition in the supervision of students’ collaborative efforts to work with the creative potential at the core of academic disciplines in their investigation of exemplary problems of their own choice. This structuring of the learning environment was aimed at optimising support for the development of competencies4 relevant for strengthening democratic participation in communities of practice in society in general, not least of all those in the labour market. Taken together, these competencies constitute what Negt ( 1975) refers to as “sociological imagination”.5 The competencies involve abilities to − acquire useful knowledge and skills − combine knowledge from different disciplines and subjects – interdisciplinarity − evaluate critically − co-operate with others in a division of labour − be responsible − provide leadership in group work − listen to others − develop confidence in oneself and in one’s abilities and powers. Accommodation of Project Work to Changing Conditions At the same time that the practice of this approach is gaining foothold in other parts of the Danish educational system as well as internationally6, its implementation is not without problems. Creeping cutbacks of financial resources have increased a student-teacher ratio of 12 to 1 at the beginning of the 1970’s to the present ratio of approximately 28 to 1. The division of the university into operating study units known as “houses” – each with 9 group room and other facilities originally for some 63 students working closely together with 6 teachers – now provide the setting for the work of 110 students and a little less than 4 teachers. Whereas project groups initially had a designated group room at their disposal, they now must book rooms. This has contributed to students planning their study activities at places other than the university: primarily at their private lodgings in Copenhagen, where most of them live. In addition, pressure on students to work in quite large groups of 5 or more during the first two years of their studies means that they react by working in small groups during the final year or two – and often alone. This is not only an obstacle to collaborative work in project groups but contributes to the greater workload of the solution of a pre-defined task or problem determined by the teacher or the textbook.” (Dirckinck-Holmfeld, p.?? this volume) 3 Illeris 1998, 44ff; 1999; Dewey 1938/74; Negt & Kluge 1972/74; Olesen 1985, 1989 and 1996; Webb 1997 and 1999; Kolb 1984. Salling Olesen views ‘experiencing’ as “... a term for a productive process where one consciously works up one’s own reality with a view to doing something about it” (Olesen 1989: 68). 4 These competencies are akin to what Anders Mathiesen, building in part on Pierre Bourdieu, identifies as “democratic competencies” (Mathiesen 2001). 5 This notion is originally formulated by the American sociologist C. Wright Mills (Mills, 1959). 6 For reference to the manifestation of this interest in the international movement of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL), see Dirckinck-Holmfeld in this volume. A fruitful dialogue about these and other critical, alternative pedagogical principles takes place in UNISCENE, a network of new universities in Europe, established to promote alternative innovative approaches to teaching and learning.
teachers. For example, in the first years I was supervisor for 3 groups, each with 4 or 6 persons. At present I have 2 larger groups with 3-6 persons, four 2-person groups and 7 “one man groups”, as individual students projects are sometimes humorously called. Thirteen projects to supervise during the same period (a semester) is not unusual today. Such an increase in workload naturally raises the question of the risk that the quality of teaching is becoming undermined. These and other problems are the focus of controversies in which some opponents propose that traditional forms of study should replace this alternative approach. There are, however, proponents who value it as a viable means to the ends sought – and who seek ways to renew its form. The question has been raised whether students’ learning processes in group work could be supported and enhanced through an increased and innovative use of information technology? Can there be a revitalisation of the “active” and “constructive” dimensions of “exemplary” learning which are available through collaborative processes of project work by eliminating the barriers determined by time and space? ICT Support in the Nineties and in the New Millennium Throughout the 1990’s – and particularly since 1995 - we have experienced an increased use of IT as a support for distance learning programmes that are parallel to those “on campus”. One of them is Roskilde Interkomm+, the distance learning version of Communication Studies aimed at adult learners (Cheesman et al 1999); and at Aalborg, a whole series of university educational programs are offered as net-supported, distance learning programmes. The degree program of Communication Studies at Roskilde is thematically organised around fields of practice such as “Campaigns”, “Communication in Organisations”, “Intercultural Communication”, “Discourse and Media”, “Design of Interactive Media” and “ICT and Learning” (the theme explored here). Students working with projects related to these themes are organised collectively in a project seminar. Some are in groups working on a project together; others work alone. Some supervision takes place through project seminars, where students themselves present their problem formulations, methods and theories for discussion. The other students as well as the supervisor respond to the presentation with constructive criticism. Their comments can be of value for all participants in this community of practice. In this way the increasingly scarce resources are economised; at the same time there emerges a synergy and reciprocal inspiration where ideas and thoughts are born as moments in a collective dialogue. In relation to each of the established project seminars there is a course with the same theme. In my case, in relation to “ICT and Learning”, the course is entitled “The Potential of Information Technology”, with the following topics: • How can the new technologies open for new possibilities in relation to learning, communication and mediation of subject matter? • Can ICT contribute to pedagogical practices that increasingly become exploratory, problemoriented, and experimental; and that involve practical and social activity and can develop capacity and competence to co-operate? • What are the possibilities of making use of “virtual space” for the distribution and sharing of knowledge in educational as well as work contexts?
• How does the computer as a media differ from other media which are made use of in learning and communication contexts? All participants are encouraged to subscribe to the mailing list [email protected]
and also to get an account in the electronic conferencing system BSCW – Basic Support for Co-operative Work. The aim is to establish a dynamic climate where all participants draw on their competencies and through mutual inspiration and support, develop new competencies in the field of ICT and learning. Building a Bridge between Campus Activities and Distance Learning My efforts aimed to eliminate the gap which otherwise exists today between face-to-face teachinglearning practices and ICT supported distance learning. My basic view is that it is important to make experiences with ICT available as a support for flexible learning processes. I anticipate that in five years we will see the difference between the “on-campus” and “distance learning” concepts of education eliminated. Through the use of IT one can supplement the well-known forms of educational organisation. What was earlier announced by being placed on a bulletin board can now be communicated on a web site or in a folder of a conference system. Where students previously should seek out the bulletin board, it is now possible for them to read announcements on the net wherever they are. For teachers it offers an easy and rapid way of updating information related to their teaching, such as the course program, room locations, required and recommended literature, etc. In the same way IT can supplement access to library facilities. In addition to physically going to the library, it is now possible to seek literature on line, to see whether it is available and to make reservations. A huge number of journals, encyclopaedias, index systems, government databases and public information services are available in electronic form and the desired information can thus be downloaded, again regardless of where the user is. It is not a matter of replacing a visit to the library with online use. Basically it is not a matter of technology – to be for or against the new technology. Rather, it is a question of developing, selecting and using the best possible aids to acquiring knowledge. Below, I describe the efforts that my students and I have made since the beginning of February 2000 in the on-campus program. The aim has been not only to analyse the consequences of ICT in education and communication but also to experiment with how the new technologies can support group project work and activities in project seminars. A Diversity of Tools available in ICT Information technology affords a number of communication tools, from e-mail, through mailing lists, to conference systems and Internet. E-mail is by now known by almost all of us. It is an instant and flexible form of communication from person to person. The American psychology professor John Suler has characterised e-mail as the greatest communication revolution since the telephone.7 It is used more and more by both students and teachers. Many students use it to communicate with teachers and to send draft versions of their projects as attached files. As teachers we can read these messages when it is convenient and answer when we have time. Previously these drafts were given to us at the office or sent by mail. Now they can be downloaded. But this requires that the teacher himself do the printing! This gives flexibility in the contact between teachers and students. Many teachers receive 7
Kristeligt Dagblad, March 31, 2001.
and send a lot of e-mail; others do not use it at all, or try consciously to keep it at a minimum. They refuse to succumb to the pressure of the expectation that the receiver of a message answers promptly. A useful further development of personal e-mails is represented by mailing lists. The users – students – have to subscribe to a mailing list, in my case [email protected]
They will then receive all the messages sent to the address. Teachers can quickly reach a whole group of students, in my case up to 30. Similarly it is an easy way for students to send their presentations to all the participants ahead of time. It can be viewed as a first stage in the further development of the personal e-mail. A limitation is that the new subscriber does not have access to messages previously sent. In addition the subscriber himself has the responsibility to save and organise these messages. Such mailing lists represent a rather modest technological development. In common with everything related to IT, it requires that the student acquire a cultural competence. It has surprised me that some students are not familiar with it and at first have difficulty in using it. They are uncertain about where the messages should be placed – in the address field or the subject field. Also some have attempted to enter their subscription via a web browser by attempting to write to the mailing list in the URL address field. Some fail because they make a spelling or typing error – i.e., they write “supscribe” instead of “subscribe”. Unfortunately the technology is not yet smart enough to catch and correct such a mistake, as a spell checker could do. Related to that medium is newsgroups/Usenet. Here the users with a common interest can similarly subscribe to it through a service provider. The advantage is that you have access to likeminded individuals throughout the world and that the messages are saved on a central server for some time. Some newsgroups are rather small, for example alt.education email-project has only 38 messages, others quite extensive, as uk.education.openuniversity 116, and alt.education.distance 770, and still others are huge. The really popular newsgroups with many thousand participants deal with discussion, questions and answers regarding software and, naturally, sex. For education, the use of conference systems represents a huge step forward in communication. In my project seminar we initially used the Canadian programme “FirstClass”, which is also used in the Danish educational system, K-12, and by the labour unions. After a semester, we changed to the German produced BSCW – Basic Support for Co-operative Work – that has advanced archive and sharing functions. However, it is less suitable for showing the complex threads of the discussion among participants in a conference. And many new users do not find the system easy to use. BSCW is an advanced but complex system that is suited to handle documents and less well suited to facilitate the sharing of experiences (Sikkel 2001). Exemplification of the students’ use of such a system is presented below. Web Site as a Working Tool and a Window to the World Only a few groups or students have chosen to construct web sites, which are built the same way as a conference system. To design a web site requires technological competence. Such a site can serve both as a work and organising tool and represents an open window to the world, which enables people interested in the field to follow the students' work process and see the project take shape. An example of an impressive web-organised project from Roskilde is that of Torben Heikel Vinther – “Learning in Teams”, (a thesis, integrating Communications and Educational Studies, July 2000) http://www.sopper.dk/speciale/index.html. Another interesting Roskilde thesis is that
of Jesper Schlamovitz, “Knowledge Management” (integrating Educational Studies and Social Science, April 2000) http://www.schlamovitz.dk/vidensledelse/. While working on their theses, each of them decided to build his own Website in the field he was investigating. Each of them explains that he wanted to share with others the cases, research, literature, journals and links which he had come across in the course of work on his thesis. The first web site of that kind which came to my attention was built by a group investigating the continuing education program, “School-IT” (Skole-IT). The aim of this program is to offer teachers in the Danish folkeskole - K-10 - a continuing education regarding the pedagogical aspects of the use of IT in teaching. During their work, the group chose to use IT in a conscious and innovative way and created their own web site in this connection.8 The group’s decision to design their own original web site is closely related in part to the fact that at that time it was not possible for students on the Roskilde campus to make use of a conference system. Also in part to the fact that they preferred an open site instead of a conference system to which a password is required.
Figure 1: Torben Heikel Vinther's web site.
The project title was Århundredets efteruddannelsesprojekt (Educational Studies, December 1998), and the group consisted of Sine Jensen, Rasmus Jørgensen, Astrid Kidde Nørgaard, Kenneth Darré Riis, Maria-Christina Schmidt and Mette Winge. The web site no longer exists. On February 8, 1999, I conducted a depth interview with the 6 students. Along the lines of the methodology of focus group interviews, I encouraged the students to discuss with each other their experience with the use of IT in their project work. While the findings are not necessarily representative, they are suggestive of possibilities for further developments of its use in project work.
An important concept from the early period of Roskilde, “double qualifications” (Illeris 1981), takes on new meanings and dimensions in connection with development of competencies related to information technology. Originally the aim of the concept was that students should acquire - as a supplement to academic knowledge - personal, social and critical competencies through their independent work in project groups. In the last few years some students, in addition to acquiring academic and personal qualifications, use time and energy to develop skills in web design. During the period of time in which they are working on a project they make all their work available through their web site. This allows for the acquisition of multi-dimensional competencies. Torben Heikel Vinther says that at the beginning of his project he knew nothing about designing web sites and that he himself had to acquire these competencies during the process. As his web site documents, he ended up being highly competent. This exemplifies Dreyfus & Dreyfus' model for the development of competencies, related to the movement from the level of novice, through that of advanced new beginner and to the level of experienced expert (Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1986). Also such a development of competencies is parallel to Lave & Wenger’s understanding of learning, which focuses on "subjects' moving, changing participation across the multiple contexts of their daily lives" (Lave 1996: 4 [1999: 39]; and Lave & Wenger 1991). According to that understanding, learning occurs in each and every context of social activity within the frame of communities of practice. It is precisely through the active involvement in concrete practice and through a feeling of “ownership” related to hard work being meaningful, that a “transcendent”9 learning occurs. (Wenger 1998). The “School-IT” group explains in the interview some of the reasons for making such a double work. They also express mixed feelings about having their project on public display on their web site. Sine says: We have been extremely proud of being able to say to folks, ‘look here’. For me it has been more a question of prestige than a work tool. E-mail has clearly been a work tool. There have been a few times when for example something practical like my boyfriend didn’t have the telephone number for Rasmus. But he knew it was at the web site and he quickly went in and found it. … Where a document was missing you could quickly go to the web site and get it, because you were someplace else; but it seems to me that it has been more prestige than engagement. (“School-IT” Interview, Roskilde, February 8, 1999)
Rasmus – who acted as webmaster – and Kenneth completely disagree regarding the usefulness of making their work public on the web site: It isn’t just prestige. It is precisely to make it accessible that we placed it there, in order to get critical feedback and to be able to get contact with others. … [I]t is something that happens here and now, that we were interested in and that many others were interested in; research should be something which is freely available for everybody, so all can access such a site, become involved and give us response. (ibid.)
Maria replies: But it is right there that we are so different; you have had those visions. I couldn’t think that far because I knew so little or because Internet didn’t interest me very much. To see that you could use a web site for that, it took some time before it dawned on me, but now I think its great. (ibid.)
Reference is to Piaget’s notion of accommodation. (Piaget 1972)
Figure 2: Torben Heikel Vinthers literature page at his web site – with active links to information about the different items. What is a Conference System? A conference system requires that the user, in order to be admitted, is registered as a participant and makes use of a password. Then he/she has access to a virtual space where one can exchange and organise all kinds of digital information, for example short notes and word-processed documents. Activities, such as current discussions and working documents are filed and thus also can be found and reused by the participants. For such a system to function, it is useful to have a moderator – i.e., a person who organises the structure, including re-filing documents that have been misplaced and thus disturb the flow of clear communication. A moderator can also have the task of summarising, encouraging and at times provoking further discussion. With such a system it is important to find a balance between openness and steering. The users themselves should have the possibility to create and remove folders and have control over the filed documents. In my project seminar's use of the system we have these possibilities; in other systems, a more closed and controlled strategy is found, where it is only the person responsible for the system and possibly the moderator who have these rights. In a conference system there is the possibility for both synchronous and asynchronous communication. Examples of synchronous communication are chat, net meeting and video conferencing. In my case, only one group has made use of synchronous communication – a group integrating the study of Communication with Educational Studies. The most commonly used communication form is asynchronous, where one can make use of the possibilities, independent of time and space.
Increased Flexibility through the Use of the Electronic Conference System Through the use of a conference system the study process becomes more versatile and flexible. The users have continuous and ready access to relevant information. The system gives a flexible and quick contact to co-students and teachers - regardless of when you want to make contact and independently of where you are. The users can keep their documents on file; for a project group the documents can be gathered and organised in an expedient way, as with conventional files in a folder. For students working alone it can be used to save their files - used as a back up - or to make documents available irrespective of where or when they wish to access them. In that way you are no longer faced with having left important documents behind when you are away from home. Similarly it is an alternative to taking your floppies with you when you leave home. Within the domain of the project seminar, where several groups and many individual students belong, there are possibilities of finding inspiration from each other, for instance getting of ideas about literature, about common tasks such as reflections on methods, the formulation of guides for interviews and observations.10 Finally you can share links and in that way become acquainted with exciting and relevant web sites, online publications and other materials which can be gratifying to all. A group of 6 persons, who worked on a project integrating Communication and Educational Studies, reflect over the problem of sharing with each other, versus having exclusive ownership of what you have produced: In some project groups there is a tendency to being reserved and the feeling that what you write is your own private property. That mentality obstructs rather appreciably effective use of the system, since the other group members no longer have free access to all documents. Therefore you do not know where the others are in the work process; and in the worst case, an atmosphere of mistrust arises. It is quite understandable that all do not immediately have the desire to place unfinished working papers in the system. But since in group work there are no ‘finished’ documents as such, and since withholding them from mutual use implicitly obstructs the other participants’ working capacity, it is best to give up these feelings of ownership as soon as possible. A conference system can, from our experience, be seen as a work tool that to a high degree encourages or stimulates a social ‘culture’, i.e.. a common understanding of the broader use of the system - a set of rules of the game, if you like. (Bjørn 2001)11
From this quotation it can be seen that the problems made visible through the use of the electronic conference system are basically of a psychological and group dynamic kind. These problems have always manifested themselves in connection with students’ group work - and, incidentally with teamwork in the labour market as well. What is exposed is a person’s anxiety about not being able to live up to the expectations of the other members of the group. It is always important to establish an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. If that succeeds, the participants will be more confident in presenting their views and making their written contributions available in the conferencing system, even though they are still in draft form. The teacher in his/her capacity as facilitator has a responsibility, in an appropriate way, to intervene and support the development of both the individual students and group processes in their interrelation to each other. The teacher’s 10
In educational institutions it is often viewed as “cheating” if students share information and results with each other. Some teachers are however ready to see such sharing as providing possibilities for co-operation and mutual support. In realistic job situations there are widespread possibilities for division of labour and reciprocal support among colleagues throughout various phases of work processes. 11 “The Virtual Conference on ICT and Learning in Secondary Schools” - a combination project integrating Communication Studies, Module 2 and Educational Studies, Module 1, 2001. Pernille Bjørn, Line Kristoffersen, Peter Lager, Nicolas Padfield, Heidi Pagaard and Peter Peulicke.
role is thus not only that of a resource person in relation to subject matter but also that of a social counsellor regarding the interpersonal processes in the group. Maria from the “School-IT” group points out how the use of ICT is involved in qualifying the face-to-face group meetings: Well, we found out rather early – and it gave a lift to our work process - that we could sit at home and work with a draft which we then could have ready for our next meeting. And we could send it around to all the others, so that all of us could read each other’s drafts. In that way we were all involved in the process at all times. You never had the feeling that, ‘am I the only one who doesn’t get anything done?’, or ‘am I the only one who does something in the group?’, and ‘what are all the others doing?’ - and not finding out what the others are sitting and puttering with until you met for group meetings. Everybody knew at all times what everybody else was doing, and when we met, we had some very qualified discussions. (“School-IT” Interview, Roskilde, February 8, 1999)
Again we see the distance between home and university being diminished, almost abolished. When the group meets, discussions are even more valuable than before. However some do have reservations about the vision of a virtual university. This is shown by the following statement of Henrik Toft Jensen, Rector of Roskilde University: Theoretically, students and teachers have the possibility of staying at home and communicating with each other and with databases. One can even paint a frightening picture of a future university that is simply a juncture for data communication. A university where there are only some computer technicians and a small staff at a given geographic locality. That would save a number of building and commuting costs - as well as time. The question is, however, if such a centre is worthy of the name “university”. I doubt it, for a multitude of the visible and invisible qualities of a university would be lacking, including the socialisation that goes on at many different levels. It is necessary to reformulate and rediscover the concept “university” and understand that a university is a place for the creation of knowledge and understanding, not only a source of information. (Jensen, 1997: 15).
I do not share his scepticism, but I am in complete agreement that it is of central importance to establish a framework which makes it possible for the students to transform information and experience into knowledge and understanding. But my experience up to the present indicates that efforts of that kind can be strengthened through a conscious and critically reflective use of the many possibilities of information technology. Reflective Learning through the Electronic Conference System It has become evident that the use of the conference system can open up the conscious awareness of, and increased reflexivity about, what is going on in study and work processes. If the students continually gather and structure their documents throughout the whole process, they can develop competencies to organise differentiated parts, to see the wholes as well as the component parts in their mutual relationships. During the flow of work, the process results in various materials, and builds upon these in the structuring of the final report. Thus letters, proposals, draft versions of documents, etc. become stored in the system. The availability of these materials gives rise to a unique possibility for being able to trace, reflectively evaluate and critically redirect one’s involvement in the ongoing course of events in group and study processes. The project group behind “The Virtual Conference on ICT and Learning in Secondary Schools” has the following reflections on the use of the system: The primary aim was our wish to have the many different working papers from throughout the project assembled: the BSCW system is quite well suited for storing documents, links and the like. In addition there are facilities for
version control of documents, which is an important resource when there are several persons working in tandem with the same documents. (Bjørn 2001)
When you look through your file and folder structure, follow the threads of the intricate web of discussion and orient yourself to the changes made in documents, a clear possibility for improved reflection and ongoing evaluation becomes available. This can be compared to group work where you merely draw on the verbal discussions in face-to-face meetings and where group members individually save different versions of their work on their personal hard disk. Ambivalent Aspects of the Conference System As can be seen, an appropriate use of the conference system can clearly contribute to improve the project and study work processes normally located on campus. But the system also has some drawbacks from the viewpoint of students. The more documents there are, the more difficult it is to maintain an overview of the folder and file structure, especially when quite different types of documents are placed in the archives. Transparency disappears and navigation becomes difficult if not impossible. Our file system grew almost explosively once we got started. After a while we found it difficult to orient ourselves in the many files and sub-files, concurrent with the growth and the branching of the project. It therefore became necessary that we continually … weeded out the system, among other things through a continuous archiving of the documents that were out of date, so that they didn’t just lie there and “made noise” - confuse us and take up space. A conference system has much the same function as a bulletin board – headlines for the individual files are decisive for a simple and intuitive use. If a draft version is placed under a misleading headline the confusion becomes increased and the users give up using the system. (Bjørn 2001)
There is great variation in how much or how little individual students make use of the conference system. Some log-in every day, others almost never. For a project group it is vital that you come to agreement on rules about this and develop a common communication and work culture. For a course and a project seminar it can be demoralising if many of the students do not log-in, make rare use of the system and never contribute with information, references or links. A negative spiral of development spreads itself and even more participants begin to feel that they do not get anything out of logging-in – and thus activity diminishes even more. Such a lack of reciprocal responsibility has shown itself to hamper work. It might be a good idea to allow pairs of groups and / or individuals to be sparring partners for each other. In that way the effort involved in using the system becomes more reasonable and at the same time isolation in your own project can be reduced. This problem, which is also connected to the feeling of a heavy workload, is something that Gitte K. Jørgensen has noticed in her investigation of nursing students’ active use of ICT. She presents the following passage from a group: Anyway in my own case I just have not managed to read the others’ working papers. And that is really a bit sad. Because they are all really enormously good projects, aren’t they? But you have been so involved in your own. (Jørgensen 2001:37)
The same group of nursing students stresses the lack of time as a problem: I have been in there and checked, but to read it, that we just can’t manage. There should be time … so that you could learn from each other. You simply can’t manage that. (ibid.)
Another consequence - to which there are mixed reactions - is a gradual removal of the difference between work and free time: Well you could go in and look at your mail several times during the day. Sometimes there wasn’t anything and at other times there was a whole pile of messages. We were six people in the group. If each one had sent two pages requiring comments the next day or the day after, well then there were twelve pages. And if you should also manage to write something, then suddenly it was just – you were kind of keeping your nose to the grindstone. … but it seemed to me that we worked and read and wrote a lot all the time. (“School-IT” interview, Roskilde, February 8, 1999)
From the following passage from the same interview, it is evident that one of the students felt like an outsider in contrast to feeling integrated in the group in discussions during their face-to-face meeting: ‘When was it that you really checked your e-mail?’ … ‘I was going to see a movie with my girl friend at 8 o’clock, so I checked already at 6, and I didn’t check any more.’ Rasmus: ‘ … you suddenly were aware that you should argue for some work strategies which were part of your way of life at home.’ Maria: ‘ … it is also quite funny. We have made it a point that you only work during the daytime - that we really have made very clear. But it turned out that we worked a lot in the evening anyway, really unbelievably a lot, it seems to me.’ (ibid.)
Generally the idea of “project and group work” presupposes that students invest a great deal of time and energy in the process. Such engagement arises from students themselves choosing the problems with which they will work. Our experience is twofold, manifesting central aspects of Piaget’s notion of accommodation. The ongoing flow of the project has its ups and downs, swinging between periods of confusion, defeat and frustration and periods marked by feelings of breakthrough, relief, joy, “now we are sailing”. Underlying this ambivalence is an ongoing feeling of deep engagement throughout the whole process. The intensity of work even increases throughout the whole sequence, culminating in an energetic final spurt during the last two to three weeks where the project report must be finished. In May and June, tents pop up around the campus where students sleep 2 or 3 hours at a time between their writing spurts. All in all these processes are equivalent to those found in many modern work settings. As becomes evident in the reflections above, this modern technology – characterised by its provision of possibilities for ongoing corrections, rewriting, collation of materials, development of layout, negation of time and space, removing the borders between university and home – provides facilities for furthering the processes whereby students not only write and read a great deal and put an unbelievable amount of work into their projects but where they can also develop reflexive and critical competencies. Teacher’s Perspective Seen from the perspective of the teacher, the use of ICT offers a better and more flexible possibility for contact with the students, because of “the electronic bulletin board” – in the form of either a conference system or a web site. But the realisation of these possibilities requires an increased workload for the teacher. Parallel to the normal workload of reading and other preparation many hours are now added in order to get the desired written information placed into the system – at least in a longer starting phase. In relation to the possibility of on-line supervision – as it takes place in distance learning programmes – it is necessary to establish clear agreements on the length of time between a student
sends a draft to a teacher and his/her response. In order that students can feel secure in the new “virtual surroundings” and wish to make use of the possibilities they offer as a supplement to the usual face-to-face teaching, it is necessary to build a solid and transparent culture with regard to the amount of communication. At regular time intervals the teacher ought to log-in to the conference system; otherwise it will not function as intended. As teachers we have completely new possibilities for gaining a meaningful insight into the ongoing work processes of students. During some periods I have looked over the shoulder of some of my students as they were working together in the conference system. You can almost feel that you are a fly on the wall because of the possibilities to follow the ongoing flow of the discussion and its development, frustrations, difficulties and progress in the working papers. In relation to groups it will even be possible, given the written nature of the system, to follow up on whether some students are particularly active and others more reluctant and passive. Up to the present I have not made the effort required to follow up such possibilities. It is also, basically, ethically questionable to follow students work processes in such a way, since we as teachers always have a dual role, both as counsellor and as “controller” at the final examination. I may add that the conference system opens up for the possibility of group members themselves setting limits with regard to who has access to their work folders. Most teachers will of course not be able to devote time to following the students’ work processes in such detail. But on the other hand to be certain that we as supervisors give feedback to precisely those drafts to which the students particularly wish response, it is a good idea that there is established a particular folder for the tutor, where drafts for feedback are placed. Until now, the challenge to integrate ICT as a supplement to normal teaching has involved an increased workload for me as a teacher. The tasks related to direct face-to-face teaching are still there. At the same time there is the work related to the building up of a conference area or domain: the establishment of the students in a conference system, the production of written materials and their placement in the system. To provide the finishing touches to overheads and make them available on the website, in the conference folder created for that purpose. Regarding this last task, it requires that you acquire competency to work with the tools available in a program for presentation such as those of Power Point. I also place the students’ working papers, the basis for their oral presentations, in a special folder. In addition I must formulate critical commentaries on the students’ working papers to be discussed at sessions of the project seminar devoted to the evaluation of project groups’ problem formulations and work in process at mid-term. Also these must be written and deposited in the system. But I am confident that such extra efforts do pay off. They provide support for making optimal the quality of students’ work and learning processes. At the same time students will not only achieve academic qualifications and competencies related to the subject matter they are studying, but also competencies of a social nature and in relation to the use of information and communication technology. Therefore you can say that students develop technological imagination as a new moment of sociological imagination, which as mentioned above, was of concern in development of the pedagogical principles for organizing study processes at the founding of Roskilde University. (Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (1988): 30ff)
Concluding Remarks When Roskilde University was established in 1972, almost 30 years ago, a number of pedagogical principles were introduced and they have demonstrated their viability in the intervening years. In 1972, however, we did not foresee how technology would be drastically transformed in the period up to the 21st century. Inspired by the use of ICT in distance learning, I have during the last two years engaged in developmental work of introducing mailing lists and the conference system “BSCW” in the “on campus” degree program of Communication Studies at Roskilde. Reflection over my experience so far provides some initial insights about possibilities and challenges that these tools offer for the renewal of project work – particularly its collaborative aspects. The use of these tools does not replace but is supplementary to and can be supportive of face-toface communication. Some of these uses are perhaps so evident that they need not be made explicit. For example, mailing lists, as a modest development of e-mail, give the possibility for flexible and easy asynchronous contact among students and teachers – when they are “apart” - for the exchange of information and materials relevant for preparing and coordinating activities and the flow of events when they are “together”. This might been seen as a component of the “infrastructuring process” in the emerging formation of a community of practice. Both web-sites and conference systems such as BSCW provide a virtual space in which materials produced by individual students and teachers can be archived and thus be accessible to all. The ready availability of the resources so mobilised can provide inspiration for further work in the various phases of project work. It can also give an overview of the work done so far – a basis for reflective evaluation that can suggest guidelines for further structuring of the ongoing flow of work. Involvement in the web of communication of e-mail, mailing lists, web-sites and conference systems can provide for better preparation for face-to-face meetings – not only within project groups but also in relation to scheduled meetings among project groups such as those for evaluation of problem-formulation, mid-term evaluation, and course meetings. Availability of information from messages and archived materials can give a better feeling of where others are in the processes going on – and thus the basis for increasing reciprocal involvement and engagement, and of a sense of identity and trust within a community of practice. At the same time, drawing on of these tools present certain challenges. The volume of information received can be felt to be a burden in several senses: an invasion of privacy; the time and energy needed for assimilation of its import and for meeting expectations of response. The information and materials archived can be so extensive that it is difficult to maintain an overview, especially if they are not systematically archived in the proper places. Thus there is seen to be the need for the development of a common communication and work-culture – a set of rules of the game that provide common guidelines for the use of e-mail and mailing lists – and for archiving materials and maintaining order in the filing system. While helping to establish and maintain the use of these tools in project-organised study may initially give extra work to teachers, there are signs that it can pay off. A valuable side effect of establishment of and work with these tools is the development of
technological imagination as a component of sociological imagination – for teachers as well as students. Literature Bonk & King, ed (1998): Electronic Collaborators - Learner-Centered Technologies for Literacy, Apprenticeship, and Discourse. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Cheesman, Robin and Simon B. Heilesen (1999): Supporting Problem-based Learning in Groups in a Net Environment; InterKomm+ Roskilde University. http://www.kn.cilt.org/cscl99/A27/A27.HTM Danielsen , O. and Karpatschof, B. (eds) (1988): Datamatbeherskelse og almendannelse. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag. Dewey, J. (1938/74): Experience and Education. New York: Collier Books. Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Nielsen, Jørgen Lerche & Webb, Thomas W. (1988) "Almendannelse og informationsteknologisk fantasi I et højteknologisk samfund" in Danielsen , O. and Karpatschof, B. (eds) (1988): 9-37. Dreyfus, H. & Dreyfus, S. (1986): Mind over Machine. New York: The Free Press. Illeris, K. (1981): Modkvalificeringens pædagogik - problemorientering, deltagerstyring og eksemplarisk læring: København: Unge Pædagoger. Illeris, K. (1998): "Erfaringspædagogik og experiential Learning - Om erfaringspædagogikkens grundlag og betingelser i dag", s. 75-117 i Illeris, Simonsen og Ahrenkiel A. (red.): Udspil om læring og didaktik: København: Roskilde Universitetsforlag. Illeris, K. (1999): Læring - aktuel læringsteori i spændingsfeltet mellem Piaget, Freud og Marx. København: Roskilde Universitetsforlag. 2001 forthcoming edition in English The Three Dimensions of Learning - Contemporary Learning Theory in the Tension Field Between Piaget, Freud and Marx, Roskilde University Press. Jensen, Henrik Toft (1997): "RUC - Nu og i morgen - Sammenhænge og perspektiver" s. 15-29 i RUC i 25 år - 1972-1997 Roskilde Universitetscenter (Henrik Toft Jensen m.fl. red.). Roskilde Universitetsforlag. Kolb, David A. (1984): Experiential Learning. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Koschmann, ed (1996): CSCL: Theory and Practice of an Emerging Paradigm. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Lave, J. (1996): "Learning, Apprenticeship, Social Practice". Symposium in memory of Klaus Holzkamp. Berlin, January 1996. [Danish translation (1999): "Læring, mesterlære, social praksis" s. 35-53 i Mesterlære - Læring som social praksis (Nielsen, K. and Kvale, S. ed.) København: Hans Reitzels Forlag.]
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Wenger, E. (1998): Communities of Practice – Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge University Press. Student Reports and Thesis:
Bjørn, Pernille, Line Kristoffersen, Peter Lager, Nicolas Padfield, Heidi Pagaard og Peter Peulicke (2001): http://www.komm.ruc.dk/Laering/projekter_klynge/projekt_kombi.pdf The Virtual Conference on ICT and Learning in Secondary Schools” - a combination project integrating Communication Studies, Module 2 and Educational Studies, Module 1. Roskilde University. Jørgensen, Gitte K.(2001): http://www.komm.ruc.dk/Laering/projekter_klynge/sygeplejeudd_ikt_gittekj_mforside.doc (It is not just another project – An observational study of nursing students’ active use of ICT in their education). Thesis in Communication; Roskilde University.
INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY IMPLEMENTED IN PROJECT ORGANISED STUDIES. 1
Accommodation of Project Work to Changing Conditions
ICT Support in the Nineties and in the New Millennium
Building a Bridge between Campus Activities and Distance Learning
A Diversity of Tools available in ICT
Web Site as a Working Tool and a Window to the World
What is a Conference System?
Increased Flexibility through the Use of the Electronic Conference System
Reflective Learning through the Electronic Conference System
Ambivalent Aspects of the Conference System
Student Reports and Thesis: