Using New Technologies to Support Cooperative Learning, Collaborative Services, and Unique Resources

by Barbara J. Millis


TLT Group
 

During a recent faculty development seminar a frequently asked question arose again, “Can technology enhance learning?”  For me, a relatively “low-tech” teacher and faculty developer, the answer is obvious: of course!  Technology becomes a “multiplier” in two distinct ways: (1)  by increasing communication channels and (2) by serving as a tool in the hands of savvy teachers and learners.

Increasing Communication Channels: Why Student-Faculty and Student-Student Communication Matters.
Virtually all the research on students’ success in higher education points to positive interactions and communication among students and between students and teachers.  One of the most comprehensive is Astin’s (1993) longitudinal study of the impact of college on undergraduate students.  Using samples from 159 baccalaureate granting institutions, Astin investigated 22 outcomes affected by 88 environmental factors to determine influences on students' academic achievement, personal development, and satisfaction with college.  He determined that two factors in particular—student-student interaction and student-faculty interaction—carried the largest weights and affected the largest number of general education outcomes.  His work validated earlier findings from Tinto’s (1989) important research on student retention that frequent and rewarding informal contact with faculty members is the single strongest predictor of whether or not a student will voluntarily withdraw from a college.  Other studies also support these findings.  Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) found peer support to be a significant factor in student persistence in school. Light (1990; 1992) in the preface to the Harvard Assessment Seminars: Second Report concludes, "All the specific findings point to, and illustrate, one main idea.  It is that students who get the most out of college, who grow the most academically, and who are the happiest, organize their time to include interpersonal activities with faculty members, or with fellow students, built around substantive, academic work" (p. 6).

Significantly, when a team of educational researchers lead by Chickering and Gamson (1987) identified its influential “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” the first two were “Good practice encourages student-faculty contact,” and “Good practice encourages cooperation among students.” Those interested in online applications of the “Seven Principles” will want to consult an article, “Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses,” written by five evaluators from Indiana University’s Center for Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT), which is available online though The Technology Source (http:/horizon.unc.edu/TS).

So, the value of increased communication among students and between students and faculty members should be evident.  The good news is that technology—used wisely—can multiply the opportunities for meaningful discourse.  In fact, Reddick and King (1996) see interactions in cyberspace as the fulfillment of the mid-nineteenth century philosopher/educator John Henry Cardinal Newman’s dream of the university “as a place of the world, where masters of human thought would gather with students to study, to learn, to explore, and to understand the world” (p. v).  On a more practical level, faculty members such as the late Tom Creed are finding significant ways to extend the classroom walls by employing technology—e-mail, web pages, threaded discussions, etc.—to enhance the traditional classroom.  Gilbert (2001) calls such classes where students and teachers meet face-to-face but their learning options include multimedia resources and electronic communication “hybrids.”  In a recent article he concludes:

“The lesson is clear. The best educational options are “hybrids”—combinations of different media, tools, and pedagogies.  And the best hybrids are those combinations that are tuned by one or more dedicated professional teachers who have the time to make modifications based on careful examination of the progress of different kinds of learners” (p. 16).  His conclusions are reinforced by an assertion by David Brown (2001), Vice President and Dean, that Wake Forest University’s “most effective courses are hybrid.”

The teacher is the key.  As Leamnson (1999) reminds us: “If technology is to improve education it will be because teachers who truly understand learning take matters in hand and decide just what the technology will be used to do” (p. 129).

Capitalizing on electronic communications, faculty can build networks that double the opportunities for interaction.  Creed (1997) states, “Most of the communication on the typical campus between teacher and student, or even between student and student, takes place during the prescribed classroom meeting times.”  Because everything has to fit in this time period, he notes, teachers feel pressured to “cover the content.”    He continues: “Two characteristics of electronic communication give it promise: The first is that communication is not restricted to a specific time and place (i.e.—it is asynchronous, not occurring at the same time, and asyntopic, not occurring in the same place).  Second, it is primarily visual and textual rather than oral.”  Creed sees eight benefits resulting from these two characteristics.  Electronic communications:

·        “allow for increased accessibility to the information relevant to the course and the ongoing dialogue about this information,

·        provide for a more pedagogically sound interaction with the information by students,

·        encourage more thoughtful discussion by students about the information in the class,

·        provide more equal participation in the ongoing discussion (level the playing field) in several important ways,

·        enhance student interaction outside of class,

·        provide a unique classroom assessment technique,

·        enhance my ability to archive and retrieve my students’ work, and provide increased structure of information,

·        and provide access to diverse sources of information” (pp. 157-158).

The enhanced communication opportunities can be visualized through this diagram:

 
 

Electronic communications can significantly multiply the opportunities for communication, so much so that faculty adding this dimension to their hybrid classes or online courses have a genuine concern that they will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of messages.  Most practitioners end up negotiating with students the nature, frequency, and response rate of electronic communications.  The good news is that Brown (2001) and others report that “communication is central.”  At Wake Forest the research “shows that 87% of faculty and students believe that their learning has increased because professor-student and student-student communication is so much better.”

Using Technology as a Tool to Promote/Further Sound Pedagogy

Creed (1997), who was a cognitive psychologist, strongly advocates the use of cooperative learning as it is enhanced by electronic communication: “The kind of learning that is important to me requires active rehearsal, and one of the best forms of active rehearsal is to talk to someone else about what you know.  While learning is based on what we have individually acquired, the consolidation comes about best when we discuss our ideas with others—I think learning is primarily a communal event.  I rely heavily on cooperative learning in my courses to meet this communal sharing of knowledge” (p. 153).

            Astin (1993), too, recommends the use of cooperative learning.  Because of the influence of peers and faculty, he concludes that "how students approach general education (and how the faculty actually deliver the curriculum) is far more important than the formal curricular content and structure" (p. 425).  He unequivocally endorses cooperative learning as a valid and effective pedagogical approach:

Under what we have come to call cooperative learning methods, where students work together in small groups, students basically teach each other, and our pedagogical resources are multiplied.  Classroom research has consistently shown that cooperative learning approaches produce outcomes that are superior to those obtained through traditional competitive approaches, and it may well be that our findings concerning the power of the peer group offer a possible explanation: cooperative learning may be more potent than traditional methods of pedagogy because it motivates students to become more active and more involved participants in the learning process.  This greater involvement could come in at least two different ways.  First, students may be motivated to expend more effort if they know their work is going to be scrutinized by peers; and second, students may learn course material in greater depth if they are involved in helping teach it to fellow students.  (p. 427).

Interestingly enough, a recent e-mail by the well-respected scholar, K. Patricia Cross (2001) summarizes two key trends in faculty development: an emphasis on student learning and an emphasis on collaborative learning. Most faculty developers and teachers recognize that collaboration alone is not sufficient.  Thus, many faculty members, like Creed, are turning to a highly structured form of collaborative learning, cooperative learning. As a paper supporting a recent Teaching Learning & Technology Group webcast suggests (Millis, 2001a), the principles underlying the solid classroom use of cooperative learning also apply when courses are offered through distance education technologies.

What is Cooperative Learning?

            Cooperative learning tends to be more carefully structured and delineated than most other forms of small group learning.  Cooper and Mueck (1989) describe it as "a structured, systematic instructional strategy in which small groups work together toward a common goal" (p. 1). 

            Most experts, including Cooper (1990), agree that the most important cooperative learning elements are positive interdependence and individual accountability.  Three other components important to the authors’ teaching approaches are appropriate grouping (which usually means heterogeneous grouping), group processing, and cooperative social skills.

Two Key Components of Cooperative Learning

            Positive interdependence occurs, according to Kagan (1992), "when gains of individuals or teams are positively correlated" (p. 4:7).  Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991) believe that positive interdependence occurs when “cooperation results in participants' striving for mutual benefit so that all members of the group benefit from each other's efforts (your success benefits me and my success benefits you)” (p. 3).

            Through careful planning, positive interdependence can be established by having students achieve:  (a) mutual goals, such as solving specific problems or creating a team project;  (b) mutual rewards, such as individually assigned cooperative learning points that count toward a criterion-referenced final grade (points that only help, but never handicap);  (c) structured tasks, such as a report or complex problem with sections contributed by each team member; and (d) interdependent roles, such as group members serving as discussion leaders, organizers, recorders, and spokespersons.  Despite a popular misconception, cooperative learning does not entail undifferentiated group grades.

            A second component of cooperative learning, individual accountability, indicates to students who might be "hitchhikers" (students who do not—for whatever reasons—typically do a fair share of assigned group work) or "over achievers" or "workhorses" (students who assume a disproportionate amount of the workload), that these roles are unacceptable in a cooperative setting.  Such practices are counter-productive in an environment where students, no matter how much mutual support, coaching, and encouragement they receive, are individually responsible for their own academic achievements.  Because most American students accustomed to traditional education have been acclimated to an academic setting where they compete against fellow classmates, this aspect of cooperative learning is somehow reassuring: their final course grades will be based on their own efforts, uncompromised and uncomplicated by the achievements of others.  Faculty also generally applaud this important aspect of cooperative learning.  In fact, when their grading systems are fully formulated, students find that their efforts to help others never hurt their own achievements and can, in some cases, actually increase their course grades either directly or indirectly.  Research by Webb (1989), for example, indicates that student achievement is directly correlated to the level of elaboration of help that students provide other group members.  This finding should come as no surprise to faculty, who already know that those who teach learn the most.  Thus, instructors establish for students a "win-win" situation.

Some Further Attributes of a Cooperative Classroom       

            Appropriate grouping is also essential.  Researchers such as Kagan (1992), Johnson, Johnson & Smith (1991) and Millis & Cottell (1998) recommend heterogeneous teams, reflecting varied learning abilities, ethnic and linguistic diversity, and a mixture of the sexes.  In a semester-length academic course, most practitioners recommend teacher-selected learning teams of four. Teams composed of four students work effectively because they are small enough to promote interaction, large enough to tolerate an occasional absence, and balanced enough to permit focused activities in pairs.  The teams can be kept in place throughout the semester or, more typically, rearranged at the midsemester point.  In briefer situations, a short-term mix of students focusing on specific learning goals are appropriate; depending on the task and the group members, these teams can be homogenous.  Because most employers value cooperation and teamwork, heterogeneous teams provide opportunities to prepare for or to reinforce practices needed in the work place.  Teacher-selected teams insure heterogeneity along a number of lines including age, ethnicity, and ability.  If students are allowed to select their fellow teammates, they tend to seek out friends or students who share similar educational, economic, or ethnic backgrounds.   These homogeneous groupings tend to undermine the heterogeneity that promotes creative problem solving.  Teams formed randomly may be unbalanced.  It could be counter-productive, for example, for all the less academically prepared students to find themselves on one team formed through random grouping.

            A fourth component, group processing, helps build team skills, allows students to reflect on the learning process and outcomes, and provides teachers with continuous feedback.  Both teachers and students monitor group and individual progress.  After an assignment or activity, for instance, students could respond to questions such as: "Did all members of the group contribute?" "What could be done next time to make the group function better?" or "What were the most important things I learned today."

            Social skills are also important in cooperative learning.  These go beyond mere politeness.  Students must recognize the importance of cooperative interaction and mutual respect.  Teachers should model appropriate social skills, including ways of providing constructive feedback or eliciting more in-depth responses through probing questions. They should also reinforce these social skills by publicly commenting on ways students use them effectively.

            Faculty reluctant to consider cooperative learning can be reassured by the fact that the research base for cooperative learning is long‑standing and solid.  It is far from a “flavor-of-the-month” fad (Millis, 2001b). 

The Research Base for Cooperative Learning

            Both the learning outcomes and the social dynamics of cooperative learning have been studied under a number of conditions.  Slavin (1989-1990) regards it as "one of the most thoroughly researched of all instructional methods" (p. 52).  Similarly, Johnson and Johnson & Smith (1991) describe the amount of research conducted over the past 90 years as "staggering" and conclude that:

            During the past 90 years, more than 600 studies have been conducted by a wide variety of researchers in different decades with different age subjects, in different subject areas, and in different environments.  We know far more about the efficacy of cooperative learning than we know about lecturing . . . or almost any other facet of education" (p. 28).

In addition to cooperative learning's positive effect on student achievement, Johnson, Johnson & Smith (1991) also find that it significantly affects interpersonal relations:

As relationships within the class or college become more positive, absenteeism decreases and students' commitment to learning, feeling of personal responsibility to complete the assigned work, willingness to take on difficult tasks, motivation and persistence in working on tasks, satisfaction and morale, willingness to endure pain and frustration to succeed, willingness to defend the college against external criticism or attack, willingness to listen to and be influenced by peers, commitment to peer's success and growth, and productivity and achievement can be expected to increase.  (p. 44)

Faculty in higher education can feel assured, also, that although much of the research in the last decades has been conducted at the kindergarten through twelfth grade level, its benefits, according to Natasi and Clements (1991), seem to be universal:

            Cognitive-academic and social-emotional benefits have been reported for students from early elementary through college level, from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and having a wide range of ability levels. . . . Furthermore, cooperative learning has been used effectively across a wide range of content areas, including mathematics, reading, language arts, social studies, and science. (p. 111)

Similarly, Bossert (1988), after a meta-analyses on the now substantial body of research, concludes that its benefits affect students of all ages, in all content areas, for a wide variety of tasks, including problem-solving

            Cooperative learning is also one of the most versatile educational strategies available.  It complements and enhances virtually every pedagogy or approach we know to promote effective teaching and learning, including classroom research, writing-across-the-curriculum, case studies, "The Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education" (Chickering & Gamson, 1987) and problem-based curriculum.

            It is powerful because it enables faculty members to apply the considerable international body of research on deep learning.

Helping Students Get Beyond the Superficial: Promoting Deep Learning in Your Discipline

            The power of cooperative learning lies in its ability to promote what is known as deep learning.  Deep learning does not occur simply because students are placed in groups, however.  It emerges from the careful, sequenced assignments and activities “orchestrated” by a teacher committed to student learning.

            The research on deep learning has been ongoing, systematic, and convergent.  A project, “Improving Student Learning,” sponsored by the Council for National Academic Awards in Britain, was initiated not to generate new research about student learning but rather to encourage faculty to use the existing research and tools to strengthen their courses.  The project is predicated on research indicating that:

The students’ approach to learning--whether they take a surface or a deep approach--[is] the crucial factor determining the quality of learning outcomes.  Those who take a deep approach understand more, produce better written work containing logical structures and conclusions rather than lists, remember longer, and obtain better marks and degrees than those students who take a surface approach.  (cited in “Deep Learning, Surface Learning,” 1993, p. 14)

This research suggests that although specific implementations will vary, four key components characterize a deep, rather than a surface approach to learning.  Rhem (1995) summarizes them as follows:

            Motivational context: We learn best what we feel a need to know.  Intrinsic motivation remains inextricably bound to some level of choice and control.  Courses that remove these take away the sense of ownership and kill one of the strongest elements in lasting learning.

            Learner Activity: Deep learning and “doing” travel together.  Doing in itself isn’t enough.  Faculty must connect activity to the abstract conceptions that make sense of it, but passive mental postures lead to superficial learning.

            Interaction with others: As Noel Entwistle put it in a recent email message, “The teacher is not the only source of instruction or inspiration.”  Peers working as groups enjoin dimensions of learning that lectures and readings by themselves cannot touch.

            A well-structured knowledge base: This doesn’t just mean presenting new material in an organized way.  It also means engaging and reshaping the concepts students bring with them when they register.  Deep approaches, learning for understanding, are integrative processes.  The more fully new concepts can be connected with students’ prior experience and existing knowledge, the more it is they will be impatient with inert facts and eager to achieve their own synthesis.  (p. 4)

This research has enormous implications for college and university teaching.  Researchers generally agree, for example, that group work and problem solving within the context outlined above can result in deep learning.

            Thus, the cooperative activities—whether face-to-face or electronically facilitated— must be viewed within the larger teaching and learning framework.  Specifically, they form the center of a carefully crafted learning sequence, one enhanced by technological tools such as e-mail submissions.  One could think of the sequence as a complex sandwich, with carefully designed out-of-class assignments (homework) motivating students to learn the subject matter—the two pieces of bread.  Then, class time can be profitably spent reinforcing the learning through active and interactive learning activities—the meat.

            Leamnson (1999) strongly advocates building out-of-class assignments and in-class activities that give students the opportunity to face the difficult task of learning.  He reminds us that:

Teachers err, I believe, if they pretend that what is by nature difficult can be made easy through clever pedagogy.  Any subject can be made easy by trivializing it, but doing so only perpetrates the superficiality and shallowness that we are supposed to be eliminating.

Our intent, then, is to get the elements of our discipline to pass through new synapses.  It follows that the difficult work of organizing, abstracting, and relating is better done by students than the teacher.” (p. 61)

Collaborative Services

So, how do all these wonderful enhancements to cooperative teaching and learning come about?    They occur largely because of committed faculty who recognize the value of technology to strengthen their teaching options and thus offer students more avenues for communication and more tools for learning.  But, not all faculty are able to devote the time and energy into learning new software such as WebCT or Blackboard.  They recognize the value of technology to extend their classroom walls, but they also recognize that they do not have the time or in some cases, the expertise to learn the intricacies of new technologies.  That’s where creative, supportive people come in.

People Can Be Our Very Best Resources

A lot has been written about the role of supportive IT staff. As mentioned in an earlier webcast, people who understand the technology and can link it with effective pedagogy in a cheerful, efficient way are worth their weight in silicon chips (Millis, 2001c).

For most faculty members these services should be seamless, invisible and virtually instantaneous.  If a floppy containing my semester lesson plan expires, I want a cheerful technician to breathe life into it.  If my computer keeps accusing me of committing “fatal errors,” then I want someone to slap some sense into it.  If I can’t build a PowerPoint slide to illustrate a crucial point, then I want someone to sit next to me and guide my mouse.  Basically, I don’t have the time or the interest to learn html or to tinker lovingly with a web page, and I certainly don’t want to get into the business of designing software.  I am not alone in desiring support from knowledgeable technology folks.  Richard Tiberus (2001) notes in a recent e-mail that he always selects software programs supported by his university: “Otherwise I end up becoming a computer person and I have a day job.”

            Besides the professional IT staff, many schools offer multimedia centers, often staffed by technologically gifted students.  Here faculty can experiment with new software or receive help building multimedia presentations.  As a recent Webcast emphasized, altruistic faculty peers can be tremendously helpful.  At the Air Force Academy, for example, every department identifies a technology expert available to help faculty with day-to-day technology problems or with complex teaching projects.  When a large number of faculty are teaching a core course, often one individual assumes responsibility for technology projects such as the use of Blackboard in an Engineering Mechanics course.  That way, all sections of the course are supported without each faculty member having to reinvent the Blackboard wheel. 

            Often one individual will assume the initiative for identifying appropriate resources within the discipline.  Technology options—including both the delivery channels and the tools—are rich and exciting.  Thousands of unique resources are available for use in hybrid and online courses. 

Unique Resources

Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT), a collaborative effort between physics faculty at the United States Air Force Academy, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Davidson College, is a teaching and learning strategy that, through its sequenced nature, promotes deep learning.  Patterson (2001) explains that:

Students respond electronically to carefully constructed web-based assignments that are due a few hours before class, and the instructor reads the student submissions ‘just-in-time’ to adjust the lesson content and activities to suit the students' needs. Thus, the heart of JiTT is the 'feedback loop' formed by the students' outside-of-class preparation that fundamentally affects what happens during the subsequent in-class time together. The students come to class prepared and already engaged with the material, and the faculty member already knows exactly where the students are and where classroom time together can be best spent (p.1).

Much of the class time is devoted to active learning, interactive techniques that will foster deeper learning.

            Adopted by faculty at more than 50 institutions throughout the word, JiTT has been hailed as an effective, innovative combination of sound pedagogy and technology by key science organizations (The National Science Foundation, Project Kaleidoscope, and the American Association of Physics Teachers) and individuals (Richard Hake and Eric Mazur).

            A sample puzzle (http://www.usafa.af.mil/dfp/physics/webphysics/courses/421f98/pzl/421pzl10.htm) and a sample Physics 110 preflight lesson (http://www.usafa.af.mil/dfp/physics/webphysics/courses/110pf14.htm) follow this paper and are posted to the World Wide Web.  

I recently had coffee with Frank Price, the chief designer of BioQuest/BIRDD (http://bioquest.org/index.html).  The premise behind this extensive project is that:

Biology students should have the opportunity to learn biology by engaging in activities like those of practicing scientists—that is, they should learn science by experiences where they pose problems, design ways to develop an answer to their problem, and persuade their peers as to the validity and utility of their answers. (p. 1)

Designed to help students learn evolution, the BioQUEST Curriculum Consortium emphasizes problem-posing, problem-solving, and peer persuasion.  Suggested activities are highly collaborative.  Through extensive text, web-based, visual, and software modules, students and teachers can use information technology to supplement actual laboratory and field work.

According to Dan Jensen (2001), the Department of Engineering Mechanics at the US Air Force Academy uses combinations of technology and pair-work to provide deep learning.  To help cadets understand the concept of stress through the use of visualization, the department has built several photoelastic devices that allow students to physically turn a screw and view the colored stress patterns.  More significantly, several faculty members along with colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin have been developing engineering web-based modules to help students master complex conceptual material such as finite element analysis.  The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has awarded this series the most "innovative curriculum  for the year 2000."

                Similarly, the Department of Foreign Languages at the US Air Force Academy is doing a number of innovative technology-based projects to aid cooperative learning.  Recognizing the promise of Computer-Assisted Instruction, particularly as software becomes more and more sophisticated, educators are looking for ways to lower costs and to eliminate the isolating effects of self-paced instruction.  Light & Mevarech (1992) state: "Current trends are throwing the spotlight on the embedding of CAL [Computer-based Learning] in cooperative learning environments.  At the intersection of these two domains, cooperative learning and CAL, a body of research has emerged which has examined peer interaction in relation to computer-based learning" (p. 156-157).  Such research efforts involve a number of variables including task design, size and dynamics of learning groups, age, gender, and time on task.  Many studies, such as those by Dalton, Hannafin, & Hooper (1989), seek to measure both performance and attitudes.

The medium of interactive video Supinski (1996) postulates, may be even more effective than CBI when students also interact, often in pairs.  In fact, his research has affected practice in the Department of Foreign Languages at the US Air Force Academy.  Many instructors there use cooperative learning techniques in both the Language Learning Center (LLC) and in the classroom.  The departmental guidelines for teaching in the LCC (Department of Foreign Languages, USAFA, 1996) recommend scheduled interactions between students with the stipulation that "interactions should be between group members as well as between group members and the technology: insure there is time for both."  The amount of time spent on each segment should be timed with recommended splits of 30/20 (Thirty minutes of video-watching followed by 20 minutes of student-student interaction) or 15/10.  During the human interaction time, the students are directed to perform various tasks for which they are held accountable.  They can:

Orally summarize the events of the video

Describe some of the characters or scenes

Construct a dialog or conversation using the vocabulary they learned (this can be oral or written)

Complete a worksheet together.

The department has developed state-of-art web pages for a variety of languages including German, Spanish, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic.  These include a sophisticated collection of tools such as digitized audio clips, free software, PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, online lessons, videos, quizzes, and games.  These materials are shared throughout the state of Colorado (and the world) through the Colorado Language Improvement Project (CLIP). A part of CLIP is a series of interactive lessons produced by DFF and based on authentic German video clips provided by the Goethe Institute, an official German organization with the mission to support German language and culture. This archive is the first ever, online repository of copyright authentic videos made available at no cost to improve language instruction worldwide. See URL: http://www.usafa.af.mil/dff/goethe/index.htm.

Sutherland (2001) notes: “Far more convenient than traditional language laboratories, CLIP resources will be there when students have time to learn. Moreover, these materials have been carefully crafted with file formats and directories that facilitate the transfer of entire programs to CD-ROM for those schools with limited connectivity” (p. 1)

Another interesting project has been a highly successful experiment to feed daily “Russian vitamins” to Russian linguists worldwide via the Internet.  Supinski (Spring 2001) states that:

The “vitamins” consisted of short, 15-minute daily language lessons delivered to the linguist’s computer desktop . . . After reading or listening to the content, the linguists took a short test similar in format to the Defense Language Proficiency Test, which is required of linguists annually to determine the level of their skills. . . . Another key component of the program was tying the linguists together into a true learning community.  Study participants could instantly contact all the other members of the group via email distribution software.  They belonged to two distribution lists:  an Announce List, which allowed them to receive the lessons and other administrative announcements, and the Discuss list, which served as a forum for discussion.  The often-lively discussion consisted of debating the meaning of words, what was actually said in audio or video content, grammatical points, and discussion of cultural and political issues.  Participants also shared knowledge of web-based and other language resources that they found useful in their language maintenance and development efforts. (2)

Conclusion

Like it or not, technology is a fact of life.  It can be used creatively—and cooperatively—to enhance student learning.  Any time we consider using technology, we might keep in mind Farrington's (1996) words:

Now the challenge is not just in advancing the technology, but in learning what to do with it, in particular, learning how to harness the power of the new computer technologies to make learning more effective, more humanly interactive, and more widely available. (p. 56)

As we have seen, cooperative learning and technology are natural partners.  When both technology and the underlying pedagogy are supported by collaborative individuals, the possibilities are limitless.  Creative use of technology, resting on all we know about human learning, involves human dimensions of caring, community, and commitment.


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