5. Conclusions and Recommendations


5.1 Introduction

In Chapter 4, I took a long, hard look at the School of Education and its use of the Internet: where we were coming from, and where we are now (spring, 1998). In this chapter I will attempt to answer a speculative question, namely, where do we go from here?

This question has several facets, which I shall explore throughout this concluding chapter, such as:

1. What is working, and what is not working?

2. What aids and interventions and might help new users along the way?

3. How should the responsibility for designing these interventions be shared between CINS and the School of Education?

4. Are there any potential design or HCI changes in the UCD telecommunications network that might encourage more of our members to use it?

5. Are there any potential changes in the current incentive and communication structures that might encourage more members to use the network?


5.2 What Is Working, and What Is Not Working?


To provide a full overview of where we are right now, what is working, and what could use improvement, I have summarized these findings in the Table 5.1. Then I explore some future possibilities by theme, reviewing the ten research questions investigated in Chapter 4.


Table 5-1

What Is Working and What Isn’t?

What Is Working?

And What Isn’t?

Internet use from home and work

Regular use of the labs for work with Internet tools

Sharing and printing papers

Reading text on screen

CEO for e-mail

PINE for e-mail

Freely available CEO software

CEO modem settings, system capacity, carrier drops, unreliable connections

Freely available Ouray accounts

No accepted method of "internet basic" training for all novice users

CINS telephone support or in-person assistance

CINS online helpdesk or electronic communication with CINS support people

CINS creating 1- and 2-hour workshops

CINS advertising their existing workshops to SOE; dissemination of CINS publications

Personal scaffolding such as hands-on mentoring

Impersonal scaffolding such as paper documentation and FAQs

Free ISP from the university

Publicizing that it exists and showing people how to use it

CEO for local communication with students, faculty, and socially connected groups

Trying to "push" CEO for purposes that a bulletin board system (BBS) was never intended to do

Rudimentary Internet use in classes

Strategies for designing on-line courses for distributed learning

SOE-sanctioned use of CEO for faculty/student communication

Any incentive system to go beyond CEO to wider, more inclusive Internet and WWW use

A small group of faculty and students publishing papers and communicating with experts

Little widespread use of the Internet within the SOE to support the stated mission, vision, and objectives of SOE programs

Social influence of peers to form and change attitudes

Professors requiring or mandating Internet use in classes

Self-motivated students participating in collaborative problem-solving online as part of a class

Students lurking on these same conferences but not actively participating in the ongoing dialogue, while only a small group participates

Requiring students to post regularly on a specified thread

Apprehension about discussions that foster a diversity of philosophical perspectives



Table 5-1 (Cont’d.)

What Is Working and What Isn’t?

What Is Working?

And What Isn’t?

CEO/PINE for messaging and conferencing in some exemplary classes

Online conferencing not currently adopted and used on a consistent basis, across programs

Faculty mentoring other faculty informally to solve technical problems

Few faculty doing meaningful "show and tell" to publicize promising practices about use of the Internet to support instruction

Use of Internet to foster individual learning

Little use of the Internet to build a shared, institutional memory

Collaborative knowledge construction by advanced students

Intimidation of new users by early adopters and advanced students

Students creating exemplary products for their own comprehensive exams

Very few advanced students publishing and modeling their exemplary products for new students

Local norms and conventions of use (within programs, divisions, classes, work groups)

SOE-wide norms and conventions of use, with administration clearly voicing its public support and backing it up with an observable incentive structure

A few technically advanced students supporting new users, with no remuneration or recognition

Training and remuneration for new staff job responsibilities, more GA positions, better local support by permanent staff



5.3 Where Are We Going?

With crystal ball in hand, let us review the Chapter Four summary Table 4.27 to see how the ten trends in the six major themes may play out over the foreseeable future. Using the ten research questions as an organizing structure, I will now discuss the types of changes that may occur as the use of the Internet continues to diffuse throughout the SOE.


5.3.1 Extent of Use

I predict that the use of e-mail will continue to increase because CEO has become a commonly accepted mediating artifact within the norms and conventions of the School. All interviewees and focus group members used CEO regularly, in contrast with the more sporadic e-mail use in 1995. As members of a commuter campus, students stated that it is more convenient to connect from home or work on a regular basis rather than travel to campus and pay for parking.

Use of the WWW is increasing, and will continue to increase, now that the foremost item on students’ "wish list"—free ISP service through the university—has recently been granted. Students who primarily use CEO, such as the SPSY cohort, are beginning to discover that CEO does not provide the types of Internet-wide search engines and database tools that the WWW does. They have stated that they would like to increase their access to research-based databases, on-line libraries, collections of legal and medical information—all resources that are freely available on the Web. More importantly, there has been a recent influx of out-of-state applicants into the SOE programs (Elena Sandoval-Lucero, personal communication) who found out about our programs via the School’s Web page and who are already Internet-enculturated.

Increased usage will not come without unintended side effects. What is working now may not work in the future. Students with slow modems and insufficient RAM are beginning to feel a sense of frustration with their older hardware configurations. As new users come on board, especially those who are unfamiliar with CMC, they will continue to have problems with modem settings and other software issues. Moreover, as more and more students begin to use their Ouray accounts to access the Web, system capacity is bound to become an issue, leading to carrier drops and busy signals—all of which are extremely frustrating to new users. Other educational organizations (Sherry, Lawyer-Brook, & Black; 1997) have had to increase their server capacity or purchase additional servers in order to keep up with the increased on-line traffic as new users begin to use the system on a regular basis. CINS and the SOE will eventually have to deal with this issue.


5.3.2 Reasons for Use

CEO will continue to be an efficient means of communication between students and faculty. Faculty say, "it’s better than voice mail", and students say, "I get better response from professors via e-mail than I do by phone calls". Professors find it convenient to send and receive papers via e-mail (although they prefer to print them and read the hard copy later). Students appreciate the more rapid turnaround time that electronic messaging affords. Moreover, there is social pressure among learning sub-communities such as the SPSY cohort and the doctoral labs and seminars that reinforces the feeling, "if you don’t participate, you may find yourself left behind".

Besides being an accepted part of the SOE’s culture as a handy communication tool, some faculty members now predict that using CEO for distributed learning may be a viable alternative to traveling long distances to provide classes for geographically dispersed cohorts. Currently, the ASCD program has eleven electronic conferences on CEO. Their faculty members are exploring the use of the WWW to support distance and distributed learning. A few faculty members have recently obtained grants to design on-line courses.

With the advent of virtual universities that are in a position to compete with traditional universities, the importance and potential of on-line courses will continue to grow and expand. However, so will internal resistance to it, especially since the use of interactive technologies changes the traditional role of the instructor (Apple Computer, 1995; Yocam, 1998), and his/her core of pedagogical practice (Elmore 1996). A faculty member who has experienced this resistance said:

I’m a little bit nervous about the thoughtful use of [distributed learning], but I do see that the first and most obvious thing is reaching those audiences that are not otherwise reachable easily. And there’s a lot of resistance to that. I’m in big trouble now because I’ve insisted that next spring when I’m supposed to go to Durango for three weekends, an equivalent to one of those weekends is going to be distance learning, somehow. They absolutely do not want me to do that.

Judging from this and other comments, it is going to take quite a while until distributed learning—a very different concept from traditional forms of instruction—becomes part of the SOE’s culture.


5.3.3 Personal Concerns

As long as students, staff, and faculty members see a clear benefit and value in using the Internet, they will continue to use it. However, age and type of hardware, modem speed, and network capacity will continue to pose problems for new users as they experience frustration and question their self-efficacy in using the Internet for the tasks they envision. As a faculty member explained,

People who aren’t really savvy with it, who want to participate and want to find out, get too easily discombobulated! And I, myself, am the kind of mechanical person who wants machines to work when I want them to work; and when they don’t, I get a tad cranky.

Faculty members continue to be concerned with printers that just won’t print. Students lose patience as large documents download, piece by piece. Searching for relevant information can take countless hours, especially for those who are not adept at using advanced Net-searching techniques. Some students are particularly concerned about privacy and pornography—issues that have aroused great public concern as well.

As personal concerns merge into task concerns, these problems will need to be handled by "real people", either in person or via telephone—not by on-line helpdesks. Though the Internet Task Force had implemented an on-line helpdesk over three years ago, we found that users preferred the personal touch of a coach or mentor rather than an impersonal helpdesk with its lists, links, and "canned" answers to FAQs, especially when users’ questions were so individualized.

Moreover, no electronic helpdesk can offer the moral support that new users need. As Herrmann (1995) found out when studying electronic conferences, it was the supportive messages that were the "glue" that held listserv conversations together. As CINS indicated, users prefer to speak to technical support people they know and trust, rather than relying on impersonal aids and supports. When a "live person" is available to answer their questions, users do avail themselves of that type of personal support.

On April 13, 1998, the SOE, in conjunction with the UCD Office of Teaching Effectiveness, announced that the Information Technologies Assistance Group will be launched in the fall of 1998. This group, composed of two faculty members and two graduate assistants, will provide consultation services to UCD faculty in the use of a variety of technologies in teaching. This is an excellent way to provide the type of mentorship that faculty have come to depend on from their colleagues, but in a more formalized fashion—as well as being a good opportunity for graduate students to practice their skills in applying technology to instruction.

Another personal concern—mediated writing proficiency—was studied by Berge (1997) and Fishman (1997). Concerns about "finding a voice and having something to say" surfaced in Ryder and Wilson’s group interviews with UCD graduate students in 1995. (See Wilson, et al., 1996.)

What was revealed in my own interviews, however, was a slightly different aspect of mediated writing proficiency, namely, the fear of misinterpretation by, rather than the fear of writing to, a public audience. One comment by a faculty member highlighted this issue:

I don’t put anything on there that I wouldn’t post on my door. And I don’t mean that as a criticism of this particular system; I think that’s inherent in any e-mail system.

Will posting netiquette guidelines help? In some cases, yes, but in other cases, no, not really. Here are some insights into this issue from a faculty member who has found her own, rather delightful, voice:

For some people, what it means is, I don’t communicate as much. For example, you don’t send [a particular faculty member] e-mail unless it’s really, really important. Forget it. Don’t do it. Get punished for doing that. Some people appreciate it when you find some little cartoon or joke and you send it to them, and other people absolutely hate that—don’t bother me with that stuff... It’s not the things that you really have that are compatible with one another that are most important; it’s the weird things. If your weird things are too different, then you haven’t got a chance, not in this new medium. I’m not sure that we know what to do with that.


5.3.4 Incentives and Motivation

The interviews provided evidence that it was the high-energy, self-motivated, visionary instructors who figured out how to use the Internet in their classrooms. These early adopters, like their self-motivated students, tended not to notice external incentives, even though they clearly benefited from them. In contrast, the early and late majority and late adopters expressed the feeling that they were coerced, persuaded, or mandated to use the Internet—sometimes resulting in an unpleasant experience, and at other times, opening up new horizons for them. One student commented:

I had an opportunity to talk to a teacher at Hunter College in Canada about what he’s doing. I never would have made that connection without the use of the Internet.

Currently, there is no observable, external incentive structure in place, but there is certainly pressure from external competition by other universities and institutions that provide professional certification. Geography will cease to be an issue when virtual universities become an option of choice for non-traditional students who need to balance job, family, and commuting time with their desire for professional growth and development. With the proliferation of on-line courses on the Web, if students cannot find what they want at UCD, they now have a choice to seek it elsewhere. In the future, as Elmore (1996) also recommends, the SOE may need to consider creative ways to provide recognition, remuneration, and incentives for faculty and graduate students who design innovative on-line courses, and who are willing to discuss and share their promising practices with their colleagues.

The Internet Task Force provided the initial impetus for Internet use. We also initiated the idea of paying a graduate assistant to mentor faculty in Internet use. Currently, the distance and distributed learning teams and the SOE technical support person are picking up where the Task Force left off when it disbanded in June 1998, moving the SOE to a more global presence. The proposed Information Technologies Assistance Group offers great promise, especially with the creation of two new graduate assistantships that provide students with a chance to provide a needed service to the learning community and to conduct meaningful research in the effectiveness of educational technology.


5.3.5 Culturally Appropriate Use

At present, there is a small group of faculty and students who use e-mail, electronic conferencing, and Web authoring to its fullest potential to reflect the overall aims, goals, and objectives of the SOE or their specific academic program. Although these are considered appropriate activities, they are often underutilized. Class conferences, in particular, tend to be spotty and lack clear guidelines for participation. Thus, successful ones are difficult to replicate—even with the same instructor and the same curriculum.

A good conference requires good modeling of appropriate on-line behavior by the instructor, along with timely and constructive feedback (Chism, 1998). Moreover, a good instructor is sensitive to when a conference is flagging and brings it back into focus with a few short quips, insightful statements, or questions that pique the interest of participating students.

In her literature review, Mason (1991) found three activities in which successful electronic conference moderators engaged: (a) setting the agenda for the conference, (b) creating a friendly atmosphere for on-line interactions, and (c) focusing the discussion on crucial points. Moreover, Wells (1996) states that teachers who use the "extend" option rather than the "acknowledge" option for responding to students, tend to generate richer, more successful knowledge-building conversations.

I participated in two successful class-related electronic conferences. In both the Advanced Quantitative Methods seminar (where messages were logged and saved) and in the Learning Theory seminar (where messages were unavailable, having been erased from the server), the conference moderators did carry out these activities. Hence, these activities may represent promising practices to be emulated by others.

Whether norms, conventions, and rules—and in particular, netiquette—are issues to be discussed openly in class, to be published as the first message in a class conference, or to be distributed in a class handout is a decision best left up to the professor of record. However, these issues cannot be ignored.

A good example of a simple but effective netiquette publication is the Interactive Learning Technologies List (ILT-L) handout for the computer-based discussion system supported by the local community of ILT faculty, students, and friends. The handout begins with a positive statement that reflects the three response types identified by Herrmann (1995) in successful listservs, namely, informative, administrative, and supportive:


It provides a convenient venue for exchanging information on administrative topics, such as internship and job announcements; kudos for publications and other achievements; and a forum for wide-ranging discussions related to interactive learning technologies.

This statement is followed by a mandate, which may be construed by some students as coercion or persuasion: "All ILT students are expected to subscribe to the list and check it regularly". This terse sentence is followed by an explanation of what constitutes culturally appropriate use of the list:

Subscribers should feel welcome to post material that you think would be of interest to the ILT-L community, but we would appreciate your remaining more-or-less on topic. And of course, Netiquette should be respected (no trolling, spamming, flaming, etc.). Racial and ethnic slurs will not be tolerated.

As a result, the list usually contains frequent postings of class schedules, job openings, and calls for papers and participation in professional conferences. However, there is little in the way of wide-ranging discussions about provocative subjects such as the problems that instructional technologists face in designing constructivist learning environments on-line, nor current issues in screen or message design, nor research about the diffusion of instructional technologies.

In contrast, some of the electronic conferences that constitute either voluntary or required activities in doctoral seminars may provoke serious thought, examination of one’s philosophical perspectives concerning controversial issues, or a deeper analysis of cognitive issues. The price, however, can be a misinterpreted comment, an apparent insult by a critical theorist, or an impassioned call for multiple perspectives that are perceived as missing from the conversation.

In any case, the cultural norms tend to evolve as the conference itself evolves and builds a culture around itself. The community of discourse creates these norms and conventions; they are not usually mandated by any outside group. An important area for further investigation might include a discourse analysis of an electronic conference moderated by an effective conference leader, based on the framework set up by Wells (1996). Other areas worthy of study might be the types of goals and intentional activities that are appropriate for an electronic conference, or the ways that different response types (e.g., "extend", "justify", "exemplify", and "clarify") achieve a modicum of legitimacy and are appropriated by the group.

In reflecting on the data I presented in Chapter 4, I also wondered whether or not it was appropriate for professors to require their students to use the Internet, now that the university serves as an ISP and provides free software and student accounts. Moreover, what policies ought to be instituted regarding student training in Internet tools? Might the SOE require new users to take one of the free introductory workshops that are currently offered by CINS? Or might it be more appropriate for professors to train new users in Internet basics at the beginning of a course? If so, then how would professors deal with possible resistance by experienced users? Though policy recommendations are beyond the scope of the current study, these are areas that I feel ought to be deliberated by the SOE faculty and administrators.


5.3.6 Mediating Tools

A community of practice, as well as an activity system, shares its signs, symbols, and tools. One late-adopter student commented:

It seems like that’s already in place, requiring all students to use CEO. I can’t imagine taking this Ph.D. without using CEO. That’s how I communicate with my committee, with other faculty members, with students, ask questions, borrow books.

Regarding these mediating artifacts, we may ask, what is working and what is not working? How does tool design and interface affect its use?

The cleaner interface and good telephone support of CEO have contributed to its popularity among students and faculty alike. Students like the Macintosh- or Windows-like look of the CEO interface, although they still have trouble dealing with organizing their messages into folders and creating address lists. They are not so fond of reading text on-line, especially when it is presented as long, scrolling passages of gray text rather than being broken up into short, concise passages or bulleted lists. In fact, only one interviewee said that she felt comfortable reading text on-line. If there is to be any emphasis on on-line publishing in the future, then screen and message design will also have to be emphasized, as well as considerations of content and copyright.

Issues of reliability, system capacity, and functionality will continue to grow in importance as use of e-mail and the Web becomes more widespread, especially with the advent of TCP/IP access through the university. These initial "glitches" need to be ironed out by the technical experts before the CEO community will feel comfortable enlarging their tool collection to include Web use as well as simple e-mail messaging.

Whatever tools can support distributed learning also need to be explored. These comprise sophisticated conferencing systems with multiple, threaded discussions (see Bailey’s on-line course on distance learning: http://coe.cedu.niu/edu/~bailey/leit535/index.htm); shared design spaces or electronic whiteboards (see Edelson et al., 1996b); and pre-packaged software for online classes (e.g., WebCT). Simpler tools might include templates for academic Web pages (see Sherry’s template for the UCD summer "Boot Camp for Professors": http://ceo.cudenver.edu/~lsherry/template.html) or software packages such as PowerPoint for saving lecture slides as HTML and posting them on class conferences.

The knottiest issue, however, is this—the Web is a wonderful presentation tool but a third-rate interactivity tool. How can one convert a presentation environment into a rich, interactive environment for active learning? There are no easy answers at this time, though the SOE began to explore this issue in depth in the spring of 1998. The tools are too new, too unpolished to even begin to match the interactivity that is currently available with two-way video or computer-based simulations. It will take time for stand-and-deliver lecturers to adapt to the affordances and constraints of a mediated learning environment.

At present, there are on-line courses offered by CU-On-line, but how effective are they? Here is an observation from a faculty member:

My concern is that what I see happening with CU-On-line doesn’t make me very happy. That’s geared towards undergraduate rote learning—you know, the guide on the side is really not a guide on the side. It’s really still the stage person, and they’re not doing things that I think the technology can do and would maximize the potential that’s there...With conferences and chat room capabilities, we ought to be able to do that on-line.

She did state that e-mail messaging and electronic conferencing, when used creatively, may foster greater interactivity and intellectual stimulation among faculty and students:

In a classroom, you’re all thinking all these great things, and only some people say them. And I only hear certain things of what has been said. The responses are not real deep, not real thoughtful, and certainly very superficial in terms of the range of things that are being thought. When it’s on the e-mail, everybody gets to put their ideas out there...I mean, we used to hang out in the student lounge and talk about stuff. You guys don’t have that luxury. I want to see it continue.


5.3.7 Preferred Scaffolding

What aids and interventions might help new users along the way to greater Internet use? Both the 1995 and 1997 surveys showed that faculty and students alike preferred personal scaffolding to impersonal aids. The same trend was evident in the interviews and focus group.

CINS has been aware of this and has developed an extensive set of free computer workshops—exactly the type of 1- or 2-hour workshops that the survey respondents requested. For example, Fundamentals of PINE I and II are each 1-hour workshops that were offered at least twice a month during the spring 1998 semester, either during lunch time or in the late afternoon (4-5 PM). Similarly, Fundamentals of HTML I and II were each offered at least twice a month at these convenient times.

The courses are available, but are students aware of their existence? Evidently not, even though the bright blue "Free Computer Classes" flyer is available on a rack just outside the SOE lab, next to the ILT-L flyer that I described previously. Likewise, CINS offers telephone support in addition to its on-line helpdesk, but again, students do not generally avail themselves of these methods of technical support.

Formal courses and workshops are also offered through the university’s Office of Teaching Effectiveness. The summer "Boot Camp for Professors" has been particularly successful since it does not interfere with teaching activities during the normal academic year.

Based on information gathered from the surveys, interviews, and focus group, Table 5.2 presents some recommendations about might be done in the future:


Table 5.2


Recommendations for Future Investigation and Development

Have better publicity about existing aids and supports, using multiple channels of communication

Have better communication and collaboration between the School of Education, the university, and CINS, possibly sharing duties where they overlap

Develop a flexible schedule of CEO demonstrations or open lab workshops with optional student attendance

Hire more graduate assistants for the SOE lab who have the skills and the time to help individual students with specific problems

Create a permanent position for an in-building technical support person who will be available in person or by telephone when classes are in session

Consider the possibility of developing on-line tutorials and interactive computer demonstrations for commonly used Internet tools

Encourage "show and tell" sessions among faculty members to discuss and share ideas, strategies, and promising practices for Internet use beyond simple e-mail messaging to support teaching and learning

Encourage students to create on-line research management products and on-line portfolios to serve as models of scholarly products for new students and to elicit feedback from peers, colleagues, and experts



Over the past year, faculty members have made announcements about the availability of free CEO accounts; have passed sign-up sheets out at the beginning of the first class; and have provided the names of CEO technical support people to interested students. As a result, CEO usage is growing. It might be helpful to pass out CINS flyers out as well. Moreover, it might be worthwhile to develop a joint venture between CINS and the SOE to train new students in Fundamentals of CEO I and II as well as to implement some open lab workshops for those who need specific questions answered. This would offer the short orientation that students have requested without taking time from the required curriculum in graduate classes and seminars. How the responsibility for support and scaffolding should be shared between CINS and the SOE is a subject that should be discussed and explored further by those who have the power to make decisions and allocate resources.

For students and faculty who are already on CEO, messages about training, in-person technical support, and other types of scaffolding could be "spammed" to all users. Since the interviewees and the focus group participants were regular CEO users, and since all SOE faculty use CEO for administrative purposes, it seems sensible that automatic messaging by the CEO technical support team would be a good way to publicize existing supports for CEO subscribers.

Developing interactive computer demonstrations or on-line tutorials may appeal to some people. However, the planned Information Technologies Assistance Group might appeal more to those who wish in-person mentoring, especially in applying educational technology to classroom instruction.


5.3.8 Communication Channels

CEO has grown into a viable means of local communication for administrative purposes and instructional purposes. It is also a convenient and efficient way for students to contact professors. However, except for the early adopters, there is little global communication, as distinct from local communication.

If the School is to foster professional leadership and engagement, it also needs to foster global communication through participation in professional listservs, electronic journals, and on-line forums. Being part of a professional forum, such as the ITFORUM, sponsored by the Association for Educational Communication and Technology (AECT), also exposes students to opportunities for learning. These include information about scholarships and awards, opportunities to publish their work in on-line journals, meaningful dialogue with experts in their field, and opportunities for employment in their field of choice. Students with personal web pages that showcase their research efforts are often contacted by students, faculty, and other professionals in the global educational community. This is not generally true among those who limit their communication strictly to CEO.

Communication between members of the SOE and CINS could be improved. As one faculty member stated, "I send questions off to stupid CEO help line and it’s days before the answer comes back". This simply doesn’t work if the faculty member is trying some new instructional strategy in the lab or classroom and runs into a minor glitch that needs to be fixed right then and there. In K-12 settings (Sherry, Lawyer-Brook, & Black; 1997), an in-building technical support person was generally available to solve immediate problems.

As Hall and Hord (1987) remind us, it is in the crucial stage of personal concern that in-person support and mentoring is most needed. It would be worth exploring how the SOE might create a permanent position for an in-building technical support person—a person who can be contacted immediately, either by telephone or in person, while faculty are experimenting with teaching classes on-line or using the lab. Such a support person would be more than a technical troubleshooter who is available during the daytime to fix hardware problems; more than a student assistant who will graduate just at the time when his/her expertise in this area is fully developed.

Whether in the building or at the other end of the line, communication with "a real person I can talk to", especially when evening classes are in session, might help Internet use diffuse into instructional areas where it is now underutilized.


5.3.9 Individual and Group Learning, Adoption, and Conceptual Change

As Vygotsky (1978) points out, learning is socially constructed. Though I have treated individual and group learning separately throughout this study, it is time to rightfully combine them in this final discussion. A traditional classroom is an environment to foster the social construction of knowledge. So is an on-line class conference, whether it is text-based as with PINE messages, threaded as in CEO class conferences, or incorporates advanced conferencing features that are currently being explored by the distance learning teams.

What makes the difference between a successful conference and an unsuccessful one? Among the various factors that were mentioned by participants in the Advanced Quantitative Methods conference were the timeliness and non-judgmental feedback from the instructor, constructive comments from group members on requests for feedback about projects in-progress, joint problem-solving, and an air of collegial sharing. A good conference allows for individual expression, multiple perspectives on controversial issues, constructive criticism, and moral support. Moreover, there is a nice balance of in-class and on-line discussion, with topics covered in electronic messages incorporated into the ongoing in-class discussion (Chism, 1998). Most importantly, a good electronic conference, like a good team activity, needs to be goal-driven and well-moderated, either by an excellent leader or by enthusiastic team members. Moderators would be well advised to incorporate Mason’s three activities into their conferencing activities, namely: setting the agenda for the conference, fostering a sense of camaraderie among the participants, and keeping the conference focused on crucial issues germane to the course.


5.3.10 Questions That Remain Unanswered

If a study is to have intrinsic value, then it must not only address a set of propositions; it should build on and extend existing theory and practice. First, the SOE is considered to be an activity system. In any activity system, there is a ripple effect among the actions of its members; the mediating tools they use; the types of outcomes they value; the norms and conventions of tool use by the learning community; and the respective roles of the participants. This investigation was intended to take both a snapshot of the current state of the system and to carry out a longitudinal study of a system that was very much in flux.

We know from both the hard and soft sciences that participant observers perturb the very system that they are attempting to study. In the case of the SOE, the process of carrying out this investigation and querying key members of both the school and the university’s networking services introduced perturbations into the system. This had a positive effect, namely, to bring to light the needs and concerns of the users and to speed up the process of implementing some of the recommendations that emerged from the analysis of the collected data.

At present, the university is serving as an ISP for all registered students. The SOE has hired a permanent technical support person to mentor and advise the faculty, to train the staff in CMC use and HTML coding, to troubleshoot their equipment, to maintain the SOE web page, to actively recruit graduate assistants to serve in the SOE lab, and to help new users get on-line. Grant money has been received by several of the faculty to start putting their courses online. Two professors have started a faculty development program to air and address the concerns of new users regarding using the Internet for teaching and learning in an open forum.

Are these changes due to the force of the innovation itself (technological determinism), or due to its usefulness in bringing about social and cultural change (technological instrumentalism)? Will the SOE’s norms of use continue to constrain the diffusion of the Internet as a tool for teaching and learning? Surry and Farquhar clearly distinguish between these two opposing philosophies:

Technological determinists view technology as an autonomous force, beyond direct human control, and see technology as the prime cause of social change. Technological instrumentalists, as their name may imply, view technology as a tool. Technology is under human control and its use can lead to beneficial or disastrous consequences. (Surry & Farquhar, 1997).

The answer to this question is certainly not clear. Remembering that correlation does not imply causality, I can only state that there is a strong correlation between the recommendations that I have proposed and the current changes that are taking place within the SOE.

Secondly, the SOE can be construed as a virtual community, especially as its dispersed members begin to see the usefulness of e-mail and electronic document sharing from the comfort and convenience of their own homes. Some students, however, prefer to "lurk" and observe the electronically mediated knowledge-building activities of their classmates rather than to participate actively themselves. This brings up an old question: do lurkers learn? From an activity theory perspective, if learning consists of construction of meaning, and if learners are not constructing anything, then are they truly learning? The data collected from the electronic conference and the follow-up questionnaire indicate that they do. This is an important finding that will become important as the SOE—and other institutions of higher learning—begin to implement distributed learning.

The process of bringing together dispersed participants and allowing them to share their differing experiences and perspectives in pursuit of a common goal binds the SOE’s members together in a virtual community. Thus, another question arises: are virtual communities—communities? Are virtual classrooms—classrooms? Shoemaker (1997) suggests that if virtual classrooms are to facilitate learning in the same way that traditional classrooms do, "the technology must be a means to an educational or pedagogical transformation if it is to realize the universality and depth proposed by the Internet education advocates" (p. 2). Falk (1996) concurs: if robust virtual communities are to be constructed, then these technologies must mature further so that they can afford more of the qualities of "real life" communal interaction. Otherwise, it is difficult to build and maintain group coherence within a community of learners.

Elmore (1996) views interactive technologies from a different perspective. He remarks that educational innovations that have helped teachers to do what they are already doing—but to do it better—are far more likely to be adopted than educational innovations that change the core of the pedagogical process. This raises the issue of cultural/personal compatibility: a factor that proved to be very important in the diffusion of the Internet within the SOE. Here is where it becomes very important to listen to the concerns those who have not bought into the current Internet "hype".

What types of Internet-based activities are appropriate for students at an institution of higher learning? Soloway and Wallace (1997) caution us that using the Web for student research may perpetuate the myth that answers to ill-defined problems may be found on the Web. Professors within the SOE have questioned the quality of experience of CMC discussions versus face-to-face conversations in a traditional classroom. These issues go far beyond those raised by Hall and Hord (1987) in the early stages of concern, in which new users are trying to develop expertise, struggling with the system, and trying to adapt new tools to support their own intentional activities. As Falk (1996) notes, the Web is a technology with social and technical dimensions and implications...it mediates and contributes to social as well as technological change".

Compatibility concerns will not go away. They need to be respected, lest the late adopters and resisters become saboteurs. The emerging importance of cultural/personal compatibility as an important factor in the diffusion of the Internet within the SOE may lead future researchers to lean toward the technological instrumentalism point of view. In particular, the types of dialogue carried out in class-related electronic conferences must be consonant with one’s lifestyle and self-concept. This is definitely an important area to consider, especially when one begins to investigate the adoption and diffusion of the Internet at other educational institutions.


5.3.11 Postscript

How can I bring closure to a case with such breadth and depth? Moreover, why should other educators concern themselves with these issues?

Back in the 1960’s, when I was studying quantum theory, we performed what were known as "gedanken experiments". The word "gedanken" is the German word for "thought". A thought experiment is one that has merit for knowledge construction, but that cannot be performed in the real world. It can be used to give the student clearer insight into a fuzzy situation. For the case of Internet diffusion within an institution of higher learning, consider the following scenario:

Suppose a miracle happened…and…

1. Problems of insufficient time, access, functionality, training, and technical support for Internet use were all solved.

2. The Dean’s Office and administrative staff communicated their wholehearted support to all members of the SOE—and—backed up their words with adequate resources and an observable incentive structure.

3. Communication channels became efficient, and information regarding support, scaffolding, and resources were publicized to all users.

What problems would go away?

1. Information-seeking concerns—information would be readily available.

2. SOME personal concerns—self-efficacy might go up with adequate training and support. A clear benefit might be seen in creating/sharing online products and performances, once the administration placed value on them.

3. Management concerns—scaffolding would help users make the best use of the tools and resources. Users would move from worrying about tool-related tasks to using the Internet effectively to achieve their own intentions and goals.

4. SOME consequence concerns—with more people using the Internet effectively to enhance teaching and learning, some impact on student outcomes might be visible and amenable to evaluation.

5. SOME collaboration concerns—others would be cooperating and coordinating use of Internet tools for goal-related purposes such as collaborative problem solving via on-line conferences.

What problems would not go away?

1. SOME personal concerns—especially personal compatibility with one’s own vision of learning. We will not succeed in convincing those who see no value in Internet use, nor those who think that it is NOT an innovation that promotes deep reflection. Nor will we convince those who fear invasion of privacy or flaming.

2. SOME consequence concerns—will increased skills result in increased work, despite the promise of increased incentives? Is the effort worth the incentives? Will there be fewer tenured professorships, with instructors of record supported by hosts of GA’s at $8.25 per hour? Will the increased work for putting scholarly products and courses on-line at the expense of teaching, doing research, or publishing, be adequately compensated?

3. Some collaboration concerns—especially for professors who prefer a lecture format and dislike dealing with students who hog on-line conversations, or use them to pontificate or lurk. Will netiquette solve the problem? Or will it constrain a free flow of meaning among participants?

There is much unexplored territory that lies beyond this study. What other incentives and motivating factors besides money, fear of being left behind, and extrinsic coercion might change the perspectives of the resisters? And how might we best listen to, respect, and address their eloquently voiced concerns?

How shall the SOE construct an overall vision of learning that integrates the use of Internet tools into its curriculum and instruction? If the administration’s norms, beliefs, and values emphasize the importance of one type of instruction and the instructor takes another approach, then to what extent will the system constraints slow down the adoption process by the instructor? Most importantly, what features might contribute to the sustainability and routinization of Internet use to enhance teaching and learning? Answering these questions is beyond the scope of this study, and must be left to future researchers…