Designing Blended Peace Inter-Activities for Learners

W. GRELLER & M. NEUMAYER1* (Working Paper, last modified: 2006-08-16)

ABSTRACT: Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) enjoys growing popularity in higher education and leads to substantial changes in traditional delivery strategies. This is in our opinion not an indigenous change but has to be recognised as a wider development within the so-called Information Society. Equipping students with the necessary skills and experiences for this new society is an essential mission for higher education institutions, but utilising the strengths of this approach for active learning can also lead to increased quality of the learning process. This case study describes the creation of an online peace encyclopaedia called ‘Peacewiki’. It presents the preparations and pedagogic planning processes undertaken leading to a totally student-owned learning product (http://www.peacewiki.uni-klu.ac.at/). Keywords: course design; computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL), collaborative learning flow pattern (CLFP) design; motivational design, Web 2.0; Cultural diversity _____________________ * Email: monika.neumayer@uni-klu.ac.at

1. Introduction
Information Society has transformed learning from a front-loaded experience to a democratic process of negotiating knowledge. The internet plays a central part, not only as a distributive technology for distance learning, it also maximises the opportunities for informal self-directed learning as no previous media technology did. The realisation of constructivism due to contemporary pedagogic theories has become intertwined with the innovative adaptation of ICT for learning and teaching (cf. Dunn, 2003, 28ff.). Especially, services and applications of the World Wide Web (WWW) offer a high amount of interactivity between different parties of the learning process. Learners are able to interact with peers, tutors, and resources in a balanced way that supports their own individual style and pace of knowledge construction. Students are increasingly networked online and are getting used to organising their social lives (and learning) around mediated modes of communication as well as traditional offline interaction. If one accepts that learning can be most effective when supported by interaction and a social-constructivist methodology, the internet can be seen as a world-wide knowledge construction tool developing towards a collective intelligence (Levy, 1999) of internet users, who exploit it for their own personal, economic, and social advantage. Interactive practice which has formed on the basis of new virtual networks, allowing a one-tomany flow of communication, requires new competences, skills and literacies (Kist, 2005). According to Douglas Kellner, so-called ‘multiple literacies’ are necessary to participate in modern Information Society: "Literacy involves gaining the skills and knowledge to read and interpret varying texts and artefacts, and to successfully navigate and negotiate their

challenges, conflicts, and crises" (Kellner & Share, 2005). Additionally, it has become generally accepted, that collaborating in teams, whether computer mediated or not is a highly sought-after employability skill for professional life and career. The learning design we want to introduce here takes note of this and is motivated by the need for these new competences. Not only does the internet offer the appropriate tools for communication and interaction that can be used in innumerable educational settings or to document the learning process, new Web 2.0 social software such as del.icio.us, basecamp, or flickr continuously push the boundaries of pedagogic thinking. This new breed of tools can be used for supporting formal (blended) learning, as well as informal situated learning (cf. Lave & Wenger, 1991). We believe that teachers of all disciplines should be encouraged to creatively integrate the WWW, its knowledge resources, its services, and its interactive tools in their learning design to improve understanding, learning outcomes, skills development, and practical application of the accrued knowledge. However, this should neither result in an uncritical ‘anything-goes’ attitude nor in a random application of tools when taking e-learning decisions. Instead, as we try to demonstrate with the case study below, it should lead to a thorough approach to planning and designing the learning processes to achieve a deeper and better learning experience.

2. Online Interactivity and CSCL (Computer Supported Collaborative Learning) Design
The theory of collaborative learning is based on the consideration that learning is an active process of constructing meaningful knowledge in and through social interaction (Gunawardena, 1995). Networking technology can be used successfully to support the principles of collaborative learning as it enables a variety of pedagogic approaches. Hence this educational strategy of network-based human-human interaction became known as computer supported collaborative learning or CSCL (cf. Hsiao, 1996). Collaborative learning strategies for online delivery require an open and flexible learning environment to allow for free and self-organized interaction to work on complex authentic assignments. In the following, we want to outline our pedagogic design for CSCL using free MediaWiki software as an asynchronous technology to assist and facilitate collaborative blended learning. We also want to lead you through the planning processes and framework considerations behind the design.

3. Theoretical Underpinning
The rational on which the didactical framework of our wiki implementation was based was Gottlieb’s cognitive apprenticeship model for e-learning design (Gottlieb, 2000). For this adaptation of the educational theory on cognitive apprenticeships (Collins et al., 1989), other useful experiences already existed (cf. Murray et al., 2003). Gottlieb distinguishes four key aspects of learning support which we built into the design of our course in the following way: • Modelling included the tutor’s role of articulating the vision of the wiki project and its authentic nature; explained to students that they had full control over and ownership of the product; suggested strategies for solving the assigned tasks. Scaffolding refers to temporary support for learners before they take over responsibility themselves, this included induction into the use of the technology, organising group interaction, articulating milestones, support on authoring, editing and publishing.

Coaching is the ongoing learning support provided by the tutor during the entire project: to supervise progress, identify problems, to provide guidance and feedback, and to stimulate reflection. Fading slowly removes coaching and scaffolding support as learners become increasingly confident and self-directed.

4. Developing a Blended Design
The curricular setting was an otherwise traditional face-to-face seminar of the Media and Communication Studies course that deals in particular with emerging new information and communication technologies. For this course module a specialised wiki was set up to enhance the learning experience as described further below. The general intention was to use the wiki as a platform for interaction and collaboration, i.e. as a means of communication, publication, and documentation. The embedding within such a traditional course module would, if successful, allow transferability to other similar settings. The virtual space was conceived as an adequate ‘playground’ to experience the practical application of theoretical knowledge contained in the course. At the beginning of the planning process stood the consideration of how to engage participants in collaborative learning activities that best supported the intended learning outcomes both offline and online in a flexible democratic blended learning scenario. Collaborative team working and the formation of successful groups were at the foreground of the defined priorities. Motivational planning following John Keller’s ARCS model (cf. Fernández, 1999) resulted in the decision of a product oriented approach, where a jointly produced presentational product would be a measure of success to the learners themselves. This idea is also supported in many cognitive apprenticeships approaches (Murray et al., 2003). In order to enhance self-directed learning, the intention was to apply as little tutor intervention as possible. Instead, collaboration and learning should be allowed to occur bottom-up from within the peer groups. This limited the role of the tutor to merely being of supportive and advisory nature. With this in mind, we evaluated possible platforms, concluding that a specialised wiki application would probably best fit our bill. The wiki philosophy of collaborating online with equal rights to edit, to link and to add content in a community deemed to provide the appropriate structure for computer-mediated communication (CMC) to support self-organised individual and group learning activities. The principles of a wiki were not only integrated in the pedagogic concepts applied: It also had a highly contextual quality to the theme of the course, called ‘Virtual Spaces – New Public Spheres’, and thus should give the students a deeper understanding of these new public spheres through experiencing the virtualisation and globalisation of media and communication first-hand. Our working hypothesis was that motivation, confidence and self-sustained learning in a CSCL environment emerge out of the interaction itself. Among the possible constellations (see graphic), peer relationship and tutor-student contact were given significantly greater attention in the planning of interactions than resources and content.

Lecturer

Student Resources Peers

Learning Relationships

The project assignment itself was seen as a learning activity to initiate self-directed group work and experiential learning. Learners were asked to develop protocols and rules for their interaction with each other. The main task was to seek out, evaluate, process, work up, and reflect information from various sources offline and online, to transform it into their own creative and inspired product and to present it to a global public audience, respectively to their peers.

5. Assigning a Theme
Although the content of the assignment using new media technology was of secondary importance to the intended curricular outcomes, the theme was nevertheless chosen with great care. The task to create and publish a wiki website on the topic of peace was chosen to offer students a meaningful shared goal they could all engage with easily as global citizens. Additionally, it provided a plausible and realistic simulation for the development of an online community. Because peace is a highly emotionally charged theme, it was anticipated that students would be well motivated to contribute. Students were given four topics relating to peace to choose from in their groups. These they were asked to explore in depth within their groups. The proposed topics were: Definitions of peace: to define and discuss peace related terms in a ‘peace encyclopaedia’. Peace missions: to analyse the strategies of different international and local peace efforts. Peace activists: to compile biographical and interview data of women working for peace. Methodology and theory of peace: to debate theoretical concepts of peace building, conflict resolution, and peace pedagogy.

The description of the topic gave a suggested structure and described the aims, but did not prescribe ways of achieving the goals. This was left to the learners. To attach a real-life scenario to the set theme, contact and collaboration was established between the ‘Peacewiki’ and the initiative ‘1000 Women for Peace’, an international network of women around the globe working for peace. ‘Peacewiki’ should give insight into the networking practice of these peace activists.

Support Structure
Apart from general university services such as the library and IT, a more specialised support structure was conceived to support particularly the more complex activities of the project work. This may be revised in future runs of the module. Overall supervision, content and assessment fell to the course leader and subject expert. Learning support was provided by a tutor and project assistant. Her remit was to provide scaffolding and coaching in the project activities such as groupings, time management, communication, feedback, etc. Regular course meetings ensured the project progressed within the anticipated time scale of one academic semester. Support was offered in a flexible and open manner responding directly and at short notice to questions as well as providing instant feedback on online activities. The tutor was asked to organise regular group meetings during the whole semester and was tasked with stimulating ideas, providing guidance, and with opening up opportunities. She was also responsible for initiating meetings with international peace activists and researchers on peace matters, so students could conduct interviews. Feedback was given with respect to the progress of work and the visible output of the groups. Groups frequently asked for support in online publishing, e.g. questions about copyright, search tools, and organising hypertext. The tutor’s guidance led the students to quickly fill the ‘Peacewiki’ with structured information in different formats: images, sound recordings, literary quotes, journalistic features, interview transcripts, radio coverage, asynchronous discussions and other rich content arising from self-directed creativity.

6. Technical Setup
For the purpose of the course we used a standard MediaWiki installation as known from the Wikipedia project (http://www.wikipedia.org). This is already familiar to many students, and easily introduced as an example of successful collaboration within an online community in the new ‘virtual public’. The user rights management of MediaWiki v.1.4 permitted changing users’ properties and rights to edit and upload, following a democratic vote in the course plenary. A further consideration in favour of a wiki was that, once installed, it only required minimal technical resources and assistance. Without the need for additional client software or a broadband connection, its entirely web-based nature allowed students to access it from anywhere at any time. Indeed, the experience showed that this was perceived as a major benefit by some students. This and above all the non-proprietary software-license were good arguments for out-of-campus access to all students and interested co-authors which in our mind benefited contributions to the project. Specialist technical support was available through the local IT department on request. However, where possible, students were encouraged to sort out problems themselves, because we deemed that, to participants in a course on new media, gathering hands-on experience with the technology would stimulate the reflection on those media.

7. Individual, Group, and Community
Collaboration in the online environment was organised within small groups around a blend of online and offline situations. In the introductory face-to-face meetings, short group tasks and ice breakers helped the students to get to know each other, thus supporting the later formation of groups and team building. For the online collaboration phase, the students formed groups consisting of three to six members, out of the entire cohort of 25.

Next, the roles within the teams were allocated. To ensure accountability of each group member the students set themselves a kind of contract for their collaborative activity specifying who was doing what by when, and what efforts should be taken and presented to the class and community.

8. Runtime Environment
The first phase of the seminar was organised in weekly classroom meetings. It included introducing students to the online collaborative assignment and the ‘peace’ theme, explaining its relevance to the course and the assignment. Induction to the wiki software had to be done in small group sessions to explain student – interface interaction and to map the vision and project strategy for each group to the environment. Parts of the online environment were shared between groups, namely the main content page and linked articles. Furthermore, the environment contained some shared course tools and resources, providing course-related information, communication tools, and additional learning resources. At this meta-level, working papers, description of tasks, information about the next face-to-face project meeting, as well as links to wiki help pages etc. were deposited, while the content sections contained the material the students worked on. This all had to be set up in the initial stage of the seminar, guaranteeing adequate team building for the next phase – the virtual collaboration and mentored work on the assignment in small groups. After five weeks the ‘Peacewiki’ as an artefact of collaboration was presented to the plenary and the course leader. At this stage, the goals of the project were reviewed, feedback was discussed and slight improvements proposed. At the end of the project, a final presentation to an invited audience and launch of the site was arranged to climax the weeks of enthusiastic collaborative interaction.

Monitoring and Evaluating Learning
Any pedagogic theory emphasizes different dimensions of learning. If one agrees to understand learning in this multidimensional way, any evaluation method has to take this into account. In our case, a mixture of different qualitative and heuristic evaluation methods was chosen as a consequence. Quantitative data was available from tracking and computer logs. However, we felt this would answer only questions about how much and when. Our evaluation was more geared towards how and why collaboration in ‘Peacewiki’ occurred, what the triggers and conditions were that motivated students to join in and which positive effects can be seen in their learning outcomes. The group discussions offered adequate qualitative data. This was augmented by the selfreflective documentation by the students. Such focus methodologies provided insight to perceptions and allowed conclusions about motivation, confidence, and self-directed learning activities in the ‘Peacewiki’ environment.

Observations and Outcomes
After the successful completion of the project, some of the participants attended a group discussion on “Peace and the Potentials of Online-Media in Trans-Cultural Collaborations”.

The contributions there showed that the students where able to discuss the topic emotionally as well as reflective from diverse complex perspectives. This compared favourably to more simplistic statements expressed in a short text assignment at the beginning of the course. For us therein lay confirmation that the CSCL-designed approach we had taken indeed led to a deeper and broader understanding of the subject area. Data to judge the continued level of enthusiasm and motivation was to be found in spontaneous monitoring of system activities and attendance during the course. If “learning is a wilful, intentional, active, conscious, constructive practice that includes reciprocal intentionaction-reflection activities” (Jonassen & Land, 2000), then evaluating and supporting students’ progress meant to focus their activities within the learning environment. To better explain interactions emerging in the learning environment, we put interaction into different situated perspectives of who interacted with whom or what. To analyse distinguishable qualities of interaction, we shall focus here on the following types: Interactions between Learners: Learners primarily showed two kinds of interacting with one another. They were challenged to find rules and common ground for their teamwork on the platform, and they had to work together on the content of their product. Complementary technologies were used in addition to the wiki environment. Peer-to-peer communication often took place over the more familiar communication channels like mobile phones, e-mail, informal group meetings, or chat. The variety of interactions occurring with regard to CMC as well as face-to-face communication allowed us to conclude, that the wiki platform became well integrated in the collaborative social environment the individual students were in, and it confirmed our anticipated hopes that students were skilled multi-dimensional communicators and flexible learners. This is something tutors should take note of when thinking about using ICT in teaching and learning. Interaction between Learners and Platform: Learning activities in a wiki are transparent and traceable. Although this was not used as an assessment criterion, it still proved a driver and motivating factor within peer groups when sharing the load. Interaction with the MediaWiki software was seen as an important factor for: getting familiar with handling the shared platform as a tool for interaction and documentation. initiating collaboration and giving the environment meaning by establish protocol, taking up roles and initiating structured collaboration.

The MediaWiki software implies certain typical design and navigation structures. Content is – as is usually in today’s content management systems – separated from design, which is organized in Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Nonetheless, MediaWiki offers no instant tools for orientation or out-of-the-box structure to apply to content. Students were therefore asked to construct the hypertext structures and navigation themselves. When content was mismanaged the result was sometimes that some routes through the pages led to a dead end, which had the potential to confuse other learners and hinder collaboration. It was a valuable learning experience for the group members to come to apply usability criteria through discussion after some trial and error experiences.

Interaction between Learners and Resources Interviewing peace activists offered an excellent real-life experience and opportunity. The platform helped in reflecting these experiences in a shared space where it was open for discussion and feedback. Through these discussions social currency was applied to the content, thus adding extra value to it. Editing and processing content generated intense activities of reflecting both the content and subject area. Learners therefore became more and deeper involved with the resources than it could ever have been effected through traditional classroom presentations. Interaction between Learners and Teacher/Tutor: Learners exhibited very different requirements for human support. This might be related to different learning styles of the individuals or due to the learner-interface interaction challenges above. The effect that CMC eases communication by levelling down hierarchy and reducing social psychological barriers (Hron et.al., 2000) could be observed in the lowered threshold to spontaneously make a personal statement or to ask critical questions.

Interaction between Learners and the Public
‘Peacewiki’ was freely and openly accessible on the WWW. Anything edited in ‘Peacewiki’ was open to the public of worldwide internet users. The visibility of their work could be regarded as an additionally motivating factor. The awareness of public access to the platform made the learners feel responsible for their contributions, which led to enhanced efforts to create authentic high-quality content. The increased ownership and intense identification with their creative product boosted students confidence in their own abilities.

Conclusions
When we evaluated the students’ motivation, their learning progress, and the growing confidence of groups and individuals within the online learning environment, we concluded that there were certain criteria that make an online platform successful for CSCL. As our experience within the ‘Peacewiki’ project shows, collaborative scenarios are quite suitable to instantiate a change over from traditional face-to-face teaching to blended learning. This can be facilitated by a collaboration tool like a wiki and provides enormous potential for enhanced quality learning. Unlike informal online learning using internet resources and services, which is mostly an unstructured and impulsive process situated in everyday live, in formal learning, collaboration online does not occur spontaneously. It has to be designed for and motivated as well as meaningful from the perspective of the learner. On the other hand, it is beneficial to offer the participants free decision making and an experience of self-determination and competence (cf. Deci & Ryan 2002). Naturally, in the current transitional educational culture which only slowly mutates from teacher-centred to learner-centred, some students are still expecting teaching outcomes rather than learning outcomes. We felt it an important measure to take, to clarify the learning goals with students and to become aware of students’ attitudes and beliefs about learning. While help from the teacher or tutor was provided flexibly and whenever needed or asked for, from a learning facilitator’s view it is of great importance to slowly withdraw oneself in order for the groups to self-organize themselves. This is easier said than done as it can become quite habitual to provide all necessary services continuously through the term.

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