FACULTY GUIDE TO USING
ELECTRONIC RESOURCES IN THE CLASSROOM

THE WHY AND HOW OF USING
COMPUTER MEDIATED COMMUNICATIONS

Written by Joseph Codde, Ph.D.

1996

INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this guide is to offer you ways in which you can integrate technology into your teaching. Initially, you may not want to use all of the technologies available, but as time goes by you will find that the technology offers you a means to make your students more active learners and will make them more responsible for their own learning. Technology will compliment and extend classroom learning.

Technology and computer-mediated-communications are useful tools in college level courses. But remember - technology does not replace the teacher. Technology is a tool that is used to support the teacher.

When deciding on how and what types of technology to use, be sure that you establish an objective or purpose for each tool. As an example, one objective for using email is to make you more accessible to students. Another objective of email and the use of a listserve is to enable students to become more active in the learning process through increased communications with faculty and students.

JUST WHAT IS CMC AND HOW WILL IT WORK IN MY CLASS?

CMC is "computer mediated communications" and includes email, listserves, bulletin boards, chat rooms, threaded discussions, the Internet, and the World Wide Web. The biggest advantage of CMC is that it encourages students to be active in the creation of knowledge rather than passive reactors to instruction. In the classroom, knowledge is transmitted from the professor to the students -- a common method that results in passive learning. By introducing CMC into your teaching strategy, learning will also take place in conversations among professors and students and between students (McComb, 1994). This is an essential component of CMC in the classroom.

However, we know that learning takes place outside the classroom as well as within. By using CMC, learning can become a dialogue between those involved. CMC allows boundaries to be extended beyond the classroom and allows students to communicate with other students and with faculty via email, the Internet, and listserves 24 hours a day -- 7 days a week. CMC helps create a learning environment that extends beyond classtime and space, in which students and teachers have a more equal balance of power. Such an environment maximizes efficiency, thereby releasing time and energy for teaching/learning relationships. Communication via CMC becomes multi-directional among students and professors (McComb, 1994).

CMC can serve various functions in teaching and provides a complementary way of interacting with students. It can be an efficient message center for course announcements and information, a medium for questions and concerns, and a forum for discussion (McComb, 1994).

To use CMC, students should be required to have their own email account. This allows messages to be sent, retrieved, and responded to when the students desire, meaning that they don't have to be logged onto the system at the same time. In addition to using the computer lab, students can access their email accounts from home, work, their dorm, or any other computer lab on campus. Additionally, with a pilot email account, students will have access to the Internet and World Wide Web.

The key to making CMC work is to make it an integral part of the class, not just a fringe benefit.

CMC BALANCES POWER IN THE CLASSROOM

Computer mediated communications provides a balance of power between students and teacher. In the typical  course, attention is focused on the teacher -- the gatekeeper for communication -- in which students must seek permission to speak. The teacher has the power and control; the students have little (McComb, 1994). According to McComb (1994), "Using CMC as an adjunct to class instruction gives students practice in exerting control, and thus responsibility. CMC inherently puts teachers and students on a more equal basis, because all participants have identical access to and control of the CMC environment. Students can initiate communication without waiting for the instructor's recognition and can direct messages at each other rather than addressing the instructor" (p. 165).

REASONS TO TEACH IN A COMPUTER CONFERENCING ENVIRONMENT

There are many reasons to use CMC in your teaching and classrooms. The advantages include (adapted from Texas A&M, 1996):

Efficiency and Convenience

bullet Schedule problems go away. Students can even be assigned to the same student groups even though they may be registered in different course sections. This will expedite the selection of groups that are balanced in terms of gender, experience, education, etc.
bullet More time efficient.
bullet Distance barriers are overcome. Students can work together even though they are in different buildings or even different cities.
bullet Teachers' comfort level is maintained. They can continue to teach as they always have, using the conference as an environment for small-group collaborative learning.

Student Motivation

bullet The learning environment is active, student centered.
bullet Pride of ownership. Students help create the information
bullet Socialization, personal interactions, and peer pressure motivate students to achieve.
bullet Shy or reserved students are motivated and empowered to contribute and be "listened to."
bullet Student comfort level goes up.
bullet Students can be inspired by knowing the labors and insights of their peers.

Improved Conditions for Learning

bullet The capability for group interaction enables collaborative learning formats wherein students help each other learn.
bullet Students build their own base of knowledge and understanding

USING CMC IN THE CLASSROOM -- MAKING STUDENTS ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS

Students may not use technology just because it's available. As we know, there are many very useful electronic resources available to students and by making CMC a key component in your teaching strategy, students will be required to use CMC. Making technology work though doesn't just happen. It must be incorporated into your overall teaching plans. These plans, and the basics of good teaching, include:

bullet Begin with an objective:
bullet Motivate the student by introducing technology vis a vis its future relevance and importance
bullet Assess the learner's understanding and interaction through questions and answers
bullet Create and provide an environment conducive to learning
bullet Develop higher mental abilities through participatory teaching
bullet Develop learner's metacognitive skills by employing different strategies
bullet Provide immediate feedback to the learner's responses

EMAIL

Research has shown that there is a clear personal relationship dimension to student use of email, as students provide each other with on-line social and academic encouragement. Email allows students to develop relationships with faculty as well as peers (Kuehn, 1994). Email is also a relatively simple way for students to become comfortable with the University's electronic resources. After mastering the sending and receiving of email, students will be more comfortable using listserves, the Internet and World Wide Web.

Don J. Poling, in the 1994 May/June issue of Educational Technology (pp. 53-55) addresses the issue of Email as an effective teaching supplement. In the section that follows, I have paraphrased his comments:

SETTING UP YOUR STUDENT EMAIL SYSTEM

ALIAS LISTS

Faculty can also send one email message that will be directed to all students in the class. This can be done by establishing an "Alias" mailing list using the "Nickname" function in Eudora. Using the alias for each class, you will be able to send one message to everyone on the alias list, saving time and effort. You can also maintain the capability of addressing each student individually.

You can also send students email by using the Class List Administration, an advanced feature of Pilot Email. To use this feature you must first get an authorization from your department chairperson. Once you have an authorization code, you can send email to all students with Pilot email accounts in the department, a particular course (all sections), or an individual class. Each has a three digit code that is required to send email.

If you use the Class List Administration feature I would suggest that, in your first message, you asked students who have dropped the course to write and advise you of that fact so that you may drop them from your list. You may also want to advise students in class that you sent a welcome message to verify they all received it.

TEMPLATES

For some of the more standard and repetitive communications, such as informing a student of his or her grade, you may want to set up some standard templates. The template contains a standard message that allows you to fill-in-the-blank with the appropriate information.

FOLDERS

With the Eudora mail manager system, you may want to establish mailboxes for each class keeping all the messages you send and receive for a particular class in that mailbox. If your hard drive disk space is at a premium, you may later want to transfer these files to a floppy disk.

USING YOUR EMAIL SYSTEM

STUDENT QUESTIONS

This is perhaps the MOST valuable and productive use of email according to Poling (1994). A student who may never ask a question in class for fear of sounding stupid or because he or she feels intimidated, will ask questions electronically.

COUNSELING

As a faculty member, one of the tasks you may be called upon to perform is counseling of students. Many times this counseling manifests itself in simply being a sympathetic listener. Other times you may help the student through your advice. Regardless of the effectiveness of your answers, it is important to the students to feel that they have someone who will listen. The email system allows a student to communicate immediately, at his or her own timing, and in a somewhat anonymous or at least a non-confrontational manner. This can sometimes be very critical as they face the realities of life on a college campus.

CLASS ASSIGNMENTS

Email is an extremely efficient method for distributing assignments. All students, whether they attend class or not, are responsible for assignments delivered electronically via email. You can distribute assignments from your office or from your home computer. And email can reduce the amount of paper used and, in turn, your photocopy charges.

GENERAL CLASS ANNOUNCEMENTS

Email is an efficient way to make those general announcements that are always necessary, without disrupting the classroom routine. Announcements can also be distributed any time day or night.

OCCASIONAL QUIZZES

Giving an occasional quiz by email is one method for ensuring that each student checks his or her mail regularly. You can have each student print it out, write in the answer, and hand it in at the next class time or send it back via email.

DIRECT COMMUNICATION TO A PARTICULAR STUDENT

If you have to discuss something with an individual student, you can send him or her a message directly and not have to use the typical "see me after class." This saves embarrassment to the student, saves time, and avoids classroom disruption.

POSTING GRADES

Grades and privacy are certainly an important issue and by allowing students to request their grades directly through email, you will be able to respond in a timely manner and, when appropriate, include a comment.

HELPFUL HINTS

Emailing hints on approaches to homework problems or upcoming quizzes or exams is positive way to get students to regularly check their email.

EXCUSES

As we all know, sometimes a student will miss class. Email provides students with a way to offer an explanation that is time and date stamped by the computer.

LISTSERVES

By establishing a student listserve, students will be able to have access to each other via email and the list. They can send and post messages to the list asking for information, help with a particular problem, or to just socialize. The list should be moderated by a student, however, professors could also post important messages for those in the program to read. Membership to the list should be restricted to only those who are students at the college. The objectives for student use of the listserve include academic and social integration into the program. Research has overwhelmingly demonstrated that students who establish academic and social relationships with faculty and other students outside of the classroom are far more likely to succeed. A listserve is one tool that enables this to happen.

Another advantage of listserves is that they allow students to develop collaborative relationships with students at other colleges and universities. By subscribing to a national or international listserve, students can interact and exchange information with students, other faculty, and practitioners on a global basis. They can be informed on issues that are being raised nationally in the criminal justice field and they can participate in the discussions. Additionally, they will acquire experience and skills with telecommunication technology across cultures and distances, a critical skill in today's global society (Bailey & Cotlar, 1994).

WORLD WIDE WEB

The World Wide Web provides faculty with an outstanding way to provide students with class policies, course syllabi, handouts, prof notes, sample quizzes and sample exams. Students can also view the information at their convenience and send email back to the faculty member if desired.

A number of professors at other colleges and universities have used course web pages to post weekly lecture notes. This enables students to return to past lectures for review and in preparation for quizzes and exams. Creating a web page has become a simple task. Using Netscape, Microsoft Frontpage, Adobe Pagemill, or other web creation tools, you can quickly create a web page and make changes as often as needed.

An important part of this technology is that it makes the student more involved in the learning process and allows them to take more responsibility for their education. The Web page makes class information available to the student 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

SHAREDISKS

Faculty may want to consider providing students with read-only sharedisks that contain the course syllabus, professor notes, sample quizzes and exams, and data sets. This will encourage students to use the technology and also reduces the amount of paper that must be handed out in the classroom.

TRAINING STUDENTS TO USE TECHNOLOGY

OVERCOMING ANXIETY IN STUDENTS

Computer anxiety is an important issue. Many feel they lack the necessary skills to successfully use the many electronic resources at this disposal. However, you should also be aware that, when using technology, students also report a higher level of writing apprehension (Velayo, 1994).

Let's first examine computer anxiety. The root of most computer anxiety comes from a lack of previous computer experience, which is not surprising. Many students have not been exposed to computers either at home or in school. They also may lack keyboarding skills, an essential part of computing.

A more complex reason for computer anxiety is that technology promotes an active, student-centered environment and many college students have been conditioned to learn in a passive, teacher-centered environment (Klemm & Snell, 1995).

Now comes the major question: how to aid these students in overcoming their anxiety? The answer is quite simple. They need to just sit down and do it. Many experts in computer-related instruction suggest giving students assignments where they sit down at a computer with a partner and just play with the computer at first. Let them explore various programs and reinforce the fact that they cannot break the computer, which is what many fear. Tell them that the worst case scenario is that they just turn off the computer if they cannot get out of something and start over. One note of caution: Advise them not to use the "format" command as that will erase disks and disk drives.

No student should be exempted from computer assignments for fear of using the computer. The only way they will overcome their anxieties is to have hands on experience. I would suggest requiring all students to establish an email account during the first week of class.

Next, writing apprehension must be addressed. When using email and listserves, anxiety may be minimized by encouraging students to have a relatively informal, free-flowing dialog with the email receiver or listserve. Convey to students that their ideas and opinions are more important than their correct use of grammar and coherence in writing, at least within the first few weeks of learning to use the technology (Velayo, 1994).

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Joseph R. Codde, Ph.D., Associate Professor
440 Erickson Hall
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
East Lansing, MI 48824
517/432-9259
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Last updated: May 1, 2003