following people provided invaluable feedback and contributions in the true spirit of a
scholastic community....or, dare I say, "virtual teaching community."
- Pam Mortillaro, Phil
Shapiro, Jean Stringer, Emery Roth II, Leni Donlan, Sandy Ewanowski, Nina
Hansen, and Paul Smallwood.
Students enter through
door, and if you're lucky enough to have windows, sunshine further illuminates your
setting. Today, more and more teachers are discovering that students can leave your
classroom at any moment through the phosphorescent window of their computer screen, travel
half way around the planet to gather data, meet new people, or exchange ideas; and return
with exciting information---all before the bell rings at the end of the period. This
magical formula for learning takes place when you connect your classroom to the online
world known poetically as "cyberspace."
This paper discusses some general methods for developing projects between students from different locations through the use of telecommunications. The author has drawn upon his experiences in developing project-based
curricula and his online research.
The majority of the methods cited in this paper have been abstracted from projects found in the Electronic Schoolhouse (located on America Online information service network). Many of the specific methods were abstracted from
Emery Roth's fully articulated curriculum: "The Scrapbook, A Curriculum Toolkit." This nationally recognized, online writing project has involved 175 classes in 27 different states and countries. Other contributions have come from the various contributors cited at the beginning of this paper.
CAVEAT & VOCABULARY
The magic of flight through cyberspace is encumbered by the hardware and software which holds this marvelous "flying machine" together. This includes modems, software, and the various rituals of the "cybertribe." In the words of Leni Donlan, "It is something that is learned and practiced by interaction, not 'book larnin.'"
If you have not been "online" yet, find a cyberguide to pilot you through a few sessions with the modem and computer. Then re-read this article with a fresh
viewpoint. To assist you in your first flight and the reading of this paper, you may want to cruise through the GLOSSARY found at the end of this paper.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction -- The Cultural And Educational Implications Of Teaching Online
- Step 1 -- Selecting
A Purpose And A Method
- Step 2 -- Shaking Hands And Joint Planning
- Step 3 -- Sustaining The Link
As The Project Unfolds
- Step 4 -- The Moment Of Truth -- Exchanging Products
- Step 5 -- The
- Tip Sheet #1 -- Networking On The Network -- Prospecting
Techniques For Finding Other Collaborators
- Tip Sheet #2 -- Time Management, Software,
Correspondence, and Security Issues
INTRODUCTION-THE CULTURAL AND
EDUCATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF TEACHING ONLINE
Teachers always tell students to write papers, develop projects, or create portfolios with their audience in mind. Today, the opportunity for students to create or write for an audience is greatly enhanced by joint projects
developed between different teachers using online networks. As a result, the potential audience can now be located anywhere on the planet! Each class contributes both as authors and as an audience of readers.
When students from different schools collaborate on a creative venture, using
telecommunications, they must begin by establishing a "handshake" between their modems as well as themselves. As a result, online collaborations develop simultaneously an audience and a product. The result is vivid writing, increased awareness of the global village, and an understanding of the way in which telecommunications technology can create (or expand) our sense of community and belonging.
STEP 1 -- SELECTING A PURPOSE AND A METHOD
The purpose for adding online learning to one's curriculum can be as simple as demonstrating the relationship between technology and learning or as far reaching as integrating learning into a larger community. The first step is to examine the purpose and estimate the hoped-for outcomes. Along these lines, teachers and students will find it helpful to begin by visualizing and discussing what the final product will look like.
Use this dreaming or brainstorming experience to project forward to the culminating experience. The "moment of truth" experience could result in:
- The production of a poetry publication which is stored online in the form of a downloadable file.
- Sharing videotapes of class room projects which have been jointly worked on.
- Recording the reading of a skit or play which was written collaboratively "across the wires."
- Desktop publishing of a scrapbook.
- Development of a hypertext document filled with letters or essays collected from online experiences.
Next, the class can discuss the skills that will be needed in carrying out the dream, involving researching or surveying, writing, videotaping, editing and
re-writing, presenting, evaluating, celebrating. It is important to point out that most online projects need not become an end in themselves. Downloaded newspaper articles support the larger study of current events. It is easy to promote intergenerational linkages through an online pen-pal project as illustrated later in Leni Donlan's projects.
In a science class, students can compare the health of their local environment
with another part of the country. They go online and ask others about the total rainfall, current environmental concerns, roads or traffic conditions, etc. The modem allows them to put into practice the phrase, "think globally, act locally."
Sandy Ewanowski in Lawrenceville, Georgia reports that teachers should first firmly plot out a project idea, perhaps using conventional face-to-face or telephone conversations. With a vision firmly in place, the project can be handily maintained via online e-mail or bulletin postings. She cites the example of two teachers of the Hearing Impaired who first discussed a project of linking classrooms in Georgia and Iowa based on the simultaneous reading of a novel. The teachers then jointly developed curricular materials to support the novel. Together they created vocabulary quiz bowls, chapter review materials, and orchestrated a classroom-to-classroom online chat about the novel.
To help think globally about the possibilities for teaching online, a catalogue of ideas is listed next. Many of these activities have been done successfully in classrooms. The possibilities listed are simply re-cast in terms of extending learning with online experiences. Three options are illustrated with supporting examples. Methods for gathering information are listed at the end in the technical section.
GATHERING AND SHARING INFORMATION ONLINE
In this format, the modem is used as a research tool. Students may connect with databases of information accessible online in the form of encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines (like National Geographic or magazines from Scholastic Inc.), information from public radio and the Smithsonian, and various "exhibits" such as the Russian Archives (with documents culled from several de-classified secret archives of the former Soviet Union). This is similar to pulling information from CD ROM collections.
Perhaps the most exciting way to gather information is from human sources. Students can go online and post messages about information they are seeking. For example, the title for a message posted on a bulletin board might read, "Need information about cars in your community." On the other side of
the modem, a viewer would then open up this message to discover a request for information about transportation in different parts of the country. The viewer can then respond to the student's request for information via a posting to the bulletin board or by e-mail.
Likewise, telecommunication-education bodes well for career education. Students in
younger grades can begin their study of occupations by discussing working conditions with
people from different lines of work. By arranging opportunities for interviews online,
students will be able to ask workers questions about their occupations and career paths
through either e-mail or bulletin board postings. In one middle school program, the
teacher joined the mastery of keyboard with the study of careers. The students went online
to interview people about their jobs. Each interview included the question, "In what ways
has your keyboarding skills been useful in your career?"
Other examples of possible
information gathering projects are listed next.
- In Social studies, the class explores
the themes "food, shelter, and transportation." Students collect information from people
around the country, or around the world asking, "what are your favorite foods, describe
typical homes, what are the most and least common forms of transportation?"
- Students in
Physical Education explore different views about sports and techniques, a math class
designs a graph or spreadsheet project using data collected from various sites, art
students exchange scanned or videotaped images.
- Several schools may want to set up a
"good news bureau" about the positive events and efforts that so often go unreported in
the local or school newspaper. Why not form an editorial board composed of students and
teachers who select stories for a "good-news" library featuring stories about school
reforms and experiments, student contributions and achievements, parent and community
involvement, members of the school community who go the extra distance, poems of
celebration, ennobling art work, etc. The selected pieces would be uploaded to a news
library which students can use in creating their own local newsletters or newspapers.
- In Hamilton, Ohio, students at St. Julie Billiart School place their finished book reports in a "room" located on the Internet computer "community." You can find us if you enter the Diversity University (with the following Internet address: http://moo.du.org:8000). Within the
University there is a place called "
Young Critics Library Room". Students submit book reviews
or review book reports created by their peers. The teacher, Jean Stringer, notes how the process of posting a report on a international network, turned the dreaded "book report" into a an exciting, shared experience.
JOIN AN EXISTING PROJECT
A more direct route
involves joining an existing project online. Another exciting area within the education forum at America Online is the Electronic Schoolhouse coordinated by energetic teachers like Emery Roth and Leni Donlan. For example, Connecticut teacher Nina Hansen has created a "Project For Students At Risk" which is designed to reach kids who are disengaging from school or mainstream life. Students are asked to upload what she calls an "I AM" poem.
Some students have found ways of uploading a digitized photograph of themselves or their community which augments the poetry exchange. The poem gives them a chance to express what is inside, what makes each "poet" tick. It means taking a risk and revealing something about one's self in a public place, a bulletin board. In the process of becoming "electronically published or posted," students make new contacts, develop positive friendships, and hopefully begin to build pathways which re-connect with our mainstream culture. It demonstrates the healing potential of the "virtual community" of cyberspace.
(A version of the poetry lesson can be found in the curriculum Exciting Writing,
Successful Speaking on page 56 "People Poems In 13 Lucky Lines.").
One of the flagship projects in the Electronic School House is the scrapbook project coordinated by Emory Roth. The scope and sequence of this curriculum is laid out in detail in his book which is listed in the bibliography. Scholastic Network also runs projects for classrooms and can be accessed on AOL for an additional fee.
Teachers usually initiate online projects by sending a message with a subject heading of: "Call for Collaboration." Educator Phil Shapiro suggests that the phrasing of a "call for collaboration" should briefly describe the outcome envisioned and a guess about the amount of time it will take. He further advises teachers to start with modest online projects. Keep the expectations simple and include a "plan B" in case the other participating schools are unable to complete the project in the way first envisioned. One of the masters of such projects, Leni Donlan, describes several of her ongoing projects next.
Ms. Donlan, Emory Roth's partner in the Electronic Schoolhouse tries very hard to create projects which fit ongoing curriculum or studies, yet retain the fun and magic of this medium. For instance, during the last national election, she developed and ran a project on America Online, IRIS Network, and
the Internet, in which classes interactively exchanged categorized questions about the candidates and issues. The game-like exchange fostered a terrific research effort in her classroom teams, as it did from the other participating schools all over the nation.
Her class became so involved in the election, that they spearheaded a schoolwide election day extravaganza which included a parade, election activities, computerized voting and the use of live online chatting with classes from all over the nation. The students met online to discuss the progress of the election in their locale.
Leni's efforts were supported by AOL as well, and culminated in a student election, tallied and announced on election day by students from all over the nation (over 30,000 voted)! Furthermore, her students were so empowered by this experience, that they exchanged notes with a campaign aide through the
special online address announced, and wrote and invited Chelsea Clinton to join them in another online project in which they were engaged! An interest in study of the American Pioneering era led to a new AOL classic--Westward HO! This project evolved as Leni and another creative colleague, Kathleen Ferenz, decided to stage an online simulation of the westward movement. Both had done classroom simulations and now wanted to share that experience with others. Kathleen researched and wrote a curriculum which guided other
classes for six weeks of wonderful learning and adventure. The curriculum gave students a multi-faceted way to demonstrate their learning.
Students were invited to "hitch their wagons to a modem" in this online adventure. They shared in a simulated trek on the Oregon Trail, motored by various events which were scripted into Kathleen's well researched
outline. Online, they advertised for needed supplies, wives, etc. Student "pioneers" shared on-the-trail accounts of childbirth, deaths, marriages, disasters, and joys. They wrote and chatted with other "wagons" from other schools frequently. Teachers met weekly, online, as well, to collaborate, share ideas, ask questions and enjoy the ambiance of the "campfire" setting! Most schools culminated the experience with an all day celebration of their learning experience--a Hoe-down! Music, dancing, food, project sharing....all engaged in with the addition of camaraderie from classrooms across the nation.
Leni engaged her own class in an online intergenerational project. The project grew out of her realization that many schoolchildren no longer have close ties to their extended families, and might benefit from the addition of "grandparents" in their lives. Leni's students reached out to the senior citizens of America through the SeniorNet area of AOL.
While the experience strengthened the students writing skills, Leni felt that the personal and social experience was of far greater value. What began as a simple exchange between pen pals concluded with lifelong friendships resulting in the sharing of over 1000 letters, classroom visits from a photographer, and coverage by a local television station! This exchange showed the children, and their teacher, the wonderful power of the global
community, and the caring that one can share, even in these fractured times.
GENERATE YOUR OWN PROJECT
Two teachers in the same district or same state could join forces based on
common teaching style or interests. Suppose they both wanted to integrate dramatic writing into their classroom. They might choose to ask their class to create a community service skit around an important local issue. This involves some research into local problems, writing dialogue and ultimately skits or storyboards for video production.
The entire process is simplified when teachers hook their project to an existing curriculum such as Exciting Writing, Successful Speaking. Students share the products from a common project or form a "cooperative learning group" online! This is just like the "old days" when people played chess by mail, each person taking a turn, mailing back the move, and advancing towards the culminating end game of checkmate. After the plot outline is complete, the scenes would similarly be developed, with options for multiple endings. Finally, the play could be published and read aloud. Alternately, try improvising the final scene in final online live "chat."
Leni Donlan, a veteran of online project coordination, observes, "Planning an online project can be likened to planning a battle! Well developed plans will make the whole experience a manageable and pleasurable one for
all involved." When beginning a project, the coordinator or lead person must set out some clear goals and guidelines. Classes must know when they must respond, how, and in what form (e-mail, snail mail, bulletin boards).
SPAWN AN INTEGRATED STUDY
If integrated studies is the highway you choose to travel, the modem will help get you there. Integration naturally grows out of projects which are jointly developed by students across different disciplines.
Here are some examples:
- A music class writes a score for another class's poetry.
- Business students work with a creative writing class to produce a
- Elementary school students e-mail a list of important events to a
vocational-technical school printing class which later outputs a desktop published
- Students in physical education work with an art class to design unusual "trading cards."
- A middle school class teaches residents in a nearby nursing home how to use computers and modems. Then they go online and begin an intergenerational pen pal effort.
- Recipes are compiled by an elementary school class and put into a text file. Then a high school marketing class takes the text file to produce a desktop publishing quality book. They could also help in packaging, distribution, and advertising. In this way we establish an intergenerational link in additional to a network connection.
STEP 2 -- SHAKING HANDS AND JOINT PLANNING
Before a modem can connect to another modem they must, in the techie jargon, "establish a handshake." The same is true for people connecting on joint projects. Some kind of "ice breaker" or "get to know you" ritual precedes all other person-to-person or class-to-class work. When people meet for the first time online, they often send an e-mail letter with the title "Introduction." For example, if the teacher was trying to join an existing Scrapbook project, he or she would initiate the contact with an e-mail to the project coordinator, in this example addressing Mr. Roth by his "screen name" AFC Tooter.
Some pre-course discussion needs to take place, and ground rules must be laid out between teachers.
Some questions worth nailing down in the beginning are:
- How often should we stay in contact (more or less than once a week)?
- What are the general target dates for the various steps in the project (Handshake, and Moment of Truth Exchange, Culminating
- Do you want to have a culminating celebration like an online party or live chat.?
In addition, a regular form of contact must be established to carry out the joint
planning. Mr. Roth suggests that teachers set goals for regularly scheduled exchanges, such as visiting a bulletin board at least twice weekly to exchange updates, questions, or ideas. In Emery Roth's scrapbook project, a "folder" or bulletin board is established for school-to-school communication. Mr. Roth suggests communicating via bulletin boards over e-mail because when you are involved in a multi-school project this provides a common record that all may look back to consult with; becoming, in effect, a living teachers' guide. Later, bulletin boards can be used to provide an overview of a given project to the next round of participants.
Students must find a way to be introduced and in the process develop a common goal. In Emery Roth's scrapbook project the kick off of the project is called "Hello Day." Mr. Roth describes this as a "happening" in the best of the 1960s tradition. At the beginning of the day a Hello Day folder is left alone and empty in the Electronic School House forum. As the day progresses the folder fills with messages from across the country. The folder dramatizes how an electronic community of like-minded people can be built online.
Each class shares a single letter where the students introduce themselves, discuss their commitment to the project at hand, and provide some background about their school and community. Students write about the upcoming online commitment. They review dates or deadlines, discuss possible final projects, or tell what they hope to do with the final product. It should also include a commitment to keep each other posted on progress.
Ask your students to include information about school mascots, unique school innovations, stories about their school, local jargon and fads, or data
about local climate and industry, population or demographic information, a "typical day at" statement. One of the insights made by others is that the description of every-day and mundane events may be utterly fascinating to someone living far away from your community.
This step serves both as an ice-breaker experience and provides students a chance to build a shared visualization of what they will be accomplishing online. This is an important step in community building.
If just two classes or sites are involved this can be handled through an e-mail exchange. If you are involved in a multi-site project, then it is best to upload these introductions to a bulletin board where everyone can share in the exchange simultaneously.
Another useful task includes creating a survey wherein your class can truly assess the interests of their online audience and partners. We ask our
students to write for an audience; why not first write to their audience?
If several classes are going to participate (as in a scrapbook project) then some thought has to be given to matching classes. Will you match across the grades or ages? Roth reports that some of his liveliest exchanges occur between students of different ages. Sometimes they exchange personal observations or it can be a service as in the case of a high school printing class desktop publishing a final print product for an elementary school.
You will also need to match up students or classes in terms of resources and time. If one class is ready to go online every day and another can only access the telephone line in a very limited way, then the joint venture needs to be ironed out in advance. Try to create a schedule which accommodates the group with the least resources. Realize that most dates will probably exist as "target dates" and will occasionally need to be adjusted.
STEP 3 -- SUSTAINING THE LINK AS THE PROJECT UNFOLDS
Often a project evolves over several weeks. As a result, individuals or classes might lose contact while they are gathering information, surveying, writing, working in teams, creating products. Therefore, it is crucial to provide activities which sustain the initiating handshake link created in Step 2. To keep the link alive, explore ways to dramatize who and what stands on the other side of the modem.
In the Roth's scrapbook projects students (or a committee) write and post online updates or "chronicles." These may be nothing more then pen-pal type letters where class "reporters" write a progress report about the classes effort on the project. Roth suggests printing the updates and posting them in the classroom. As an interim activity, ask students to exchange actual (or digitized)
pictures, post cards, and brochures describing their community and schools. One could extend these exchanges to include photos of hang-outs, local newspaper clippings, school newspapers, a sample daily school bulletin, or cafeteria menus (yum). These can be displayed on a map showing the different participants in the online network and the different time zones. Remember the old "scavenger hunt" where students try to find the name of someone who has lived abroad, someone who speaks a foreign language, someone who rides horses, etc.? Include this kind of structured ice-breaker as an interim activity.
Dramatize the link with the other class with displays and mini-projects. These "side dishes" can be carried out by committees. Some of the roles and activities which have been used in the scrapbook and related projects include:
- Chroniclers or Reporters -- write updates to the other classes.
- Artists -- design classroom displays as well as create and maintain a US map with hello letters posted around the edge with ribbons or string stretched to the actual location of the exchanging school.
- Exchange experts -- gather material to send via regular mail to the other class.
- Researchers -- gather information about the other town and then illustrate with the help of the artists.
- Typists -- provide clerical support and data entry when only a single keyboard and modem are available.
- PR staff -- write about the project or videotapes or records the event in some way.
- Editing team -- review everything that goes out for correct language.
- Management or swing team -- record everyone's efforts and serve as pinch hitters when other committee members are absent.
- Archivists -- collect material into an actual scrapbook.
- Evaluation team -- design an evaluation process and an instrument to determine what went right and what could be improved upon.
STEP 4 -- THE MOMENT OF TRUTH -- EXCHANGING PRODUCTS
At some point we reach the moment of exchange, the moment of
truth. If all has been going well, a "ritual of exchange" will have preceded this moment. Students will have previously exchanged introductory letters, perhaps sent pictures, postcards, videos, or brochures; and generally stayed in touch via updates or chronicles.
In Roth's project every piece of writing exchanged gets distributed and read
by teams of students. Students are asked to pick their favorite piece from several
samples. These favorites are posted on bulletin boards or libraries. The selection process of "favorites" helps students refine their critical thinking and evaluation skills. Roth contributes the following observation:
"In a typical exchange NOT every student gets a reply. This is a matter of expediency. Not every class has the time for such replies. I have found that the individual replies are not always so important. This is one of the best discoveries because it stems from the satisfaction that students find in their classmates successes. It is the same as when one sees a classmate on television. Even if he is not your friend, you share in his moment of glory. My students regularly do the same thing when they see that someone has chosen one of their classmates papers as a favorite.
Best of all, it is often a student that nobody thought of as a writer."
Alternately, some teachers will feel each author should receive at least a single line of positive or understanding feedback from the online audience. Put short comments into a single e-mail or bulletin board posting. This could be accomplished by creatively organizing your class to respond in teams, not unlike teams of writers who write to service people or groups of people who lobby legislatures.
It is important to guide students in making "friendly" comments. Give your class samples or prompts to help them in replying or reacting to other student's work.
Here are some examples:
- Identify the line or description that was most vivid or meaningful to you. Mention this line and tell why you found it compelling.
Reflect back to something they said which you have in common. For instance, if a writer mentions a favorite sport or vacation which compares to one of your interests or experiences, this can be acknowledged with a line that sounds something like, "I, too, enjoy soccer, especially on a rain-soaked, muddy field."
Develop categories for recognition. Work this out jointly in advance with the other class. Some examples include:
- Project with the most descriptive powers.
- Funniest or saddest work.
- Product that told a lot about the author.
- Product that made you want to meet the person or visit their town
- Best contribution
- Most thoughtful question.
- Most honest statementBest
STEP 5 -- THE CULMINATING CELEBRATION
One can end the
project in a variety of affirming ways. First, a product can be exchanged which was jointly created. Sharing can take many forms:
- printing out a final product which was jointly developed or shared
- mailing the final product to an audience member or pen pal
- uploading a sample of one's work to an appropriate online library.
The other form of celebration would be real-time talking, computer to computer, or what some people call an online "chat." This can be organized as a "party" which mirrors a game show format. Invite students to come online with an alias name and see if others can guess who they are. Students enter a line they contributed to a product while others again guess. Could your two classes write a poem together, taking turns developing lines? If you're really brave try swapping jokes (but monitor this task).
Emery Roth suggests that when two classes are brought together, there should be a coordinating activity since unfocused "chats" can degenerate into "one-ups-manship" or other negative forms of communication. Roth
recommends that the chats be coordinated or "moderated" by the teacher. In order to hold everyone's attention, Roth asks different classes to come online with a "costume" or pseudonym. Then Mr. Roth asks questions of all participants which helps provide clues as to the true identities of the participants. Roth might ask, "If you live west of the Mississippi, throw some food that is green. If you are east of the Mississippi, throw red food." Everyone scrambles to type the words: tomatoes, red peppers, pizza, spaghetti, and
on and on. Other students are the detectives who sit with clues taken from previous e-mail and postings. Their job is to compare the clues on screen with their information, and supply the group with reasonable guesses. This way, everyone participates.
In addition, one could ask questions and prompt people to share their values and contributions. One might ask, "What is the most pressing environmental problem in your community?" or "Has your class been involved in any community service work?" Questions about personal choice
are popular, "List the three most popular types of after school activities?" This question forces people to quickly discuss and reach consensus.
Another structured activity involves asking pairs of students from each classroom to go online and write a one line description of something they see in the classroom. This process continues with new pairs, resulting in a mosaic classroom. At some point, people take turns guessing their true identity. Or, try using a commercially available get-to-know you game, such as "Life Stories." Use the game questions online.
Alternately, one can end the entire project on very simple note
which becomes the mirror image of Step 2 -- Shaking Hands. Thus, the project could end with
a "Good-bye" ritual wherein students are collectively asked to respond to various
reflective questions. These questions could ask:
- How much effort did you put into this
- What is one thing you'll probably remember about this online experience?
what way is the online part of this project different and in what way is it similar to
other learning experiences?
- If you were to do this project again, what would you like to
- What would you like to be remembered for by your friends online?
would you grade this lesson or project?
- How would you grade your learning experience?
answers to these questions could then be shared on a final day. In addition, students
could be asked to write a personal "Good-bye" note or saying which expresses how they see
themselves in the context of the given project. This last note might bear resemblance to
the "good-bye" notes students write in
These days, kids say they don't have much to do, that nobody listens. Plug in a modem and people will listen half way around the world. A middle school student posts a note about feeling misunderstood, and an echo of a similar experience comes back from half way across the country. Suddenly the audience is global. The phrase "all the world's a stage" will surely be reinterpreted by this late 20th century technology.
When students log on, their socio-economic, geographic, or
handicapping condition is no longer relevant. Chatting, typing, sharing are the bread and butter of people who meet on that new frontier we call "cyberspace." As long as one can contribute, friends will be found. Educators are now just beginning to pioneer these new lands and finding the excitement infectious.
As the world becomes an increasingly dangerous or uncertain place, we tend to withdraw or cocoon. But the basic thirst for human contact remains. This thesis flows from the perception that humans possess a deep-seated need to belong, connect, or affiliate. This author predicts that soon people will re-discover the healing powers of belonging to a community, the benefit of
contributing. Fortunately, we have entered a point in history where tools of connectivity and affiliation are now abundant, where modems and computers have created new ways of promoting friendships in what one author calls the "virtual community" of cyberspace. In a world grown terribly fragmented and fragile, the experience of learning and sharing online cultivates and renews community values and feelings.
(What follows are tip sheets which provide additional, in-depth information about information gathering, hardware, software, security, and vocabulary.)
TIP SHEET #1 -- NETWORKING ON THE NETWORK -- PROSPECTING TECHNIQUES FOR FINDING OTHER COLLABORATORS
The first questions new-comers to online networks often ask are, "How do I find other people or teachers in the emptiness of cyberspace?" and "How will we find people, adults, or classes interested in interacting with us?" There are many ways to connect. Sometimes it's as simple as posting a message on an electronic bulletin board.
Most commercial online services have special interest groups or forums. These are places where people gather to share common interests. You can investigate this world, wearing the hat of a reporter or researcher, looking for people or groups who might have information you need. On the America Online network teachers and administrators gather in large numbers in a forum called the Teacher Information Network (TIN). Within this group teachers and classes post messages about topics of interest ranging from talented and gifted to special education, using portfolios, developing community service projects, to using cooperative learning. There are collections of lessons, tests, and even places where students can go to get help with homework. Explore the topic or area you think relates to your class project and instructional purpose. Then send messages to the "boards" or use e-mail to contact individuals. In this way you can set up contacts to find people who can also serve as information sources.
Special interest groups lend themselves to collaborative efforts,
especially between people of different cultures. On the Internet you can "subscribe" to a mailing list which will put you in touch with people across the globe. One such list is called International E-Mail Classroom Connections (firstname.lastname@example.org). This interest group is intended for classroom to classroom connections. In America Online Electronic School House (keyword ESH) you can find an area devoted to Global Connections. Looking inside the folder you'll find various ways you can connect with people with foreign
language expertise, foreign service, retired ambassadors and the like.
More ambitious explorers will scan the network's database of profiles or biographies belonging to subscribing members. Call up the database and search on key words of interest. If you're studying climate, search on the key word that will find you matches from the geography which interests you. For instance, ask the database to find all members who have the words "coast" and "west" or "coast" and "California" in their user profile. (Once, when the author wanted to get input on a book from Japanese people he searched on the word "Japan" and found 250 listings. After sending out only 10 queries two people agreed to supply advice.) It is easier to find partners for intergenerational and peer projects because online people often belong to special interest groups like Seniornet or Kidsnet.
TIP SHEET #2 -- TIME MANAGEMENT, SOFTWARE,
CORRESPONDENCE, AND SECURITY ISSUES
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
ALLOCATE ENOUGH TIME
- Figure that it will take several days to master basic online techniques such as
logging on, navigating, sending e-mail, making a bulletin board posting, and networking to
find others. You may want to access a LCD pad for displaying your video screen on an
overhead projector. Sandy Ewanowski reports that she has successfully used "ScreenShare"
to broadcast examples from her screen to all of her student's computers.
- Final products
may deserve to be desktop published. This, too, requires a bit of time for training and
the actual doing. If you set up a template for your work in advance, this will help. For
instance if you are creating a joint newsletter or book, set up the title pages, columns,
back matter and table of contents in advance with dummy text. Once the products (text or
graphics) are ready, place the new material in the template document.
- DEVELOP POLICIES TO ENSURE SECURITYSometimes the online world can get as nasty as the real world. People
steal, prey, or lie. To avoid these unpleasant situations consider the following tips.
Because these tips rely on a certain degree of technical knowledge, discuss these ideas
with your local computer coordinator or guru.
- Ask students to use aliases rather than a
real name. This way if something personal is shared there is an aspect of distance or
- Instruct everyone never to give out their phone number, address, or complete
name. Likewise, never agree to meet somewhere. All mail should be sent to and from
schools, not individual houses. Students should NEVER meet any online people without their
parents at the first meeting. This rule applies whether they meet the person from school
modem or home modem.
- Consult with your district regarding policies for "user"
agreements. These are agreements or contracts wherein guardians and students agree to
basic protocols, conditions, and responsibilities. The agreement should stipulate expected
behaviors and consequences for mis-behaviors. For instance, you may want to restrict use
of the floppy disk port to avoid viruses being inserted or the downloading of questionable
material. Any scanned pictures of students should have the written release of
- Likewise, security for your password is important, particularly at the
high school level.
RELY ON ASCII FILES In an age when we can produce gee-whiz products, with
desktop publishing, it seems like a step back to have to reduce all messages to plain
vanilla ASCII files. This may change in the future, but for now all files to be shared
should be in a universal or ASCII text file format. In the near future, sharing fully
formatted documents may become a reality; until then, it is safest to adhere to the
following rules when setting up a file:
- File names must not have more than 15
- All file names must begin with a LETTER.
- Do not use spaces, numbers,
periods, or symbols in the file name. You should also strip out and replace any special
Macintosh characters which may not translate well on non-Macintosh computers. Replace the
following special Macintosh characters as follows:
- em dashes with double hyphens
- bullets made with Option+8 keys with asterisks (*)
- ellipses made with Option +
semi-colon keys with three periods (...)
- replace all curly quotes and apostrophes with
regular straight ones (")
TIPS FOR UPLOADING STUDENT WORK Mr. Roth reports that some
programs exist which allow you to "bundle" the material you are going to upload. For
instance in the Macintosh computer world, a program named UNITY combines text from several
files into a single document for uploading. If you must send everything by e-mail, you may
be limited to 32k length. Therefore, files larger than 32k must be split into smaller
DEVELOP WAYS TO KEEP TRACK OF CORRESPONDENCE
Typically, if the project is just
between two schools it is possible that e-mail will work just fine. Private mail between
teachers has the advantage that sensitive questions and issues remain out of view from
kids. The only thing you'll have to develop is a way to log your correspondence in order
to keep track of your questions and replies. For instance, suppose a teacher wants to know
how you organized your classroom displays to support the joint venture. Copy the question
into your e-mail and then write your reply just after the question. When the person reads
your answer, this saves a step of going back to find the original question. (This can also
be done by using an e-mail option forwarding back the original letter with your reply
The SCRAPBOOK CURRICULUM TOOLKIT is a carefully indexed, seventy-page reference book
describing the online ScrapBook Writing Project. The book includes an overview of the
process, step-by-step instructions for various activities and process writing, and
technical tips for using America Online efficiently. The work is richly illustrated with
numerous examples of student's writings and teacher observations. To acquire a copy write
to Emery Roth II, Shepaug School, South Street, Washington, CT 06793 or e-mail him AFC
EXCITING WRITING, SUCCESSFUL SPEAKING. Martin Kimeldorf. 1994. Free Spirit
Publishing. To order call 800-735-7323. This workbook makes writing instruction fun.
Sample projects include cooperative learning experiences, creative visualizations, poetry
games, theater games, script writing, journal writing, short report writing, survey design
and reporting, advertising, speech making, and newsletter publishing to name a few. A
four-step writing process takes the student from simple listings with headings, to main
ideas and paragraph structure.
WESTWARD HO! A SIMULATION JOURNEY ALONG THE OREGON TRAIL.
Kathleen Ferenz and Paul Polley. Copyright 1993. This book contains an outline of the
online project from AOL, the wonderful "Travel & Fate Cards" chock full of history and
real life adventure and resources and a bibliography for classroom teachers' use. Write to
Kathleen Ferenz, 3501 Higgins Canyon Road, Half Moon Bay, CA 94019 or e-mail to
- SENDING ELECTRONIC MAIL TO GRANDMA; TIPS
FOR GETTING CHILDREN INVOLVED IN TELECOMMUNICATIONS AN ANECDOTE DESCRIBING AN ACADEMIC
CONTEST RUN ON AN ELECTRONIC BULLETIN BOARD. P. Shapiro. This delightful article
summarizes the joys of contacting friends and relatives online for elementary age
students. To get a copy write to the author at: email@example.com
AN ANECDOTE DESCRIBING AN
ACADEMIC CONTEST RUN ON AN ELECTRONIC BULLETIN BOARD. P. Shapiro. This brief essays
describes using a contest on a local bulletin board (BBS) to enhance student's exploration
of telecommunication education. To get a copy write to the author at:
USING INTERNET KNOW-HOW TO PLAN HOW STUDENTS WILL KNOW. The Computing
Teacher. Judi Harris. May 1993. This is an excellent summary that somewhat parallels this
essay, but focusing on larger options on the Internet.
VIRTUAL COMMUNITY. Howard Rheingold. 1993. Addison Wesley. This book
contains a wealth of examples demonstrating how people meet and greet one another online,
and in the process develop an affinity or sense of community while online. Numerous
stories illustrate how people help one another, via their modem, just as they would in a
real community. Rheingold also brings a cross-cultural comparison to his report.ModemMan,
A PLAY. Martin Kimeldorf. Available from the author 6705 Gold Creek Dr. SW, Tumwater, WA
98512. This is a play which takes place in the year 2050 AD, where people connect over a
pot-hole filled information superhighway. The main characters live in the "Boundary Zone,"
a no-man's land separating the "Reservation" (the jungle) from the "Preservation" (core
society). Plato is a "home body" who never ventures beyond the force-field door of his
apartment. He is connected to the world via a late 20th century modem in the low-tech
Boundary Zone. He is suddenly confronted by the dilemma of meeting his "virtual
girlfriend: Sloan upon her early-release from prison. Plato must now confront the many
"masks" or personae he wears online with the reality Sloan brings to his door. This is a
dark comedy spiced with some poetry.
THE OFFICIAL AMERICA ONLINE MEMBERSHIP KIT & TOUR
GUIDE (Mac Edition). Tom Lichty. Ventana Press. 1992. Chapel Hill, NC. Tom Lichty has
created an eminently people-friendly book describing the intricate world of the computer
network system known as America Online. This books provides excellent background about how
to "get online" and what to do once you get there. Write to Ventana Press, Inc., P.O. Box
2468, Chapel Hill, NC 27515 (You can buy this book in bookstores for $35, or you can buy
it on America Online for $20.)
Think back to those
lessons where you presented your students with a vocabulary list prior to reading. This is
the same step, which you may skip or skim before reading the article.
- ASCII files -- These
are files that are kept in the simplest form possible. As a result, these documents can be
read by any computer (Apple, Macintosh, Atari, IBM). Most documents have to be kept in
this form if you plan to share with people who do not have the same computer or software
that you have.
- bulletin boards -- This is a place where you can leave a message just as you
would on a bulletin board at a college or shopping market. It is a very public way of
getting the word out. Students and teachers can leave messages for each other this way.
- CD ROM -- This is a storage device for storing large quantities of information. The
information often comes on a CD ROM disk which you can insert into a computer, or access
via a computer network, perhaps in your local library. A CD-ROM disk can only be used on a
computer which has a special CD-ROM drive, which is different from a floppy drive. Few
computers have this capability today.
- chats -- When you chat with someone online you are
actually talking in real time, just like you would in a phone call. The only difference is
that your words are typed back and forth. It is cheaper than a phone call. Because
"posting" or "chatting" online involves only text, and not face-to-face encounters, it
begins a safe communication mode surrounded by an anonymous cloud. As a result, it has
also been called the "great equalizer" since your appearance, status, or gender is not
- database -- Any data organized in an accessible manner such as a database of
names, addresses, students, grades.
- documents and bundling -- A computer saves the
information you create or write to a file or document. Sometimes various student documents
are "bundled" together before being sent online because this makes it cheaper to send and
- download -- Once you decide that you want a certain document or program, you then
download it to your computer. This stores it on your computer disk.
- e-mail -- This stands
for electronic or e-mail. It is a method of sending a letter from one person to another
electronically. Once you address the letter, the computer automatically sets up your
letter for reply. E-mail is quick and painless. You can also send large documents to
another person by "attaching" or "appending" the documents to your e-mail.
- folders -- A
folder is a place to store a document. In some computers this is known as a "directory."
- forums -- Online services have different ways of organizing information or people who belong
to a similar interest group. For instance, the America Online network is divided into
departments (Education and Reference, Entertainment, News & Finance, Lifestyles and
Interests. People meet to discuss ideas in areas called forums. Within each department
people often affiliate around a common interest. A group with an interest in high-risk
students might choose to locate a bulletin board in a folder entitled "high-risk youth."
Then they will leave messages for each other on the bulletin board, which is located in
- library -- If you want to make your document available to as many people as
possible, you can upload it to a "library" which stores many documents. People can browse
the various documents in the library.
- online -- This used to be a hyphenated word "on-line"
which referred to connecting with someone via a modem by going "on-line," meaning to
connect via the telephone wires. Now the word is also used to describe "online worlds"
where folks meet in what is affectionately called "cyberspace."
- posting messages -- This is
the process whereby you create a message and "post" it on a bulletin board.
- scrapbook -- This is Emery Roth's name for a document which students create together.
Scrapbooks typically include poetry or essays which students share and discuss online.
This project is used to stimulate writing, exploration of technology, and critical
- special interest group (SIG) -- This is a group of people who share a common
interest (specific hobbies, common occupations, specific family issues, certain forms of
entertainment such as games or poetry). Thus a SIG online is a place to go to meet people
and share ideas around a common interest.
- telecommunication -- This is a method for
communicating from computer to computer via the telephone lines. A modem (and related
software) is used to translate your computer's information into a signal which can travel
across the phone line.
- upload -- When you want send a document or program to someone else
it is called uploading.
- virtual community -- This is a term attributed to Howard
Rheingold. As in many terms like "virtual reality" it refers to an experience, typically
facilitated or mediated by a computer chip which creates a simulated experience. The
experience becomes so real, that after awhile it become virtually another experience in