Computer Networking For Education Research Paper

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Computer networks such as the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) have an increasingly high impact in schools as well as in higher and further education. Teachers and researchers try to analyze both the current potential and future developments (e.g., Roschelle and Pea 1999) in computer networking in education. In this research paper we consider aspects of computer networking for education at the individual level, the group level, the level of the organization, and the societal level in turn. We report on important basic scenarios and developments as well as on approaches to improving learning and education.

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1. Computer Networking And The Individual

1.1 Basic Scenarios

With the advent of the WWW, the learning individual has moved back into the focus of attention, especially in the context of teaching remote learners and using the WWW as a teaching resource.

1.1.1 Teaching Remote Learners. The internet is seen as an ideal medium for delivery and communication between teacher and learner. In this context teleteaching becomes increasingly more important. In teleteaching, a lecture is typically held in a university lecture-room and is synchronously transmitted through two-way interactive video to university students at another university. Another approach to teaching distant learners is that of online course delivery. In the tradition of distance learning, learners receive course material as computer files or on web pages. By e-mail or by videoconferencing they can ask their teachers for assistance.

1.1.2 Using The Internet As Resource. The second major application of computer networks for individual learning is the use of existing Internet-based material as resources to prepare and to elaborate on instruction. Students search the Internet in the sense of ‘knowledge mining’ (Roschelle and Pea 1999), trying to explore the knowledge of a certain expert community by analyzing web sites or newsgroup discussions. Teachers are using the Internet as resource as well. A large number of publications in education-related journals describe web-based teaching resources for use during classroom lectures. In many cases, annotated listings of useful Internet and web addresses are included.

1.2 Approaches To Further Improve Individual Learning

1.2.1 Reduce Complexity By Indexing. Free exploration of Internet resources proves to be overwhelming for many learners with little prior knowledge. Using the indexing strategy of web-based instruction, avail-able topic-related web sites are selected, indexed, and evaluated by teachers or experts both for lecture preparation and follow-up, as well as for enriching class-room lectures.

1.2.2 Keep Complexity, Pro Ide Support. This approach highlights the importance of authentic and complex learning scenarios for the acquisition and transfer of knowledge. Instead of reducing the complexity of Internet-based resources, this approach emphasizes supporting learners to work effectively with these authentic materials. For instance, expert modeling of strategies, mapping techniques or strategy guidance have proved to be effective instructional tools in complex learning environments (see Mandl et al. 1999). Analysis and training of cognitive strategies for searching the web, and knowledge management strategies, are other variants of this approach (e.g., Hill and Hannafin 1997). In teletutoring or telecoaching approaches, the promotion of knowledge transfer to the workplace is the primary goal. Learners are at their workplaces and receive assistance via network technologies. This assistance is typically pro-vided by a coach, who supports the learner in applying knowledge to new problems.

2. Computer Networking And The Group

2.1 Basic Scenarios

2.1.1 Technology-Based Learning Within The Class-Room. A series of approaches focus on the new and enriching possibilities of network technologies for learning within traditional educational settings. Learners in a class are engaged in processes of collaborative knowledge construction and are supported by network technologies which are more or less specifically designed for group learning purposes.

One central assumption is that in text-based communication in particular, social inequalities known from traditional settings can be partially resolved (e.g., Riel 1995). Variants of these approaches are ‘classroom-meets-expert-community’ projects. Students contact experts in the field via video-conferencing, by e-mail, or via newsgroups. It is an important goal of these projects to provide learners with acces to an appropriate expert community (e.g., Gomez et al. 1998).

2.1.2 Virtual Learning Environments. A further important use of computer networks is in connecting distant learners to form a virtual classroom, a virtual seminar, or a virtual tutorial (e.g., Harasim et al. 1995). In a large number of projects, the improved flexibility of learning with respect to both location and time is seen as the particular added value of computer networking in education. People can learn together who would hardly be able to do so in traditional instructional settings because of distance, disabilities, or incompatible time schedules.

2.1.3 Internet-Based Cultural Encounters. In Internet-based encounters, socially or geographically distant groups or cultures are brought together on a class-room or seminar level by means of Internet facilities. In e-mail exchanges, learners should become aware of cultural diversity, are encouraged to reduce stereo-types, and to practice languages (Fabos and Young 1999). Moreover, electronic ‘field trips’ are arranged to explore a distant part of the world in order to enhance classroom lectures in different subject matter. Typically, an expedition team publishes its latest photos and reports on a journey on web pages and communicates by e-mail with several dozen classes all over the world.

2.2 Approaches To Further Improve Cooperative Learning

2.2.1 The Moderation Approach. In virtual cooperative learning environments, the role of the teacher or tutor will become more and more that of a facilitator or moderator, structuring group discussion according to certain theoretical principles.

2.2.2 The Cooperative Learning Tools Approach. This approach argues that today’s networking tools are not genuinely designed for learning purposes (Roschelle and Pea 1999). There are efforts to develop, adapt, and apply networked collaborative learning tools to facilitate learning in groups. Shared active representation tools are designed to support learners and teachers in discussing complex subject matter by advancing domain-specific external representations, including text or graphic representations or mathematical notations. Community-building tools are those which define social places and virtual worlds for new forms of cooperation (Roschelle and Pea 1999). Examples are MUDs (multiuser domains) as well as more complex environments using and combining technologies such as videoconferencing (Fischer and Mandl, in press), chat, or computer conferencing (Schwan 1997). Sociocognitive structuring tools organize learning activities according to successful patterns of tutorial dialogs or peer discussions. These tools prestructure or limit the kinds of possible contributions to a discussion and help to connect the messages in a meaningful way (Linn et al. 1999).

3. Computer Networking And/organizations

3.1 Learning Organizations

Schools, universities, and other places of learning are becoming ‘learning organizations’ themselves (e.g., Cavaleri and Fearon 1996). Learning organizations develop mechanisms helping them to adapt effectively to new situations and to use available resources more effectively to advance their members’ development. It has been argued that such organizations will have crucial advantages in the competition among educational organizations. Computer networks (e.g., Intranets) may play an important role in these changes by supporting the sharing of resources, as well as by facilitating access to them. They enable new forms of communication and cooperation among learners and among educators as well as between learners and educators. Teachers and learners will have access to scientific resources and may contact other teachers as well as experts in the field. However, while implementing computer networks is an important step in establishing a culture of learning in an organization, it is not the decisive step. Students and teachers must be both enabled and motivated to contribute to shared resources of an organization.

3.2 Approaches To Further Improve Computer Networking In Organizations

An important way to advance a new culture of learning in educational organizations is represented by the ‘learning communities’ approach. In a learning com-munity the major focus is on fostering collective knowledge and in that way supporting the growth of individual knowledge (Bielaczyc and Collins 1999). A learning community seeks out knowledge from multiple sources and shares its findings widely among the members. An excellent example of implementing a learning communities approach based on computer networks within a school context is the ‘knowledge building communities’ approach within the Computer Supported Intentional Learning Environments (Scardamalia and Bereiter 1994).

4. Computer Networking And Society

4.1 Globalization

Globalization has its impact on education as well. The possibilities of offering educational services and courses worldwide via computer networks are used more, and more particularly by large institutions. Increasing competition in the field of education might ensure that theoretical and practical innovations result in a positive modification of contents and methods of education. In recent work, however, both the clear dominance of Western culture and the issue of cultural specificity of education receive critical attention (Fabos and Young 1999).

An increasing reallocation of educational resources into network-based learning environments is frequently regarded as causing the emergence of a new ‘two-class’ society. People who do not have the basic knowledge necessary to use the new technologies have increasing difficulty in accessing relevant educational content. Fundamental prerequisites for the prevention of this development are missing at present; for in-stance, schools lack sufficient computers and network technologies.

4.2 Approaches To Improve Education

Providing educational institutions with an adequate supply of computer and networking technologies is often regarded as the basic condition for equal access to education. However, media literacy does not result from simply supplying the technologies. One can expect that all who take part in the processes of education—learners, teachers, researchers, parents— increasingly need media literacy to negotiate computer networks: knowledge and skills, which enable them to communicate, to learn and to become informed via such networks. Moreover, important capabilities of teachers and parents include being able to assess and reduce possible threats posed, for instance, by pornography and violence on the Internet.

Increasingly, technologies are seen as more or less flexibly developing tools which may advance societal visions and goals. For example, a number of American projects in the context of computer networking for education have aimed at nationwide educational reform goals such as equity or diversity (e.g. Garner and Gillingham 1996).

5. Outlook

A predominant trend in research on computer net-working for education is to develop complex learning environments employing different tasks, as well as media mixes with multimedia, synchronous and asynchronous text-based communication or videoconferencing. With test-bed designs or design experiments (Gomez et al. 1998), researchers try to design and evaluate those prototypical scenarios based on instructional theories and tools as well as on constraints of the content to be learned, learners’ needs, and/organizational limitations. We believe that this important evaluative and design-related research should be accompanied by more controlled experimental studies analyzing specific interactive and cognitive effects resulting from specific types of cooperative learning tasks supported by specific technologies.


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