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Interview Summaries March 2006

Nathan Campbell
  • Gerhard Fischer, Professor, DLC
  • Sebastian De La Chica, Instructor, User Interface Systems
  • Amer Diwan, Professor, Software Enginnering Methods and Tools

During the interviews some very interesting points and patterns we discussed. After talking to 2 Professors and 1 instructor here at the university, I have complied the following information. All interviewees felt that collaboration was not necessary to facilitate learning, but instead it greatly enhanced learning and the ability to gain in depth knowledge of the subject. The user interface instructor, Sebastian De La Chica, felt that it was necessary however to teach students to collaborate in order to be competitive in the working world.

It was very interesting to note that all of the people I interviewed felt that students would not use collaborative tools unless they were required to use it in at least one assignment. For tools such as message boards when offered to the students without any requirements for them to use it, they were used extremely rarely.

It was also found that tools such as WebCT were too structured and did not allow for much customizability. A swiki environment was found to be a great collaborative space for people to discuss things asynchronously, but it often left the information in mess and was not easy to sort through. Sebastian De La Chica mentioned a program that addressed this problem. The software was called Plone, which is a python based content management system to share artifacts. It is a place where people can get a sense for what is happening with others. Its advantages were that it works nicely, was more structured, and allows for internal communication as well as offering the ability for a nice website to be created from the artifacts. Its major problem is that it is harder to use then a wiki.

Gerhard Fischer also has some interesting thoughts about the swiki. Although he liked to use it he wished it was easier to format pages, although he does explain that he has not taken much time to learn to format text in the swiki. Additional features that he felt would greatly enhance the swiki environment would be the ability for a teacher to add comments to a assignment that has been turned in, and then give the student that ability to create a dialog with the professor about those comments.

The Moodle was another collaborative environment that was discussed; however only one interviewee had ever used it and felt it was a good tool but was unable to use all of its features because he just did not have time to learn how to use it.

Clickers were also a subject of discussion and it was found that they become much more useful as the class size increases. For if the class is small it is better to create discussions amongst the students, and clickers do not allow for very much discussion, instead they offer a gauge of how well the class is understanding the material.

Some interesting ideas that were brought up during the interviews included ideas such as using an EDC environment to help students learn in a rich hands-on environment. There was also the idea of the conversational classroom in which the students lead the discussion and the professor acts as a moderator, helping drive the discussion into the right direction. This method of teacher allows for students to create an open dialog with each other and hopefully gain a better understanding of the material.

A final issue that was discussed was the fact that good learning takes time, but it must be balanced for as a student sits longer in a classroom they less they will learn during the later half of the class.

It appears that current collaborative tools have high rates of abandonment unless students are forced to use them, but is it a possibility that these tools have just not empowered the user? Instead they offer little important information because of the cycle of abandonment. This cycle is as follows: a student decides to write a message to his/her fellow students, none of the students read it or respond, that student abandons using that tool and when another student tries to write a message the cycle continues until the tool becomes a wasteland of useless information. So I hope we can build a tool to break this cycle and entice students to collaborate with each other.

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