Connecting students with group work Fay Sudweeks School of Information Technology Murdoch University, Murdoch WA 6150 Australia [email protected] ABSTRACT Virtual learning environments provide an attractive method for information dissemination, but they are often adopted because of their technical innovativeness, and little thought is given to integrating the medium with learning objectives and pedagogical strategies. Moreover, computer-based learning is used increasingly as the solution to the problems associated with flexible learning, particularly for students situated in different locations and studying in different modes. Too often, though, global education typically lacks social and collaborative activities with the unintended consequence of feelings of social isolation. Technology can separate rather than connect students. Yet, more than any other teaching medium, virtual learning environments have the potential to fully exploit theories of social and active learning through communication and collaboration (e.g. Vygotsky, 1978; Tiffin and Rajasingham, 1995, Sudweeks and Simoff, 2001). The questions addressed here are: Can we do more to encourage collaboration among students who are studying online? How can we connect students who are studying in different modes and in different locations? In this paper, I describe action research in an Organisational Informatics course at Murdoch University, Australia. The action research was a process of planning and evaluation of a group project. The group assignment involved the development of a proposal for a major event. Communication among the four group members was restricted to text-based communication tools so that all students (external, external, full-time, part-time, international and local) had a level-playing field. Each group member had a choice of a “role” – client, consultant, researcher, presenter. The defined roles gave a clear structure and division of tasks within the group, while still retaining an interdependency. Scaffolding was provided by having a tutor and coordinator available via a private group forum and chat room. The proposal developed by group members was presented online to class members. The results of quantiative and qualitative analyses of group collaboration indicate that the students gained significant benefits from collaborating without meeting face-to-face. REFERENCES Sudweeks, F. and Simoff, S. (2000). Participation and reflection in virtual workshops, in J. Burn (ed.), Proceedings 3rd Western Australian Workshop on Information Systems Research, Perth, Australia (CD-ROM). Tiffin, J. and Rajasingham, L. (1995). In Search of the Virtual Class: Education in an Information Society, Routledge, London. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of the Higher Psychological Processes, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA Add this bit somewhere (from UTS Online advertising a lecture). The term flexible delivery has become common place in the Higher Education sector. Increasingly Universities are investigating flexible modes for delivering their teaching programs to address the issue of equity of access and to create teaching opportunities in new markets or extending existing markets. New media, new technologies, pedagogical perspectives and a reduction in Government funding are other important factors influencing this change. While equity of access and new teaching opportunities were primary motivations for the development of the iLecture system, a criticism has been that it builds on a mode of teaching that is possibly out-moded. In part this is a philosophy of teaching and learning, ie. the debate of teacher-instructed versus student-centred.