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Anthropology and International Education Via the Internet: A Collaborative Learning Model
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The traditional "lecture" model of science, mathematics, and technology curricula emphasized the transmission of factual data and skills from a teacher to a student. It is based on the concept of scientific knowledge as a stockable and transferable entity. It is also based on the construct of knowledge as being "certain" (Drane 2000). Unfortunately this concept of knowledge as being tangible and transferable has substantial impact on how computing is being integrated into higher education.
Today most distance-learning courses are no more than sophisticated correspondence courses, in which lone students in front of computers take in a certain amount of information transmitted via the Internet.
In contrast, a number of studies about how professionals acquire knowledge (c.f. Lave 1991, Sachs 1995, Sumner 1995) indicate that learning is inextricably intertwined with multidirectional activities such as work and play, and that learning is essentially a social activity. This position on learning argues that the process of acquiring knowledge cannot be separated from the process of applying it, because knowledge is temporary, developmental, and socially and culturally mediated. Thus, learning is a nonobjective entity (Fosnot 1993). According to Shon (1983), a key challenge in supporting individual learning is to promote reflection-in-action processes. As knowledge is continually changing, students need to learn and relearn how to recognize potential cognitive gaps in situated action while solving personally relevant problems (Shon 1983, Fischer 1994). Therefore, we must constantly apply new knowledge to overcome cognitive breakdown. Just like the self-reflective student envisioned by Shon, today's experts must continually learn to apply existing knowledge to situations and acquire new knowledge in response to changing situations.
Unlike Shon and others who focus on individual-centered learning, however, we argue that sociality is a core aspect of knowledge co-creation and knowledge-sharing (Greeno 1988). We argue that learning is fundamentally a social activity, embedded in ongoing domains of practice, and that these empirical activities, in turn, give rise to new theoretical problems that drive learning to a new level of mental, affective, and behavioral responses and endeavors. By sociality we mean mental, affective, and behavioral aspects of symbolic relations among actors in situ. We criticize the excessive individualization of school learning as presented by Shon and others, where classroom activities are primarily defined in terms of the individual learner's self discovery and knowledge development. Instead, we argue that social relations among learners and between learners and instructors are central to knowledge construction as well as knowledge dissemination.
In analyzing the societal process of learning, one can draw certain insights from the recent experiences of intranet technology applications. Intranet uses were originally heralded by such pre-Web groupware products as Lotus Notes. However, this internal Web as an over-encompassing environment for supporting workflow falls short of expectations (Rein, McCue et al. 1997, Brannen at al. 1998). Rein et al. found that off-the-shelf intranet software such as Lotus Notes was most successful when deployed to support simple, well-understood, routine work practices where the information was more or less factual and did not involve interpretation.
The present team argues that the concept of knowledge as a tangible and definable commodity fails to capture the fact that the act of knowing is literally embodied in the creative, multi-layered activity of people who are deeply situated in organized sociality. The theoretical and methodological problems related to the scientific self-reflexivity, multiple-subjectivity (Rosaldo 1989) and cognitive authority are more salient than ever, when we consider pedagogical innovations related to the Internet. The present approach to the social and cultural dimensions of learning technology takes into account the domains of schematic transformation, structure and agency, symbolic representations, and anthropological locations (Gupta & Ferguson 1997).
"The university exploits academics by encouraging them to pursue their desires for scholarly fame, authoritative voice, and certain knowledge, to the exclusion of all else"
Our theoretical perspective to collaborative learning is similar to those developed by constructionist learning environments as identified by Grabinger (1996) and Sherry, and Billing and Tavalin (2000). In essence, constructionist learning environments value personal autonomy, generativity, reflectivity, active engagement, personal relevance, and cultural pluralism (Sherry et al. 2000:109). They engage students in a continuous collaborative process of knowledge construction in an environment that reflects the context in which that knowledge will be created in situ. As one of the primary learning activities, a constructionist learning environment emphasizes knowledge-building conversation and joint task execution among collaborative groups of students. Based on this realization, various researchers have presented notable learning models. Examples include CSILE by Brown (1994), the CoVis project by Pea (1994), Mediated Collaborative Knowledge-Building in England (Crook 1994), Online Book Discussion in Norway by Mehus (1995), Group-Based Project Work in the Netherlands (Collis et al. 1997), Asynchronous Learning Network (electronic conversation between students and instructors) studied by Winiecki (1999), and the WEB Project in Vermont (Sherry, Billing, and Tavalin, 2000). These models provide shared space for students to interact and comment on each other's work.
In contrast to these models, the Collaborative Learning and Teaching (COLT) model developed jointly by the College of William and Mary in Virginia and Keio University in Japan moves one step further, to engage students because of the following factors:
The COLT model requires that students conduct their own research for knowledge creation at local sites;
It connects students with different cultural backgrounds for direct cross-cultural interface;
The collaboration for co-knowing is international;
The students employ a much wider range of communication tools (i.e. International videoconferences, chat, e-mail, trans-Pacific file exchange, Web-page creation, bulletin boards, PowerPoint presentations, and film-archive retrieval);
The final project is not only edited collaboratively, but also presented collaboratively. The students, as well as the course instructors, participate in cross-national collaboration in order to successfully implement the course; and
It intentionally creates a learning environment where participants need to manage uncertainty and uncertain knowledge.
The COLT model allows collaborative groups to execute tasks that are too complex for one individual to undertake. It provides opportunities for students to participate in cross-cultural group dynamics, to articulate, explicate, and defend their ideas and hidden motives, and to manage their work flow amid a high degree of uncertainty about how the project should be done. At the end, they must create an intellectual product collaboratively.
In a uni-cultural setting, major variables that influence the success of group collaboration include: support for communication; support for handling sharable resources and making them available; socio-dynamic aspects of supporting the group (maintaining coherence); and integration of the project with the curriculum in which it is embedded (Collis et al. 1997). The COLT model aims not only at satisfying these four aspects of variables identified by Collis et al., but also offers an appropriate case for the computer-mediated learning and pedagogical innovation that goes beyond asynchronic electronic conversation among participants (as envisioned by the conventional constructionist models mentioned above). The COLT model moves us beyond typical dualistic learning where students are asked to generate correct or incorrect answers to assess "certain, stockable knowledge" as it pulls them into a world of uncertainty and emergent knowledge.
In this context, Chris Drane recently posted an important article entitled "Certain Knowledge and the Conventional University." He notes that today's academics are driven to narrow specialization and that the conventional university exploits academics by encouraging them to pursue their desires for scholarly fame, authoritative voice, and certain knowledge, to the exclusion of all else. In criticizing the current academic obsession with certain knowledge, Drane states:
The difficulty with certain knowledge is that most of the important aspects of life cannot be dealt with by certain knowledge. What do I really want to do? What is that other person thinking? What is the best form of society? What gives meaning to my life? How should one counsel an employee? Life is full of such questions that can be only answered by embracing a much wider framework of reasoning than is encompassed by the realm of certain knowledge. The vital point here is that by not preparing students to deal with uncertain knowledge we limit their development and so impoverish them as human beings and citizens (Drane 2000:1).
Even when we understand the need to teach uncertain knowledge, we often teach it in the context of certain knowledge, such as a subject listing "proven" anthropological methods to improve cross-cultural communication skills. Conventional anthropology courses such as the course we used for our control are good examples of transmitting the content of the "certain," "authored" and "authoritative" knowledge possessed by the instructor to the students.
The goal of the COLT program is to provide a carefully organized learning environment where the student must utilize and manipulate uncertain (or "emergent") knowledge. In this environment, the students are asked to manage socio-cultural processes of knowledge creation and dissemination. The COLT students receive ample opportunities to navigate themselves in the sea of cognitive and emotional dissonance. They must articulate their own praxis and habitus to others in cross-cultural negotiation. They sometimes face power inequity as they deal with someone else's dominant perspectives. In this learning process, they are encouraged to think about their own cognitive, affective, social, and conceptual learning styles and modes of thinking. The students are engaged in critical reasoning and self reflection, and they learn how to transform their present mental scheme to a new level of knowledge. At the same time, the students learn the joy of sharing cognitive and emotional understanding and of developing friendships with people thousands of miles away.
"Each professor stood in front of his or her classroom, and was visible by teleconference in the other classroom"
The COLT Course Design
The main objective of COLT via the Internet is to use information technology to sustain and extend multi-directional context sharing and community building for co-learning and co-knowing. We use "co-learning" to mean learning about something with someone who does not share one's intellectual history and cultural tradition. Co-learning increases the ways students learn, and their abilities to learn, interpret, make sense of, and theorize reality in multiple ways. The COLT model encourages each student to learn how the other learns, and to reflect on the learning process. We use the term "co-knowing" (in contrast to more familiar expressions such as "knowing together") to indicate a dual meaning of creating knowledge: The first aspect of co-knowing is knowing about something together with someone from a different cultural tradition. The second aspect of co-knowing is knowing different ways of acquiring knowledge itself.
Main characteristics of the COLT course are:
The course is team taught by two instructors, one at William and Mary and the other at Keio University in Japan The instructors connect the two groups of students and teach them together, ignoring the national boundaries.
The students form bi-national research teams. Japanese and American members of each team jointly choose a specific research topic for the team, develop a research design, conduct field work, analyze data, and present research findings collaboratively. They are creating new knowledge by co-learning across cultures;
The students communicate with one another via concurrent, one-to-one teleconferences. Using the equipment in one classroom in each country, seven or eight U.S.-Japan videoconferences occur simultaneously, allowing seven or eight teams to address independent research projects. They also use chat and e-mail, as well as file-exchange and netpoint programs developed by Keio University to complete specific course assignments;
As the students implement research projects and face various deadlines for reports, they communicate and collaborate outside the classroom via various forms of electronic communication such as chat, e-mail, netmeeting, and file exchanges. They often develop friendships with their remote partners, whom they never meet in person;
The professors guide, monitor, coach, and evaluate the students on and off line as their joint research projects develop and their plans, methodology, questionnaires, and findings are put on the course Web site;
As in any teaching situation, the professors help students gain contextual information, theoretical understanding, disciplinary perspectives, and research procedures;
The student research teams conduct archival and field work on a specific issue concerning information technology and globalization at the different sites; and
Each team posts research findings on the Web and makes a presentation via video teleconferences, using multimedia presentation tools on line.
We are currently in the third year of experimental COLT course offerings. During the next few years, the model will be extended to several courses in the anthropology, modern-languages, sociology, history, business, and education departments, as well as in the law school. Additional faculty will be trained in the use of the technology, and workshops in instructional design will be available. Faculty members will then teach their own classes. More courses will be added in 2001-2003. These courses will form a core base site for this research project (2000-2003).
The COLT project team investigated the effectiveness of an explorative-anthropology course in comparison with a control course taught by the same instructor with conventional methods such as classroom lectures and discussions. The following hypotheses were tested:
Hypothesis 1: The Internet-based COLT course improves the student's learning at a statistically significant level. The COLT model produces superior academic outcomes in terms of the student's comprehension and mastery of the course materials; communicative competence (reading, writing, oral presentation, multimedia presentations); critical-reasoning skills; and knowledge application to problem solving. The COLT method also improves the learner's work motivation and the overall course satisfaction.
Hypothesis 2: The Internet-based COLT course improves the instructor's teaching effectiveness at a statistically significant level. The COLT model produces superior performance as measured by multiple assessment methods in terms of the attainment of the course objectives; the course organization; the quality and coverage of instructional materials; the diversity of teaching formats employed; and the professor's work motivation and job satisfaction.
The COLT course was entitled "Information Technology and Global Culture" and the control course, another anthropology course, was entitled "Japanese Society: Contemporary Issues."
The COLT and control courses were both offered in 1999. Given the time and date difference between the U.S. east coast and Japan, the COLT course was given every Monday night; the COLT course at Keio was offered Tuesday mornings. Students at William and Mary had fifteen computers in their classroom, each capable of independent teleconferencing with Japan. Listed below is the fall 1999 class composition, including sex, age, grade level, and major field of William and Mary students:
|Gender:||Five women, two men|
|Grade Level:||One freshman, three juniors, three seniors|
Thirteen Keio students joined the seven William and Mary students for this course. All of the Japanese students were from the departments of Environmental Information and of General Policy Studies at the Shonan Fujisawa Campus of Keio University. The class composition of the Keio University Students was as follows:
|Gender:||Five women, eight men|
|Grade Level:||Six freshman, five sophomores, two juniors|
Due to the discrepancy in class size and to linguistic problems, (the course was offered in English), the two instructors agreed to match one American student with two Japanese students (in all but one case) to form bi-national research teams.
At William and Mary, the COLT course was offered at a high-tech classroom equipped with fifteen computers with digital cameras and microphones. Each William and Mary student sat in front of one of those computers and started a face-to-face teleconference with his or her Japanese partners, whose images were captured by a digital camera and transmitted via the Internet to the William and Mary screens. An image of the Keio classroom, transmitted via a teleconference between the two professors' computers, was projected onto a large whiteboard in the front of each classroom. Each professor stood in front of his or her classroom, and was visible by teleconference in the other classroom. A control board allowed the professors to project any computer-screen image of the students onto the white board. The instructors gave an introduction and then encouraged student teleconferences on specific topics. The instructors guided the teams both on and off line, answering research-related questions and helping students discuss and negotiate in English. After several weeks, the students were asked to organize bi-national research teams and to develop specific research projects in order to study the cultural dimensions of globalization.
As far as the agency of knowledge creation and dissemination is concerned, the COLT course was more learner centered rather than teacher centered. The students, not the instructors, defined specific topics of inquiry. The two instructors jointly presented the overall framework for research and guided both Japanese and American students during the teleconferences. They also held both traditional and asynchronic (virtual) office hours so that students could consult with them individually outside the classroom. Each professor hosted question-and-answer sessions on line for both Japanese and American students. In addition to communicating with one another via the Internet, students created Web pages and put their research proposals, interview and survey questions, audio-video clips, and any other representations on the Web. They conducted fieldwork in different locations, and wrote joint reports. At the end of the course, they jointly presented findings to the William and Mary and Keio audiences, using multimedia-presentation tools.
"The on-line environment lacks the critical social dimension presumed by traditional classroom experiences"
Unlike lecture-based courses, the COLT course encouraged the learner to be the creator of information and the presenter of acquired knowledge. The students drew upon one another both as partners and resources. The research topics students chose ranged from "a comparative analyses of Sony and Mac electronic marketing strategies" and "the use of Web pages for high-school education," to "the population Diaspora and entrepreneurship of East Indians in Japan and the US." The combination of face-to-face videoconferences, fieldwork at local sites, joint data analysis, and personal interactions via the Internet seems to enhance the student's sense of "real community" and to foster friendship for co-learning in spite of their linguistic, national, and cultural differences.
To date, few studies have tested the effectiveness of classes utilizing collaborative-learning strategies via the Internet. As for the comparison of the conventional on-line courses (that transmit stockable knowledge that can be replicated, archived, retrieved, and transferred) versus face-to-face lecture courses, Johnson et al. studied the differences between a graduate course on human resources that was taught nationwide to individual distant learners and a course on the same subject taught in a conventional graduate-classroom lecture format. All their data were collected at or near the end of the semester. According to Johnson et al., each module began with an overview of the topic followed by a discussion of its application. Within the face-to-face setting, this information was delivered during a three-hour class session using live lectures, PowerPoint presentations, and handouts; while in the online setting the information was delivered through recorded streaming-audio lectures, PowerPoint presentations, and handouts posted on the course Web site. They reported a lack of difference in the learning outcomes from the two course formats taught by the same instructor using the same teaching materials (Johnson et al, 2000).
Such findings, although tentative, do support the continued development of online-instruction programs. However, Johnson et al. learned that student satisfaction in the on-line course was not as high as in the traditional course; "face-to-face" classrooms rate significantly higher in assessment categories such as instructor quality, course quality, course structure, instructor support and student interaction. Johnson, et al further noted that student ratings may tend to be higher when there is a personal connection between the instructor and the students, something that may not typically occur in an on-line course. According to the Johnson, et al study, the on-line environment lacks the critical social dimension presumed by traditional classroom experiences.
To add more methodological depth to the assessment research on collaborative learning, the present team conducted course-portfolio analyses, multiple questionnaire surveys, personal interviews, on-site observation, ethnographic fieldwork, and discourse analyses. Methodologically, the project combined qualitative and quantitative investigations, as well as case study and questionnaire surveys. Throughout the semester the students' e-mail messages, chats, and other exchanges were automatically archived on the course information site. The researchers then categorized the contents and analyzed them. Field researchers conducted participant observation, semi-structured interviews, video recordings of classes, and archival research in both the control course and the COLT course. The student research topics for the control course were similar to those of the COLT course, ranging from US-Japan educational issues to socio-economic problems. Thirty-two undergraduate students were enrolled in the control course, and twenty-seven students completed the course-evaluation form at the end of the semester.
We will report four types of research findings: (a) statistical research based on the end-of-the-term course evaluations; (b) multiple questionnaires on computer literacy and COLT course evaluation; (c) multiple personal interviews; and (d) ethnographic field work.
Ethnographic inquiries were made throughout the semester that further clarified the issues revealed by statistical analyses and interviews. Real-time data, gathered and archived digitally, provided an important check against retrospective reports and attitudinal data that inevitably emerged from survey questionnaires, structured interviews, and student's course evaluations. The process-oriented research in the "real university setting" revealed a number of policy-relevant variables and technical issues that seem to influence the success of the COLT model:
Statistical Analysis of Course Evaluation
At the end of the term, students enrolled in the COLT course and the control course were asked to evaluate their respective courses in terms of the instructor's overall quality, the overall quality of the course, course organization and structure, instructor availability, and support, teaching materials, and other relevant issues. They were asked to rate the course from 1 (poor) to 5 (very good). The mean scores, medians and standard deviations of the evaluation of the two courses are listed below:
|Evaluation Question||COLT Mean||COLT Median||COLT Standard Deviation||Control Mean||Control Median||Control Standard Deviation|
|Overall quality of the instructor||3.6||4.0||0.5||3.6||4.0||0.9|
|Overall Quality of the Course||4.1||4.0||0.4||3.7||4.0||0.8|
|Did the anthropological perspective of this course introduce you to new and interesting ways of thinking about the world?||4.7||5.0||0.5||4.0||4.0||1.0|
|How interesting and relevant were the class meetings?||3.6||4.0||0.5||3.3||3.0||1.1|
|Overall course organization||3.7||4.0||0.5||3.9||4.0||0.7|
|Opportunities for questions||4.4||5.0||0.5||3.7||4.0||0.9|
|Quality of reading materials||3.0||3.0||1.2||3.8||4.0||0.9|
|Usefulness of slides, films, and guest lectures||4.4||4.0||0.5||3.7||4.0||0.4|
It is noteworthy that while the scores for the instructor's teaching performance are identical — both 3.6 — a significant difference in scores is noted for the quality of the courses. The COLT course received 4.1 while the Control course was rated at 3.7. What is more significant is the reply to the question "Did the anthropological perspective of this course introduce you to new and interesting ways of thinking about the world?" The COLT course students gave a mean score of 4.7 (median 5.0, which is the highest score). This score is substantially higher than the 4.0 mean score given by those who took the conventional anthropology/Japanese Society course. (The weaker scores received in the categories of "enthusiasm" and "knowledge" in the COLT course can be explained by the fact that this was the first time this instructor taught the "IT and Global Culture" course, while he had five years experience in teaching the conventional Anthropology of Japan). It is reasonable to conclude that the COLT course's anthropological relevance is proven.
We conducted two questionnaire surveys concerning the students' self-evaluation of their technical competence. At the beginning of the semester all students in the COLT course, except for one graduate student, evidenced a basic knowledge of computer usage (i.e. word processing, mouse manipulation, familiarity with the Internet). This particular graduate student had no prior experience with computers, and she eventually dropped out of the course. As for the rest of the students, there was no major discrepancy in their prior computer experiences.
On the first day of class, August 26, 1999, the students were given approximately ten minutes to complete a Computer Literacy Survey. In December they took the same questionnaire again. The purpose of the survey was threefold: (1) to gain an understanding of the level of computer skills and their improvement, (2) to analyze student familiarity with various software and their improvement, and (3) to gather information on their emotional and personal attitudes toward the use of the Internet and computers in general.
Students were asked how many hours a week they used a computer. Their responses indicate a polarity in usage: from three to thirty hours a week of computer utilization. Three students use a computer one to three hours a week. One student uses a computer five to ten hours a week. Three students use a computer twenty to twenty-five hours a week.
Students were asked to indicate the three most frequent reasons for their computer use. From a list of eleven options, the students indicated they use five: all seven use e-mail, six use word processing, five use the World Wide Web, two use chat, and one uses graphics. The students were asked to evaluate the importance of several factors relating to Internet use. They regarded navigating tools as the most essential function and rated the following elements in order of their importance: transmission speed, usefulness of subject matter, audio clarity, knowledge of subject matter, help line, physical comfort, trouble shooting, and feedback mechanisms.
"Sociality was the single most significant experience that the students garnered from the course"
Students were also asked to list five adjectives that described their attitude toward the Internet on the first day of class. Students responded with a wide variety of adjectives that can be classified into positive and negative categories. In the first survey on the Internet, 67% of the adjectives were positive and included terms such as useful, fast, exciting, interested, helpful, educational, necessary to life, appreciative, awe, expansive, amazing, powerful, dynamic, curious, cheap and motivated. Thirty-three percent of the adjectives used to describe their feelings toward the Internet were negative. They included stubborn, fearful, distaste, confusion, behind, overwhelmed, unorganized, and arbitrary.
As the semester neared its completion, in early December, students were again asked to anonymously complete a course evaluation survey. This survey, juxtaposed with the survey at the beginning of the course, revealed a 17% increase in their level of comfort with the Internet. By December, 84% of the adjectives used to describe their attitude toward the Internet were positive (in contrast to 67% at the beginning of the semester).
The COLT Course Evaluation
We conducted two questionnaire surveys on the course in addition to the end-of-the term course evaluation. At the beginning of the semester, the COLT students were asked to list five adjectives that described their attitude toward this new course, Information Technology and Global Culture. In early December, students were again asked to list five adjectives describing their feelings toward the course. The results of the two surveys indicate that the students were more pleased with the class in December. They used adjectives such as amazing, humorous, awesome, radical, and fun. The negative reactions cited by some of the students included adjectives such as difficult, slow, processual, and frustrating. The two surveys of August and December were juxtaposed to see changes in their personal attitudes toward the course. In contrast to the adjectives used in August, in the later survey some of more frequently used positive adjectives included excited, happy, fun, social, creative, curious, useful, stimulating, international, informative, interesting, encompassing, challenging, new, relevant, motivated, and thrilled. The negative adjectives listed included nervous, apprehensive, intimidating and demanding. The survey responses attest to the success of the COLT model in students' work motivation and course satisfaction. Overall, student participants indicated a high level of emotional responses to the COLT pedagogical model.
We conducted multiple personal interviews with students in early September, early December, and late January. On a technological level, students cited as their most significant experiences of the course "learning communication technologies," "making a homepage," and "learning how to use Internet functions." The concurrent interviews with students showed that William and Mary students conceded that their level of cooperation with their Keio partners was limited, unorganized and difficult at times, but that their feelings towards the course were positive. Students cited their level of cooperation with their research partners as invigorating, stimulating, creative, exciting, and smooth.
In addition, we learned that sociality was the single most significant experience that the students garnered from the Information Technology and Global Culture course. William and Mary students described how invigorating and mentally stimulating it was to communicate with Japanese students over the Internet. For example, one student stated the most important activity she experienced was "interviewing people on several different continents." (Her research project included electronic surveys sent to people in India and England, as well as Japan and the U.S.) Similarly, another student cited his most significant experience was "performing fieldwork with people in Japan."
Likewise, students described how exciting it was to make friends via the Internet. One student said, "the greatest highlight for me was being able to discuss our weekends, just as if we were friends from any normal class." Another student summarized the general consensus of the William and Mary participants with her statement, "the highlight for me was making friends in Japan." One female student said, "I think the best part was actually just chit-chatting about nothing at all with your partner, I mean, yeah, the project was cool, but really getting to know someone was probably the best part of this." In the COLT project, then, sociality indeed plays a vital role for motivating the students' learning in cross-cultural communication skills and technological growth.
Our ethnographic field research has uncovered that there were several other issues that influenced the success of the COLT project: matching technological tools and diverse student activities; dealing with different educational systems; handling different academic expectations; maintaining a good balance between technological innovation and pedagogical needs; and negotiating power dynamics.
Matching Tools and Activities
Matching the right technological tools with diverse student activities is important. With the COLT model, we have learned that more specific technological tools must be created and geared toward each step of student activities as students engage in collaborative research and learning. While designers of learning environments may think that the more sophisticated the technological tools, the better it is for the course, we have learned that this is not necessarily the case. The COLT students used different tools for different activities and did not always use the most sophisticated tool such as international videoconferences for problem solving. The steps that defined the contextual flow of the course in chronological order include these: course introduction; rapport building among and between student participants; collaborative creation of student research topics; collaborative creation of research strategy; field-data collection; field-data analysis; writing of research findings; collaborative editing of documents, narratives and other written materials; creation of multimedia materials (gathering of visual materials, combination of narratives and video/picture strips, ordering of slides); multimedia presentation; and evaluation.
|Student Activity||Timeframe||Use of Learning Tools|
|Course introduction||August-September||access to course info home page, e-mail|
|Rapport building||October||home page creation, videoconferences, chat|
|Research theme||October||e-mail, chat, homepage|
|Research Strategy||October-November||videoconference, chat, e-mail|
|Field-data collection||November||chat, videoconference, e-mail|
|Field-data analysis||November||chat, e-mail|
|Writing||Individual||file exchange, e-mail|
|Editing||Individual||file exchange, e-mail|
|Multimedia production||January||PowerPoint presentation, videoconference, chat, e-mail, file exchange|
|Evaluation||January||e-mail, chat, homepage|
During the beginning of the semester (late August) and most of September, students familiarized themselves with the course Web page and utilized e-mail. Because most students enrolled in the course had prior experience with the Internet, the course-introduction phase was not a time of query or confusion for participants. Led by IT experts, several workshops were organized in the early phase of the project to enhance students' computer capabilities. The students' learning curve was steep, and in less than a month, all of them created their own home pages and posted their research strategies. The students' mastery of technology tools and techniques improved significantly, as did their ability to build social systems crucial to the maintenance of cross-cultural and intra-cultural, collaborative research. By mid-October, most students were comfortable with most of the technical tools provided for the course.
Ethnographic observation over the duration of the course, however, suggests that there were several shifts in students' preferences for particular technological tools at various stages. In October students established rapport with technology-support staff while they were researching their semester themes and developing their research strategies. That month they were using international videoconference, e-mail, chat, and the course home page extensively. November brought weekly videoconferences and more in-depth research strategizing. Once individual research was under way with research partners, the students concentrated on collecting data and spent less time putting the materials on the Web. During this period, they became more dependent on e-mail and chat, rather than videoconferences — a switch to a simpler mode of communication.
This interesting regression toward a simpler technology coincided with their mastery of videoconferencing and with the end of their initial rapport building. By then, the students began to focus more on the content of their communication rather than the usage of communication tools. As they had much to talk about, the students opted for simple, ubiquitous, and convenient e-mail messages, instead of holding videoconferences that required a higher level of coordination. In addition, on a technical level, the audio quality of the videoconferences was not optimal because seven or eight concurrent videoconferences in one session created background noise for those sitting close to one another. It is also possible that the students found written communication to be less uncertain than the videoconferencing, which offered too many layers of meaning with its oral, visual, and kinetic inputs.
From the end of November through January, correspondence between Japanese and American students waned due to scheduling difficulties that will be discussed shortly. However, during this period some students were engaged in field data collection and analysis implementing videoconferencing and e-mail. Because students were actively involved in multiple tasks, the months of November through December witnessed the most stressful phases of the course. William and Mary students complained about scheduling conflicts. They conceded that the level of cooperation with their Keio partners was limited, unorganized, and difficult at times. Some students were encouraged strongly by the professor to open up and talk more during videoconferencing. Student participants were also utilizing the technological tools with the highest level of sophistication, such as Trans-Pacific file exchange (Netfile, a program created at Keio University), PowerPoint presentations, and videoconferences, as well as e-mail and the creation of their own home pages. During this period, more coordination among students by instructors became necessary, as miscommunication, misunderstanding, different expectations, and different emotional commitment became more salient among the participants.
Following a winter break from academic responsibilities, William and Mary student participants had an opportunity to evaluate their experiences. The final surge of activities took place after the winter break, as they were required to create multimedia presentations of their research findings. The fact that they were to present the research findings to the Japanese and American audiences renewed the momentum, and during this phase students tended to use all forms of technological tools. By then, they had become adept at using technologies like PowerPoint, video editing, and net-meetings.
Negotiating Different Education Systems
We expected some cross-cultural communication problems due to the bi-cultural nature of this course. A significant communication challenge for implementing the COLT course, however, was not necessarily language or national-culture related. Rather, many communication problems surfaced because of the educational system disjuncture between Keio University and William and Mary. While both universities use semester systems, there are significant differences in their course scheduling and academic calendar. For example, Keio students do not come back to the campus from the summer vacation until late September, while William and Mary begins its fall semester at the end of August. Therefore, by the time Keio participants became ready to learn about this new course, William and Mary students were already one month into the course. The fall semester at William and Mary ends in early December, while Keio does not finish its semester until the end of January. In order to solve this calendar problem, the instructor, with the consent of the students and administration, extended the William and Mary course into January. The instructor gave out "incomplete" grades at the end of the fall semester and required William and Mary students to come back for the final joint presentation in January and to receive the grades for the course in January. William and Mary students returned to Williamsburg to complete their final presentations — the culmination of the entire semester — after several weeks of winter vacation. We noticed that electronic communications between the research partners across the Pacific fizzled while they were away in December, even though most students had computers at home and a few did send e-mail messages during that time. The disjuncture of schedules between Keio and William and Mary raised several concerns for the students. On January 22, the students participated voluntarily in a Saturday night practice-viedoconferencing session. Later a male student said, "When we are ready to push really hard, they (Keio students) were maybe slacking a little bit, and when they are ready to push, you know, it's Saturday night here." A female student concurred and said, "I was going around asking people the questionnaire during the last two days of finals (in early December.) My partners put off their fieldwork, so they were doing their fieldwork during my Christmas break." Another male student commented on the same issue, "I think if we would have done the presentations before we went to break, I think mine would have been better. Because we were constantly talking to the partners and over break I tried to talk to them, you know . . . and you kind of lose your track. Like, you are on this track and you gotta do this presentation and you go to break and you get a little off track and I think it took away from the presentation."
Dealing with Different Academic Expectations
In a personal interview, the William and Mary course instructor was quick to point our other inherent structural and cultural problems. At William and Mary, most regular courses are three-credit courses, and a typical undergraduate takes four courses per semester. The instructor who is familiar with the Japanese system said, "In Japan, students are taking twelve courses for the whole year, and that means twelve different classes a week! They don't have the structural ability to focus on a particular class as the William and Mary students have the imperative to do that. And, that won't change unless it is made a two-koma course (or the equivalent of two courses) for the Japan side, or unless Keio restructures its entire curriculum." He also noted that because of cultural reasons, he instructed his students to accept a more "overt leadership role" in completing assignments.
William and Mary students were confused about what was expected of them and what the Japanese professors expected of their students. One William and Mary student, for example, said, "Just about two days before the project was due, I realized after I wrote e-mails to the Keio University instructor and Professor R. here, I just realized that they were expecting two completely different things for the project. They wanted us to do the whole layout completely differently, and for my group — my group and I just had some communication problems that were not English related (because they were really good with their English) but, they just had a different assignment over there and we just realized it at the last moment. So, I am just hoping [in the future] there can be a little more communication about that."
"Non-English speaking Keio students raised 'language-based hegemony' as an example of power asymmetry"
Students agreed it would have been helpful for them to have access to the Keio students' syllabus. Another suggested holding more collaborative, lecture-based International videoconferences as opposed to the focus on group-research videoconferences. One female student contrasted the teaching styles of the Keio and William and Mary instructors. She said that the classroom in Japan was a "little bit more relaxed than the William and Mary Professor was allowing us to be . . ." This student suggested that a videoconference where both teachers take turns instructing over the Internet would allow both groups the opportunity to share the "classroom aspect," that it would improve communications, and "our one-on-one relationships."
Balancing Technological Innovation and Pedagogical Needs
Another issue is to find a good balance between technological innovation and pedagogical needs. New learning technologies are constantly evolving, and it is understandable that the technology-oriented people wish to introduce better or more innovative tools to the learning environment. While this anthropology course was under way, we needed to upgrade technology and conduct some technological experiments. Early in 1999, Keio and William and Mary established high-bandwidth direct connections between the two campuses, and we tested new environments and software for trans-Pacific file exchange, Netpoint, collaborative editing, video archiving, and retrievals. While everyone, including the technical-support staff at William and Mary, agreed to the so-called Telepresence Software Suite experimentation, the implementation and experimentation posed several challenges for course management and pedagogical apparatus.
One William and Mary technical specialist summarized mixed emotions expressed by the William and Mary staff about the software experimentation done by the Keio University technology staff. He noted that the experimentation with new tools was good in principle, but the timing of the introduction of the tools in the middle of semester was a problem. He said that the delayed introduction of the tools, and the initial lack of English versions of the tools, made the experiment more difficult. Keio technology staff had to visit Williamsburg several times during the semester to help the William and Mary staff. Another technician suggested that we should probably establish a 'break-out' lab for future experimentation with the software.
Like the technicians, the instructors were not very enthusiastic about technical experimentation in their class. The William and Mary instructor said, "From my position, it was a request that was made upon me and the course in general — in the attempt to accommodate that relationship, . . . but it created a diversion for me and, I think, for the students, but perhaps not as much for the students as for me in being able to have a sense of control over the class. If I had the option, I would probably create a separate space for that kind of experimentation."
In contrast to the reactions of the William and Mary technical staff and the instructor, students were interested in technical experimentation. However, a female student complained that "We didn't get a chance to actually practice using the net-ware that the Keio group brought. They had to come in here and really fast introduce that stuff to us, and it wasn't fair to them and it wasn't fair to us to have to go through that. That could have all been avoided if a Keio technical person had been here during the semester." Another female student was more positive. She said that the software experimentation was "like a special kind of thing — yeah, we have these two people on both sides of the world that are doing this. Let's have them test it out!"
Negotiating Power Dynamics
Because of the number of student enrollments, class composition and language problems, one American student and two Japanese students were matched to form bi-national research teams (in all but one case). William and Mary students expressed concerns about the structural inequality of the research groups. One student said, "I just had a recent problem where they were talking about how to do the presentation and I said, 'Look, I don't want to do this and this is why . . . ' and they somehow got together and did it anyway, forgetting that I had said anything and so it was just kind of like two on one." Another female student said, "I just think it was a lot of work for one person on our side. I mean, I had actually asked my professor before if we could work with more than one and there were fewer people on our side. It was just a lot of work and they had two people doing it and we only had one, and so it was just hard." At the same time, non-English speaking Keio students raised "language-based hegemony" as an example of power asymmetry between the two classes.
The insights gained from our study will help us improve the COLT course for 2000. We plan to create a numerical parity between Japanese and American students, and to invite a Keio person to the William and Mary campus. The classroom scheduling is a more difficult issue. However, we plan to delay the start of the actual course work at William and Mary in order to synchronize the start of the group projects. In 2000, we will have one course syllabus, one course schedule, and one Web site for the COLT course at two universities. We will truly integrate cross-national, cross-institutional, collaborative teaching and learning.
Professionals engaged in cross-cultural projects such as direct foreign investment, inter-university research projects, technological transfer, academic exchanges, study-abroad programs, and corporate research and development establish structural, cultural, and value differences among project participants to successfully complete their tasks. As anthropologically-trained academics, we believe that anthropological insights are effective tools for cultural negotiation, team-building, and conflict resolution. Anthropological training enhances the person's negotiation and problem-solving skills, particularly under a culturally uncertain circumstance where a "common-sense scheme" or a "tried-and-proven solution" does not exist.
The COLT pedagogical perspective is vital to liberal education partly because in the information age, any form of certain knowledge will eventually be encapsulated in a computer program. In this day and age, we believe that the most successful William and Mary and Keio graduates we can produce are the ones who can deal with uncertain and emergent knowledge. Using the latest technological tools and anthropological insights, our project aims at bringing the world to our students and at providing them with a lively social environment where they can engage with one another for intellectual exploration. This project directly relates to our strategic initiatives to develop student-oriented learning tools, pedagogical innovations, and anthropological education in order to produce tomorrow's intellectual leaders.
The research described in this paper was supported by the William and Mary Faculty Research Fund, American Studies Graduate Fellowship, and Keio University Telepresence Project Program. The authors would like to thank the students and instructors of the COLT courses, the Department of Anthropology, the American Studies Program, the Reves Center for International Studies, the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Charles Center, Information Technology Center of the College of William and Mary, and the various leaders, groups, and centers of Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus who provided valuable support and constructive feedback. The authors wish to thank G. Cell, M. Riess, C. Green, D. Aebersold, G. Shoal, J. Roberson, N. Saito, J. Murai, Y. Suzuki, Y. Ishibashi, and others for their assistance with the COLT course implementation and the data collection activities.
Tomoko Hamada is Margaret Hamilton Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. She completed her B.A. in American Studies at Vassar College, M.A. in Sociology at Keio University, Tokyo, and Ph.D. in Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. She began her career at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, Republic of South Africa, and served as Director of Asian Studies at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Since 1988, she has been a member of the anthropology faculty at William and Mary, which is the second oldest university in the United States. Hamada is a recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award for excellence in teaching, the William and Mary Alumni Society Faculty Award, and the Commonwealth of Virginia's Outstanding Faculty Award. The primary focus of her research has been on the culture of complex organizations and organizational learning. Her publications include American Enterprise in Japan, Anthropological Perspectives on Organizational Culture, and Anthropologists and Global Business Organizations. She is the editor of Studies in Third World Societies and has authored numerous articles. She is past president of the Virginia Consortium of Asian Studies, and an executive board member of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Kathleen Scott graduated in 1997 from Smith College with a B.A. in American Studies. Following her undergraduate studies, Kate relocated to Washington D.C. where she was employed at the National Museum of American History through a grant from the Smithsonian Women's Committee. There she produced and directed a biographical documentary on the military career of the first woman to attain the rank of general. Upon completion of the video documentary, "The First Woman General: BG Anna Mae Hays, USA, Ret.," Kate transferred to the National Museum of American Art where she worked in the Office of External Affairs. In the spring of 1998, Kate became press assistant to Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). She stayed until she began work on her Master's degree at the College of William and Mary. Currently she is enrolled in her third semester of Ph.D. coursework in the American Studies Program at the College of William and Mary. She may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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