In this article, I discuss how an content-based adjunct was implemented in a computer class using a project-based design. I describe the syllabus, the Internet project and its outcome, and the adjunct language component.
Miyazaki International College (MIC) is a newly instituted four-year college. Its curricular features are unique for a university in Japan. The entire curriculum, except for Japanese language courses, is taught in English, and all classes in the first two years follow a content-based adjunct model. In other words, classes are taught concurrently by teaching pairs made up of a content specialist and a language specialist. Teaching pairs work out between themselves how to structure each class; some pairs adopt an integrated approach in which the adjunct literally becomes the bridge to the content, while others maintain a strong delineation between the two parts of the class which may result in the adjunct working on language issues indirectly related to the content.
In Applied Information Science (AIS), the course professor, Jim Kieley, and I decided that content could best be supported by English instruction through an integrated adjunct approach. We would use a project-based curriculum inasmuch as a well-designed project effectively combines language and computer skills. Project work implies that students work independently. Following our basic outline of the project, students would select an aspect they wanted to work on, locate and organize materials and become responsible for presenting the end product within a defined time frame. Thus, the project would allow students to express their interests and to demonstrate what they were capable of doing in an independent environment. We hoped also that the project would motivate and involve the students in the class.
We divided the content of the course into roughly three sections: the introduction to (or review of) computer and language basics; a suggestion of some structured mini-projects, with an introduction to Internet's World Wide Web (WWW) as a research tool; and the project itself, with any additional training as needed. Because environmental issues are an underlying theme at MIC, we felt a paper-light class would demonstrate how practical the technological mode was in the practice of environmental responsibility.
We created our course book on the WWW. The Web site included the syllabus, readings, assignments, quizzes, help documents and, of course, links to Internet resources. The class consisted of 17 students. We met twice a week for a total of six hours.
The First Section
We were shocked to find that many of our students lacked even basic typing/keyboarding skills. To remedy this, we encouraged them to practice the Mavis Beacon typing program during their free time. To ensure this practice, we instituted a weekly typing competition. Students were separated into four groups, each with approximately the same average typing speed. We posted weekly typing results of each group, by speed, on the AIS homepage.
Then we quickly moved into an introduction of computers--terminology, basic applications, computer networks, and the Internet. Students learned about Microsoft Word, a word processing application, and Pegasus Mail, an e-mail application. By connecting the instructor's computer to an overhead projector with an LCD panel, we could project images onto a large screen in the front of the room and onto two 21-inch ceiling-mounted monitors in the middle of the room. This allowed students to watch and follow on their own computers. I usually monitored the students, indicating to Jim when all the students were on track and helping out those who got lost. I also noted new vocabulary and structures that were used frequently in those sessions. These would form the basis for the follow-up language instruction dealing with all the new vocabulary. We also worked intensively on getting the students to understand and use some of the basic Macintosh operating system language needed in a Macintosh environment (e.g., go to X, open X, select X, delete X), in addition to the language they needed for functioning effectively in the MIC network environment.
The Second Section
We introduced the Internet, specifically the WWW, as a research tool. Given simple scavenger hunt type activities, students used different search tools to find specific information on topics of the instructors' choosing. Later, students had more freedom to choose topics they would research on the Internet, preferably focusing on those that would be of possible use in their classes at MIC. Language instruction highlighted learning how to: (a) reference Internet resources, (b) summarize the information, and (c) judge the usefulness of the resources. During this time, we interspersed several short lectures on various aspects of applied information science, including the computer as a system, and the history of information science and computer networks. We also presented a guest speaker who demonstrated how sound could be manipulated using the MIDI system.
The Final Section
Jim and I had agreed on the need for a unifying useful project theme that individual student projects would support. We settled on the theme of an electronic guidebook to Miyazaki, which we named "Miyazaki Viewpoints." Students were to decide on which aspect of the Miyazaki area they wanted to research, find and organize the information, and then format it to be viewed on the WWW. They were also expected to make an oral presentation on their finished product. This required teaching them how to format information (i.e., text, graphics, sound or video), for the Web. Students used the following applications: HTML Pro for creating HTML documents, Sound Edit Pro for creating sound files, Adobe Photoshop for creating graphics and working with scanned images, Movie Player for capturing video, and Graphic Converter and GIF Converter for converting graphics to a GIF format.
An important project requirement was for the students to have clearly defined tasks and due dates with progress checks built in. In weighing student autonomy against student capabilities, I wanted to ensure that students would succeed in the project. I believed that success would depend on establishing set expectations so that the students would not flounder nor procrastinate. Additionally, the Web, with its potential of being viewed by millions of people, was a possible showplace for MIC, so we wanted the text be of a high quality. We stressed the importance of well-organized, well-structured writing to the students. I tried to edit every piece of writing before it was put on-line, attempting to have the students correct their own work, or to sit down together at the computer for corrections. Thus, blatant errors and misspellings were corrected before others viewed the project. Most students gave the project their best effort; Miyazaki Viewpoints presents an honest and informative overview of the Miyazaki area.
Question: Would we do a project-based semester again? I have to answer yes. The projects allowed the better students to show off their talents, it gave all the students a way to apply their knowledge, it forced students to use problem-solving and decision making skills, and it motivated and involved the students in the class.
However, projects are not without pitfalls. Projects must be well-designed. Even for a very small-scale project, good design is crucial. Projects take a great deal of time, both in preparation and actualization. We had to drastically reduce the amount of technology we wanted to introduce. Students must have adequate preparatory training before starting on a project, and much time must be allowed for learning how to format the information gathered. Structure, at a minimum, should include project deadlines with built in progress checks rather than only an end product grade. The fact is that not all students work well in an independent environment.
My project-based class of the future might have the following recommendations incorporated into it: (a) set the project theme that students can easily research and do on their own; (b) approve the student aspect of the project before the student begins gathering information; (c) allow students to work in pairs if they wish; (d) provide time-management training, and break the project into stages with clear goals; (e) provide a model of each stage, with specific training (e.g., if you expect the students to conduct interviews, make sure students know how to introduce themselves and their project, break the ice and initiate the interview, develop good interview questions, thank the interviewee, write up the interview); (f) develop progress checks and forms for reporting progress for each stage; (g) develop grading criteria and grade each stage of the project, with clear guidelines for any writing, including submission of drafts; (h) allow sufficient time for the students to complete the project.
Projects are a valuable teaching tool if used correctly. These
recommendations can mean the difference between a successful project
and one that doesn't work. We consider our experience at MIC a
See the Student Projects Page
Henry, J. (1994) Teach through projects. London: Kogan