Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom: Overview and Perspectives. (Hampton Press, 1995)

Berge, Z. L. & Collins, M. P. (Eds.) (1995). Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom: Volumes 1-3. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Chapter 1 provides a foundation for understanding the terminology and processes of computer-mediated communication. Gerald M. Santoro defines CMC and gives examples of the various ways in which computers are used to mediate human communication, especially in support of instruction. This chapter describes how typical members of the academic community use computers for direct, human-to-human communication, informatics, and computer-aided instruction. Santoro describes the basic functions of electronic mail, group conferencing, and interactive messaging systems before going on to discuss the purposes of on-line databases and campus-wide information systems. This chapter provides the basic concepts and context necessary for understanding the more specific and in-depth information provided in later chapters.

In Chapter 2, Jill H. Ellsworth addresses the second half of our title, "And the Online Classroom." In an effort to expand access, meet learner needs and overcome problems encountered by nontraditional, commuter students, she instituted CMC in two courses requiring intensive interaction between student and faculty. For many students, CMC provided a new avenue for learning--one not reliant on time, location, or instructor--that allowed them to access information in an exploratory fashion. Further, CMC gave many students a chance to use electronic mail, computer conferencing, and synchronous communication with their peers to independently build their ownuseful knowledge structures.

CMC's flexibility and variety allows instructors to meet numerous learning and personal needs, especially when working with individuals with special needs and those who are less mobile or shy. However, many CMC applications require that students first ta ke the time to learn considerable information and skills and be provided with access to computers and software that can be costly.

Ellsworth determined that CMC enhances both the teaching and the learning process. In considering the major benefits of CMC, her students said that they appreciated the timely feedback, the accessibility of faculty and resources outside of class hours, and their ability to get more out of the class.

James N. Shimabukuro, in Chapter 3, examines the potential impact of computer-mediated communication on writing instruction by developing a future scenario in a college setting. However, the scenario is equally relevant to other instructional levels. He next describes the growth of computer networks, using a generational model:

First: Local Area Network (LAN)

Second: Wide Area Network (WAN)

Third: Remote Access Network (RAN)

Fourth: Global Access Network (GAN)

In the fourth generation model, the traditional college campus is no longer the focal point of instructional delivery; instructors and students are electronically linked around the world, and they seldom, if ever, meet face-to-face. Faculty offices do not have to be grouped at a single geographical location; instructors are able to work out of home offices, often far removed from a physical campus. A campus may house conferencing and administrative facilities, but traditional classrooms have all but disappeared; the future campus is primarily the geographical base for the mainframe or whatever system functions as the network server. Shimabukuro has based his future scenario on the ways the university community might use CMC in a fourth generation network, and he closes his chapter with a discussion of the consequences and implications of this model for classroom teachers today.

In Chapter 4, Joseph Kinner and Norman Coombs outline the problems and opportunities of adaptive computing and provides vignettes of persons who have made significant use of adaptive computing in school. The chapter gives an in-depth report on a pilot project that enabled two courses using the Internet to unite classes of hearing and deaf students from Gallaudet University and the Rochester Institute of Technology into a single, virtual classroom. Two-thirds of the participants were hearing-impaired, and one was blind. The success of this project demonstrates ways inwhich CMC can mainstream disabled learners into the educational system.

Kinner and Coombs take the position that the personal computer equipped with adaptive technology is one of the most empowering and liberating tools in the lives of persons with physical disabilities. The computer, along with the CMC it enables, opens education and the entire information world to a new population. Further, it has been demonstrated that CMC can enable this population in a mainstream environment.

In Chapter 5, Ann Pemberton and Robert Zenhausern explore how CMC can be used as a rehabilitation technique by providing basic computer literacy, motivational reading, writing, and thinking activities, and an introduction to the world to adolescents with educational disabilities. The authors summarize actual classroom situations that have arisen over the past two years as a result of their CMC activities, and at the same time show how special education teachers can use CMC to address their own professional needs. They draw their examples from the archives of a series of listerv discussion groups located at St. John's University in New York City and transcripts of the on-line experiences of learning disabled adolescents in a high school in rural Virginia. The chapter concludes with tips for teachers and a list of available on-line resources specific to the needs of those involved in special education.

In Chapter 6, Linda S. Fowler and Daniel D. Wheeler report on a nationwide survey of 25 Kindergarten-Grade 12 teachers actively using computer-mediated communications in their classrooms, which found that these teachers were pleased with their successes. The teachers reported that their use of CMC contributed to the development of a cooperative learning environment inwhich their students worked not only with each other, but also with peers around the world. They also noted an increase in cultural understanding and an improvement in writing skills. These teachers, enthusiastic pioneers of CMC overcame considerable difficulties to achieve their successes, but noted that better institutional support will be necessary if CMC is to become wides pread in K-12 classrooms.

In Chapter 7, Katy Silberger examines changes in the traditional role and structure of libraries in higher education as they face the technological opportunities and pressures stemming from increased use of new electronic information formats, such as electronic journals and monographs, and electronic publishing networks. In forecasting the role of the library of the future, Silberger notes that the proliferation of electronic text will add to, rather than replace, paper-based library holdings. Not all libraries will choose to archive electronic text, but instead will provide local, national, and international access and retrieval services for their patrons. Silberger believes libraries will remain the scholarly information centers of universities, but increasingly, their added role will be to facilitate research and communication within the global scholarly community.

George D. Baldwin, in Chapter 8, opens with a discussion of the implicit conflict between Indian cultural values and beliefs and the English language used in most CMC. Indian students can adapt to the features of CMC that promote cooperative, active learning; however, the text-based nature of the medium is problematic, especially when students are required to participate before they have ascertained the relative ranking of other correspondents. But as long as students are allowed to watch, "listen in," and reflect prior to active participation, CMC can help them learn some of the skills necessary for success in the information society. Baldwin also reports on a number of Native American educational computer conferencing networks, providing access information and addresses.

John J. Saraille and Thomas A. Gentry (Chapter 9) present the Fractal Factory, a virtual laboratory for teaching and research that is evolving from a combination of computer networks, new analytical programs, digital image compression technology, and the expanding resources of the Internet. The model and core concept for the Fractal Factory come from the process of computing fractal dimensions, a process that has applications in many subject areas and provides a new cognitive linkage between the quantitative methods used in teaching science and real-world problems. The authors discuss the current status of the Fractal Factory in the hope that their example will help others gain access to collaboration in this CMC venue. They suggest that the study of fractals provides both a rich source of new insight on the natural world and a subject matter with broad applications for CMC-based instruction.

Raleigh C. Muns, in Chapter 10, suggests a continuity in scholarly communication from the Socratic dialog to the computer-mediated scholarly discussion groups typically found on the Internet. He describes and contrasts the Internet's e-mail-based communication channels, listserv discussion groups, and Usenet newsgroups, and offers two possible ways to evaluate on-line discussions: forum analysis and a methodology he developed for his own electronic publication, the List Review Service. Muns briefly reviews five existing on-line discussion forums that he has found useful for both learning about on-line communication and uncovering Internet resources: PACS-L, Comserve, IPCT-L, VPIEJ-L, and LIBREF-L.

Michael Szabo's chapter (Chapter 11) has two purposes: to provide a brief historical overview of PLATO and to examine several of PLATO's features that support and promote a wide range of communication for student learning. In developing one of the most powerful systems for the computer-assisted instruction form of computer-human interaction, PLATO's creators pioneered new methods of conferencing, messaging, and database management. Examining these new methods should give educators ideas about how they might develop their own communications applications using evolving network systems such as PLATO.

In the 12th and final chapter, Fay Sudweeks, Mauri Collins and John December introduce and explain several other important resources for those interested in computer networks, networking, and the Internet. They describe the basic navigation tools (FTP and Telnet) and give instructions on how to use these tools to search for, discover, and retrieve needed information. The authors compare and contrast various interactive conferencing systems, with an eye toward their potential uses in education. December's CMC list offers readers a compact but comprehensive guide to a broad range of resources concerning computer-mediated communication available in several media.


In Chapter 1, Robert Nalley describes the instructional design process that led to the incorporation of CMC into two existing courses and offers practical guidance in instructional design to those who would consider CMC as an instructional tool.

Michael Day's and Trent Batson's chapter (Chapter 2) demonstrates how a particular application of CMC, Electronic Networks For Interaction (ENFI), is being used to change the social dynamics of the writing classroom. ENFI is not a specific software package but rather an electronic implementation of the concept that writing can actually be taught in a computer lab with a network supporting real-time CMC. Because ENFI allows teachers and students to explore, collaborate, and expand on ideas in class in writing, and allows them to see each other in the process of developing ideas, writing to and for each other and not just to "the teacher," ENFI supplements and expands on the activities teachers can use to help students meaningfully participate in a discourse community and improve their writing.

In Chapter 3, Karen Hartman, Sara Kiesler, Lee Sproull and their colleagues examine the effects of using network technologies in learning to write on teacher-student and student-student interactions. In a writing course emphasizing multiple drafts and collaboration, two sections used traditional modes of communication (face-to-face, paper, phone);and two other sections, in addition to using traditional modes, also used various electronic modes (electronic mail, bulletinboards, etc.). The patterns of social interaction were measured twice: six weeks into the semester and again at the end of the semester. Results indicate that teachers in the networked sections interacted more with their students than teachers in the regular sections. Whereas teachers in the regular sections marginally increased their use of traditional communication overtime, teachers in the networked sections substantially increased their use of electronic communication over time without significantly decreasing their use of traditional modes of teacher-student communication. In addition, they found that teachers communicated more electronically with less able students than with more able students and that less able students communicated more electronically with other students.

In Chapter 4, Helen J. Schwartz uses experiences gained in an introductory literature class over the course of five semesters to explore the evolutionary process of answering the questions: "How and why should technology be used in a particular discipline?" and "How does it serve urban commuters in particular?" Nontraditional urban commuter students used computers in class and out to discuss course work as a supplement to face-to-face classes. Experience with five different configurations of pedagogical methods are described, use of a computer program developed by Schwartz for use in her classes. These helped shape procedures in a distance-education course, with subsequent replanning. Her current conclusions are presented, but she feels that teachers who learn from them must also evolve and discover their own answers.

In the fifth chapter, Russell A. Hunt describes one set of strategies, called "Collaborative Investigation," for embedding written language in social situations in educational contexts. Dramatic changes in theories of language and literacy learning have been underway for some time and have taken into account ideas of pragmatic coherence, authenticity in interpersonal dialogue, and situational constraints on communication. Only recently, however, have there been consequences for classroom practice at the postsecondary level. Huntís strategy has been used in recent years in a wide range of disciplines and for students ranging from freshmen to those in graduate school. More specifically, it describes one way in which computer network technology has been utilized to address the logistic and practical difficulties posed by such uses of writing and reading and to facilitate treating language in authentically dialogic ways. A class collaboratively investigating 18th-century English literature used electronic mail for communication between student and teacher and betweenstudents, an electronic bulletin board for "class discussions" and decision making, and a dedicated common directory for creating, sharing, and editing research reports on various aspects of the subject and for producing a "class book"--a desktop-published result of the work of the course, of which each student got a copy.

Edward Barrett's chapter (Chapter 6) describes the Networked Educational On-line System (NEOS) that was developed by writing faculty with support from Project Athena at MIT. NEOS does not model presumed cognitive states in students; rather it models the interactions among all members of a writing class. NEOS supports the creation, exchange, annotation, and display of text in real-class time, as well as out of class at numerous workstations throughout the fully distributed MIT network. Use of NEOS in the electronic classroom and out of class empowers students as peer reviewers and can significantly improve their writing skills. Barrett finds that many students prefer it to the traditional classroom for its ability to integrate theory and practice and for the greater interaction it supports among all class members and instructors.

In Chapter 7, Cecilia G. Manrique and Harry W. Gardiner describe some of the ways in which faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse have employed electronic mail in fulfilling the institutional trilateral goals of bringing together computing, writing and internationalizing the curriculum. Manrique and Gardiner include communication with students in foreign countries as components of Political Science and Cross-Cultural Psychology courses. Attention is given to some of the advantages and disadvantages of using electronic mail in specific courses, and they show where it has been successful as well as note some of the pitfalls that accompany such a nontraditional method of delivering education. Suggestions are made for incorporating electronic mail into a variety of courses through resources available to students and faculty in "netland."

Ted J. Singletary and Holly Anderson, in Chapter 8, describe the First-Year Teacher Network that was instituted by Boise State University to help ease the difficult induction process of new teachers entering the profession. Twenty-five first-year teachers in 10 southwestern Idaho counties communicated through an electronic bulletin board system on a wide range of classroom and emotional topics. The support program, now in its fourth year of operation, has been successful in providing neophytes with access to university expertise, on-line databases, and other services. The First-Year Teacher Network is perceived as a valuable source of peer support and as a way to reduce feelings of isolation.

Karen Bruce's discussion (Chapter 9) briefly elaborates on the importance of information technology in medicine, outlines the use of various types of CMC in that educational setting, and presents outcome data from a project implementing a 2-year longitudinal computer curriculum at East Carolina University School of Medicine. Bruce determined that the information explosion in medical practice and science had profoundly affected the information management needs of physicians and physicians-in-training. Over the last 60 years the structure and goals of medical education have remained essentially unchanged. The volume of medical knowledge, however, has grown exponentially. The sine qua non of a good medical education remains knowing all you need to know, not just knowing how to discriminate what you must know most of the time and where to find what you cannot possibly know all of the time. Current information technology, including computer-mediated communication (CMC), provides a number of tools to improve medical practitioners' management and utilization of this information. The value of information obtained via CMC continues to improve rapidly; however, as Bruce points out, the ability of physicians and physicians-in-training to use this technology has not kept pace.

Gail Thomas' Chapter 10 describes the development and presentation of two courses featuring on-line training for on-line information retrieval systems. Beginning and advanced courses use the On-line Training and Practice (ONTAP) databases of Dialog Information Services, Inc., and the asynchronous computer conferencing capabilities of Unison's PARTI software to deliver skills training over the modem. Both beginning and advanced courses have been offered since 1989 for graduate academic credit through Connected Education, Inc., and the Media Studies Program, New School for Social Research, New York City, NY.

In the final chapter (Chapter 11), Mauri Collins presents a brief introduction to the various wide area networks (BITnet, Internet, Fidonet, etc.), networking, and the use of Internet information retrieval tools. Common networking acronyms are defined and explained, and instructions for the use of the file transfer protocol (ftp) and the remote login protocol (Telnet) are given. The format for electronic mail addresses is decoded and explained. Listserv and Usenet discussion groups are introduced and differentiated and instructions are given for joining Listserv discussion groups. The chapter concludes with a short list of sources for further networking information.


The authors in this book use technological advances that enable them to start implementing some of the educational ideas we have been discussing with their students. Instead of unwittingly supporting isolated efforts by individual distance learners, they encourage discussion and collaboration. Rather than an institutional or teacher-centered approach to instruction, these educators take a more learner-centered approach.

Educators around the world are experimenting with and laying the foundation for new opportunities for learners to access education through connections and technologies that did not exist 10 years ago. How will these new options affect our understanding of the educational process? What provisions should we be making now to prepare ourselves and our students to use this new technology of CMC in the most pedagogically sound and cost effective ways?

To begin to answer some of these questions, Justus Lewi s, Janet Whitaker, and John Julian in Chapter 1 identify models for distance education and discuss some of the issues raised and opportunities provided by computer communications within distance-learning environments.

Morten Paulsen in Chapter 2 presents an array of illustrative CMC applications for on-line classrooms and distance education programs. Each application is classified according to its predominant communication paradigm: one-alone, one-to-one, one-to -many, and many-to-many. Included in the one-alone section are applications that utilize on-line resources: information (on-line databases and on-line journals), software (on-line applications and software libraries), and people (on-line interest groups and individual experts). As examples in the section on one-to-one CMC, Paulsen includes learning contracts, mentorship, apprenticeship, and correspondence study. These applications are characterized by one-to-one relationships and by individualized learning.

In discussing one-to-many applications, such as lectures and skits, Paulsen differentiates them from other forms of CMC by their use of presentation techniques in which learners are not usually invited to interact. With many-to-many CMC applications, all participants have the opportunity to take part in the kind of interaction that can be facilitated in computer conferencing systems. In this section, Paulsen discusses such techniques as debate, simulation, role play, discussion groups, transcript-based assignments, brainstorming, the Delphi technique, the nominal group technique, and project groups.

In conclusion, Paulsen notes that the applications presented are by no means meant to constitute an exhaustive list. They represent, however, a comprehensive set of examples that show the range of techniques available for designers of CMC courses. Effective design is essential to the success of an on-line course, and the next chapter focuses on design. Using their recent experience designing an on-line adult education graduate seminar as an example, Dan Eastmond and Linda Ziegahn (Chapter 3) outline essential issues, considerations, and tasks for instructional development with CMC to which the course designer must attend. These considerations include overall course design issues, resource allocation, syllabus creation, activity selection, on-line structure production, and evaluation planning. Appropriate attention to these items during the design phase informs the development and delivery phases of the on-line course, thereby creating a "good learning experience" for adult college students.

Morten Paulsen's second chapter (Chapter 4) presents a review and analysis of the literature relevant to moderating educational conferences on computer networks. He suggests that moderators should identify their preferred pedagogical styles, based on their philosophical orientation, their chosen moderator roles, and their preferred facilitation techniques. The author assigns the moderator role three functions: the organizational, the social, and the intellectual. To help moderators improve their moderating skills, Paulsen organizes facilitation techniques recommended in the literature according to these three role functions. Finally, the author assists moderators in finding their pedagogical style by identifying some possible philosophies, roles, and facilitation techniques discussed in the literature.

Rae Wahl Rohfeld and Roger Hiemstra (Chapter 5)draw on their experience teaching in the Syracuse University Distance Education Program to examine the experiences of both course facilitators and students in courses delivered via CMC. They fo und that effective courses via CMC are based on a learner-centered approach to education in which facilitators and students share responsibility and participation in learning and teaching. To initiate such a process, facilitators must make sure they and their students have adequate training and support on the electronic system. They must also do a great deal of advance planning to teach a course via the new medium. By initiating a variety of activities, both on and off-line, facilitators can encourage an active, challenging learning environment. As the class conference progressed, Rohfeld and Hiemstra found that different strategies were necessary to keep energy high. Those involved in the Syracuse University Distance Education Program were highly satisfied with this mode of learning once they got past initial difficulties with technology. Because the courses were delivered by CMC, students were able to take considerable control over their learning in terms of how they scheduled both personal study time and group-interaction time, how much personal contact they had with the instructor and other learners, and how they contributed to the class. Rohfeld and Hiemstra are confident that courses delivered via CMC can meet immediate learning needs as well as help learners increase self-direction in their ongoing learning.

In the sixth chapter, Morton Cotlar and James N. Shimabukuro describe their use of electronic guest lectures to stimulate thinking and interaction among students. This technique, like other applications of CMC in education, shows promise. However, the degree to which students interact in meaningful ways with the guest lecturers seems to be related to the style of the lecture. Three different lecturers addressed a graduate course (through text documents posted to the class discussion group, with the invitation for follow-up questions and discussion) and evoked markedly different degrees and types of responses. The authors analyzed the style of each lecture to explore the relationship between style and responsiveness. Extraordinary findings showed that the extent of personalization and readability in the lectures strongly influenced responsiveness. Cotlar and Shimabukuro invite others to replicate this kind of study to validate their findings.

Rachelle Heller and Greg Kearsley (Chapter 7) describe their experiences using a combination of instructional television and a computer bulletin board system (BBS) to teach graduate students in computer science and education. The television component provided a medium for lectures, guest interviews, and software demonstrations, whereas the bulletin board was used to stimulate interaction among students and the instructors. Heller and Kearsley used a variety of different strategies to encour age interaction on the BBS, including assignments, discussion questions, and team activities. Based on the evaluations completed by the students in their courses, the authors concluded that the combination of media works very effectively.

In Chapter 8 Alexander McAuley describes an innovative use of CMC to support cost-effective communication links across wide distances in the Baffin area of the Canadian North West Territories. The region's 3,100 kindergarten to Grade 12 students attend 20 schools, and approximately 90% of the students are Inuit and speak Inuktitut as their first language. The current heart of K-12 CMC on Baffin Island is an electronic bulletin board, with electronic mail and a conferencing system (supporting both synchronous and asynchronous communications) called "Takujaksat," which translates roughly from Inuktitut as "things you might like to see." One of the most interesting and successful projects to make regional use of Takujaksat is an electronic newsletter called TGIF. Made up from contributions submitted by students from around Baffin, it is compiled, edited, and distributed electronically every Friday by students at Takijualuk School in Pond Inlet.

The Baffin School District's efforts to increase the use of CMC include providing an on-line component intended to follow up all face-to-face staff in-services and sponsoring projects that require student interaction via the on-line environment. The district also encourages interested teachers to coordinate and plan a project together through CMC and present it in the classroom. They then identify those teachers who are predisposed to work in this collaborative manner and attempt to match them with people and projects they will find rewarding and exciting.

In justifying the support for CMC in Baffin schools, McAuley's examples also indicate a number of requirements for success: (a) CMC must have a strong user base at the local level before it can be widely used at a distance, (b) effective use of CMC demand s specific conditions and skills, and (c) teachers and students must be supported in acquiring those skills. The author notes that future work will focus on all three of those areas.

Claire McInerney (Chapter 9) explores a method of integrating CMC within the curriculum of a course on communications technology designed for nontraditional students studying information management. Through anecdotal evidence drawn from student and faculty experiences, McInerney looks at some of the anticipated outcomes of CMC as well as the unanticipated benefits and limitations of CMC.

Ken and Carrie Loss-Cutler represent a growing group of homeschooling parents who are incorporating CMC into their curriculum and taking advantage of the resources available on the Internet. In Chapter 10 the Loss-Cutlers provide details on the various electronic discussion groups that deal specifically with alternative schoolers' interests and describe some of the beneficial network-supported activities available to homeschooled students.

Since 1986 Jason Ohler has directed a Master's degree program in Education Technology at the University of Alaska, Southeast. Although the program seeks to empower teachers to be effective, creative, and socially responsible users of a wide range of new technologies, one area of instructional technology receives particular emphasis: educational applications of telecommunications and CMC. During the past six years, Ohler has taught, worked with, provided in-services for, and consulted on numerous p rojects by K-12 teachers and students in the field of educational telecommunications. This is the experiential base that informs Chapter 11.

Ohler provides a vision as well as a practical road map for educators wishing to offer extended training in telecommunications to fellow K-12 teachers and their students. As the basis of this chapter, Ohler uses the syllabus of a 15-week course on educational telecommunications for the classroom teacher he has been teaching for the past five years.

In Chapter 12 Christopher Baker and Thomas Buller observe that primary and secondary school systems are so burdened by a lack of funding that they usually cannot afford the tools and connections needed for CMC. Dedicated, wide-area computer network connections offer many features ranging from e-mail to peer discussions and have the potential to revolutionize education, but these dedicated connections are currently too costly for struggling K-12 schools. However, specialized access services such as NGS Kidsnetwork, CompuServe, and Argonne's NEWTON offer teachers and students a chance to experience the "global classroom" without the global price tag.

Ava L. Fajen and J. Scott Christianson examine the use of Bulletin Board System (BBS) networks as an educational resource, specifically in primary and secondary classrooms, in Chapter 13. BBS networks are distributed group conferencing syst ems (Santoro, 1993) that allow teachers and students from around the world to interact with each other electronically in "virtual classrooms," sharing information and collaborating on learning projects. This chapter presents a brief history of BBS networks, explains the basic principles of BBS networking, and explores two BBS networks devoted to K-12 education: the Free Education Mail (FrEdMail) network and K12Net (a subdivision of the Fidonet BBS network). The authors also present a short summary of off-line mail readers, electronic mail tools used to decrease on-line time and costs.

Jill Ellsworth (Chapter 14) discusses not only specific sources of information useful to distance educators, but also covers some of the principle information management tools available on the Internet: Archie, Gopher, Veronica, and Worldwide Web. Scholars on the net can use these tools to locate a variety of information resources available through the Internet.

On-line information about distance education comes from many sources and is available in many forms. There are several scholarly discussion groups distributed via Listservs, for example, that focus on issues of concern to distance educators. In addition there are archives of papers, conference announcements, calls for papers, electronic journals, literature reviews, software, books, guides, library catalogs, resource databases and more-all accessible with a few keystrokes .

The key to accessing Internet information, says Ellsworth, is to gain familiarity with the sources and to use them regularly. Users need to take the time to keep up with the Internet, a dynamic system in which the resources can change every day, and to which new, more user-friendly search tools are constantly being added on-line.