Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education CLOUDS AND SUN

C-MODE Pedagogy: Computer-Mediated Online and Distant Education Constructional English

Harvey Wheeler




Constructional English is a computer-mediated English teaching program that is highly motivating and works well with students of all skill levels, including those at-risk of being removed from a standard high school matriculation program. It uses two sets of operations and tools available for all recent computers: The Operations: Modeling, Simulation, Hypertext; and Conferencing with Officeware and Groupware.

These operations accomplish two main things: First, they use computers and their facilities not as automated instruction machines, but rather as new tools of teaching; and second, they elevate teachers from oral expositors of printed lessons to expert knowledge builders who use computer tools as well as books and blackboards to teach students how to build their own knowledge.

C-MODE stands for Computer-Mediated Online and Distant Education. Online means being connected to a powerful central computer residing inside the classroom. Distant means being connected to outside computer facilities such as Internet.

In 1995, our at-risk students were all those whose tests showed them to be failing or borderline in English. Most were also failing or borderline in all their other subjects. Their future prospects were dismal: transferal from the regular high school to a part-time "continuation" school that students attend part-time until they are old enough to quit school. For most students the continuation school is an exit holding-tank. There were approximately 80 at-risk students; it was hard to be exact because of the high absentee rate.

We divided the 80 students into three sections of approximately 26 each. Each section had a different teacher for each term. At the end of two terms, when none of the three teachers had produced any improvement, we continued to teach two of the 10-C sections in traditional ways; one section of 26 students became an experimental C-MODE group.

The teacher of the experimental program had attended C-MODE teacher's workshops during the three previous years. The classroom contained a complete C-MODE computer-mediated system consisting of a central network Server (a powerful computer with large memory and storage), and 15 less powerful computers as student Workstations. The Server contained over 150 software programs from which personalized Workstation menus could be created and accessed by passwords such as Junior, Senior, Makeup, Advanced, SATPrep, Classics, and Tutors.

For the at-risk experiment, C-MODE created a Novice-menu containing a special selection of software programs, Information Age teaching tools comparable to chalkboard, chalk, eraser, pointer, notepad, workbook and pencil. The programs included: (a) a simple but highly competent wordprocessor (plus spell check and thesaurus); (b) a small but effective hypertext knowledge-annealing program, which permitted both teachers and students to read and write hypertext links on-the-fly; (c) Gutenberg ASCII (computer-readable) versions of the world classics, which C-MODE had already organized into lesson-length hypertext dialogue segments; (d) an Officeware/Groupware conferencing and E-Mail system; (e) an outliner able to hide and show all outline sub levels; and (f) programmable (even by students) vocabulary/grammar tutor.

After five quarters at high school the 26 students chosen for the C-MODE experiment had learned very little. They were hostile--sometimes passive-aggressive, sometimes actively aggressive. They were disruptive and would sabotage class in any possible way, did little or no homework and as little as possible classroom work. At best they sat silently and inattentively in class, slouched down and lounging back, arms folded. They were doing-time.

Using the six pedagogical tools described above, C-MODE built a new virtual at-risk classroom that existed as a special curriculum inside the electronic annex to the regular classroom. The access password was "Novice." Students registering their private IDs accessed the Novice menu, displayed on the personalized Workstation screens of their private electronic desks.

Each class period required the students to perform 20 short operations The aim was to show the students how to collaborate in creating for themselves their own knowledge of English. This included vocabulary, grammar, usage, and composition. The program worked something like a treasure-hunt party game in which the grammatical "treasures" were sought from inside the hidden sub-layers of a computer outliner. Toward the end, each student also prepared a different set of 15 test questions and answers. Finally, all took the complete exam, which was longer and harder than the exams administered to the higher sections of English.

At the start, only 10 students on the average attended class on any one day. Half way through the first month, attendance began to creep up to an average of 17. A few students even started arriving early to get more time at their workstations; the students determined their own learning pace. Half way through the second month they were ready to learn how to write and enthread into a text their own Hypertext link-jump commentaries. A rudimentary Socratic Dialogue was introduced in which the teacher inserted into the text material his own Hypertext link-jumps that asked discussion questions requiring Online student answers. At first, most student responses merely a few barely relevant words.

After another week, when a more coherent teacher-student dialogue began to develop, the teacher divided the students into collaborating pairs. Students were required to E-mail their commentaries to both their team member and to the teacher. The messages were private to the pairs but all were accessible by the teacher. At first there were two or three improper messages. Punishment was exclusion from the computers for one class. It worked. Daily attendance was creeping toward 20. By the last two weeks average daily attendance was up to 23. Several students hurried early to class and ran eagerly to their workstations.

At the opening of the course, students began informally among themselves to help and seek help at adjoining Workstations. At first, as with conventional paper work, we discouraged this. Quickly, however, it became apparent that this co-counseling was highly creative, both for the learner and the helper, and so we permitted them to continue so long as they didn't become too disruptive. Soon they settled into their own work groups of twos and threes; class sessions resembled busy workshops. Some worked at an almost feverish pitch. Nearly all students, even the slowest, were excited by the lessons and eager to do them. Three students remained absolutely recalcitrant. Known gang members, they were prohibited from the class. We then told any student who started to make trouble at a Workstation to either stop or be excluded like the other three. The trouble stopped immediately.

The final English grades were: 4 As; 6 Bs; 10 Cs; 6 Fs (this last included the three recalcitrants)--a near normal distribution. Was their work comparable to that of students with the same grades in the regular sections? Not precisely. But in addition to their success at English they had acquired a novice level of computer literacy. What about the other sections, the control groups of at-risk students? They remained exactly as before: still failing or borderline.

OMIT PARAGRAPH? THIS IS ABOUT ENGLISH CLASSES. C-MODE experimental sections in other classes like math and history did very little if any better. There was also a negligible spill-over effect for courses not a part of the C-MODE System.

These results demonstrate a powerful lesson: technology, in this instance the introduction of C-MODE with its combining of several computer software tools into an effective new Information Age English course pedagogy, works encouraging results with students who have been impervious to conventional ways of teaching.


All material within the HORIZON site, unless otherwise noted, may be distributed freely for educational purposes. If you do redistribute any of this material, it must retain this copyright notice and you must use appropriate citation including the URL. Also, we would appreciate your sending James L. Morrison a note as to how you are using it. HTML and design by Noel Fiser, ©2006. Page last modified: 2/25/1999 7:41:16 PM. 21556 visitors since February 2000.