|Integrating Productivity Tools in Primary and Secondary Education|
C-MODE Pedagogy: Computer-Mediated Online and Distant Education Constructional English
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
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
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)
After five quarters at high school the 26 students chosen for
the C-MODE experiment had learned very little. They were
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
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
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.
QUESTIONS: WAS THERE A SELECTION CODE OR RANDOM SELECTION FOR
THE C-MODE GROUP? DID PARTICIPATING STUDENTS RESPOND TO AN EVALUATION
QUESTIONNAIRE AT THE CONCLUSION? DID STUDENTS NOT INCLUDED REGISTER
FEELINGS FOR OR AGAINST YOUR CHOICE? WAS THERE CONSULTATION AMONG
PARTICIPATING AND NON-PARTICIPATING FACULTY BEFORE, DURING, AFTER
THE COURSE? ARE THERE PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
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