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November 2000, Vol. 3 No. 6 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Computer-Mediated Collaborative Learning: Laying the Foundation for an Awareness of Regional Perspectives
 
J.A. Gilles Doiron
Principal Educational Technologist, CDTL
 

Many world-class tertiary education institutions have taken steps to broaden the knowledge base of their students by exposing them to a multi-disciplinary core curriculum. In a similar way, student exchange programmes and credit for external courses at a university from abroad contribute greatly to the formation of the knowledgeable 21st century professional. They enable the students to experience learning from different social contexts, and to discover the influence of cultural, political and economic realities on the application of knowledge. Our future ASEAN professionals can benefit greatly by being cognisant and attentive to each other’s perspectives.

In this era of pervasive desktop information and communication technology (ICT), there are new ways to initiate and encourage the development of crosscultural social and professional relationships. Prevalent web applications such as email, discussion forums, bulletin boards, and relay chats can be used to enable online collaborative learning activities (Gay, G., & Lentini, M., 1995). Such activities can contribute to promoting regional collaboration and partnership, or improving local and regional competitiveness.

Even with the large diffusion of computers in all faculties, the extent to which their use will ultimately affect the conventional teaching model is not very clear (Beckett, D., 1998; Faseyitan, S.O. & Hirschbuhl, J., 1992). However, it is clear that ICT is enabling a shift towards a student-centred, socio-constructivist approach in acquiring and assimilating new knowledge. Hence, computer-mediated collaborative learning is a viable approach for sharing and refining an individual’s own construct of knowledge. This approach, which uses ICT to monitor and enable small peer group teamwork, is gaining recognition because of its focus on the students’ validation of their own perspectives through peer and mentor feedback (Larose, F.D., Dirand, R., Karsenti, J-M., Grenon, T., Lafrance, V., Sylvain-Cantin, J., 1999).

Computer-mediated collaborative learning also inherently promotes the creation of the rules of online social interaction while providing insight into efficient online human communication. It requires responsible social interaction among participants, and promotes teamwork organisation, relationship building and incidental learning, while exposing each individual to regional variants of curriculum relevant issues.

One example of the critical importance to understanding regional variants is a concern of ASEAN law firms. In his opening address at the 4th ASEAN law ministers’ meeting held in Singapore in November 1999, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong concluded: “Finally, to achieve many of these tasks I have raised, a more basic need must be achieved in ASEAN: greater networking, more mutual understanding and knowledge-pooling among our legal institutions and people. We should not confine it to only the officials. We should harness the private legal profession as well as University Law Faculties and other legal institutions. I am pleased that the Law Ministers have been discussing how to establish such networks for the legal officers and law graduates of ASEAN countries.” In his vision of the development of ASEAN, the Prime Minister is clear in his expectations that professionals throughout ASEAN must have closer ties in order to achieve a personal level of understanding and support that will lead to regional growth and prosperity.

In response, it seems that ASEAN Law students need to establish better communication and cultivate understanding among themselves, specifically those students who will shortly take up their employment in a local law firm. They will surely find that the nature of their job will become increasingly reliant on ICT to support vital regional networking.

To prepare them for this eventuality, the Faculties of Law, with appropriate ICT facilities, from across ASEAN could assign some final year students to online teams (3-6 students from different countries). Through a dedicated web site giving access to the necessary online communication tools, a lecturer or student would be able to post a case study in a discussion forum environment. Such assignments could highlight an area of knowledge specific to the social, economic, legal, cultural, political and physical realities of a particular region. Participants from other universities would be required to post comments about each case study and point out the differences with respect to the perspectives from their own region. Student groups could also collaborate through email, file transfer, discussion forums and chat sessions in order to research and co-write a term paper covering some aspect of regional collaboration related to their profession. Other strategies such as role playing in a given scenario, team problem-based learning assignments, and online debating team competitions could also be explored.

Will these activities promote socialisation? Certainly we know that from the start the World Wide Web (WWW) was intended to help connect people with common interests. Now with a much wider reach it’s easier for people to make new friends (Parks, M.R. & Floyd, K., 1996). Though it must be noted that social interaction on WWW sites having unrestricted access is subject to anti-social behaviour, restricted membership access provides the means for accountability. The convenience of real-time (synchronous) and delayed response (asynchronous) communication has also spurred the adoption of computer-mediated communication (CMC) as an acceptable mode of social interaction (De Kerckhove, D., 1997).

Relationship building through CMC is a pragmatic exercise, which could enable students to experience the social, economic and political realities within ASEAN. Its importance with regards to institutions and individuals involved in regional and global cooperation will increase proportionately with the propagation of ICT to very corner of the world. Can undergraduate students with common learning goals, but from different ASEAN countries, collaborate effectively through CMC activities for sharing knowledge? Can such activities lay the groundwork for relationships beyond the boundaries of the project? Will participants exhibit responsible behaviour, and gain the trust and support of online colleagues? These are some of the questions to investigate.

References

Beckett, David. (1998). ‘Disembodied Learning: How Flexible Delivery Shoots Higher Education in the Foot, Well Sort of’. Electronic Journal of Sociology: 3, 3. [http://www.icaap.org/iuicode?100.3.3.2]

Faseyitan, Sunday O., & Hirschbuhl, John. (1992). ‘Computers in University Instruction: What Are the Significant Variables That Influence Adoption?’ Interactive Learning International. 8(3):185-94.

Gay, G., & Lentini, M. (1995). ‘Use of Communication Resources in a Networked Collaborative Design Environment’. Journal of Computer Mediated Comminications. Vol. 1, No. 1.

De Kerckhove, D. (1997). Connected Intelligence. Toronto: Somerville House Publishing.

Larose, François David; Dirand, Robert; Karsenti, Jean-Marie; Grenon, Thierry; Lafrance, Vincent; & Sylvain-Cantin, Judith. (1999). ‘Information and Communication Technologies in University Teaching and in Teacher Education: Journey in a Major Québec University’s Reality’. Electronic Journal of Sociology: 4, 3. [http://www.icaap.org/iuicode?100.4.3.3]

Parks, M.R. & Floyd, K. (1996) ‘Making Friends in Cyberspace’. Journal of Computer Mediated Comminications. Vol. 1, No. 4.

Speech By Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the 4th Asean Law Ministers’ Meeting on Friday, 5 November 1999. Singapore Government Press Release, Media Division, Ministry of Information and The Arts. http://www.gov.sg//mita/pressrelease/99110501.htm.

 
 
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Using the WWW in Teaching Is it worth the effort?
   
The Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences Web-Based Learning Centre
   
Computer-Mediated Collaborative Learning: Laying the Foundation for an Awareness of Regional Perspectives
   
Use of the World Wide Web in Teaching: A Personal Experience
   
Glossary of Basic Technical Terms (used in this CDTL Brief)