The Research Situation and the Designated Purposes of CMC Space

Margaret Daisley
The University of Massachusetts, Amherst

In the fall of 1994, I sat in as a researcher in a 300-level management theory class in the School of Management (SOM) at a state university ("MU") where uses of CMC were integrated into the curriculum. Within this particular university, and within the particular department that the instructor planned the course, such a pedagogical move was seen as innovative. The instructor, "Terry," a graduate student with a wealth of experience and knowledge about computer technology, had become interested in using Internet applications--e-mail, listservs, mail lists, gopher, MOOs, the World Wide Web--for instructional purposes after having "lurked" on a discussion list used by a class taught at a Canadian university. As an undergraduate, Terry had used e-mail in engineering courses, but it was "only one-way communication," and therefore "not as useful as it could have been." As a graduate student in the SOM, Terry was particularly interested in international aspects of business and therefore felt that it was important for business and management students to become familiar with the communication and research possibilities of computer networks. This instructor had experimented with incorporating uses of CMC into an SOM class the previous year, co-teaching that course with another instructor. In that situation, Terry had made arrangements to link the MU class with students at schools in both Canada and Mexico, but felt that the experiment had been only moderately successful. Problems had arisen because of the differences in semester schedules of the three schools, in class meeting times, and in the fact that most of the MU students--this was a great surprise--had no working familiarity with e-mail.

But this fall, as the sole designer and instructor of the course, Terry had made arrangements to take students into a computer lab about once a week to teach them how to use e-mail and to familiarize them with various functions of the Internet. In addition, Terry had made arrangements with the instructor of a class in information systems management at another state university ("OU") to bring their respective students (20 at MU; 16 at OU) together online for collaborative projects. The content of the course Terry was teaching--organizational theory--seemed to be an ideal complement to the actual experience of having to organize and work in groups, both locally in the MU class, as well as across time and space in the disembodied world of the Internet with their OU counterparts. Two electronic mail lists were set up:

  1. the "LOCAL" list for communication among the students in the MU class
  2. the "CO-SCHOOL" list for communication among students at both MU and OU.

The chronology of assignments were, roughly, as follows:

  • The first assignment involving uses of CMC was for students to introduce themselves online
  • The second assignment for each of the five groups in Terry's class involved an "Internet hunt"
  • Overlapping this exercise was the assignment to recruit students from OU for group work
  • The third major assignment, then, involved working with group members from OU to discover, and report on, at least two opposing views in discussions about the National Information Infrastructure (NII), evidence of these having been discovered in various Internet genres.

In addition to these more formal assignments, CMC was used by students primarily to:

  • introduce themselves, especially to OU students they would not meet face-to-face
  • submit group reports or collaboratively produced writings as they fulfilled the assignments
  • critique and grade (as required) the work of other groups, according to specified formats
  • address questions or comments to Terry about the course or about technological problems
  • communicate with individuals within the class, with group members within the class, with the whole class, or with everyone in both classes.

Terry used CMC to:

  • facilitate introductions
  • announce assignments
  • respond to questions and comments generated by students
  • announce grades (referencing student numbers, not names) and "winners of contests"
  • communicate with individuals and the various forms of groups.

Both instructors also encouraged, by example, the sharing online of interesting current readings or news items not on the course syllabus. In addition, towards the end of the semester, instructors and students from both schools met one evening on a MOO for a session that was informal, but also related to co-school group work.


This and other quotes from Terry and the students in the class are from taped interviews conducted in the Fall of 1994 during the semester in which Terry taught the class. RETURN

These lists were set up as distribution points, where anyone who was on the list would receive mail from anyone who posted to the list. RETURN

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