Designing a Virtual Classroom
Reprints of Invited papers for:
1995 International Conference on Computer Assisted Instruction ICCAI'95 March 7-10, 1995 National Chiao Tung University Hsinchu, Taiwan
Designing a Virtual Classroom [TM]
Murray Turoff Department of Computer and Information Science New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark NJ, 07102, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
This paper reviews the software functionality that has evolved over the past two decades of research in Computer Mediated Communications at NJIT to create a Virtual Classroom[TM] to support distance education. Based upon many years of evaluating the effectiveness of this approach to remote education we also summarize our views about the software functionality needed for further improvement of this approach to distance education.
Fundamental to Computer Mediated Communication systems is the concept of being able to utilize the capabilities of a computer to tailor a human communication process to the nature of the application and the nature of the group undertaking this application (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978, 1993; Turoff, 1991). In this context we consider electronic mail to be only one specific example of this technology and various Computer Conferencing Systems, Group Decision Support Systems, Electronic Meeting Systems, etc., to all be other examples. The specific issue addressed here is how to tailor specific functionality to allow a group of instructors and students to carry out the learning process in an electronic virtual environment that is meant to replace the physical class environment. Our objective is not to merely duplicate the characteristics and effectiveness of the face to face class. Rather, we can use the powers of the computer to actually do better than what normally occurs in the face to face class. The sophistication and flexibility of software structures for supporting distance education vary widely, from simple electronic mail systems to Conferencing systems that have been specially enhanced to support classroom-like experiences, particularly group discussions and joint projects. Currently, a large number of colleges offer remote courses utilizing various forms of Computer Mediated Communications (Harasim, Hiltz, Teles & Turoff, 1995; Paulsen & Rekkedal, 1990; Wells, 1990). We (the many individuals at NJIT involved in the development, utilization, and evaluation of remote education) utilize a computer conferencing system with advanced features designed specifically to support Learning Networks: teachers and learners connected to each other and to vast resources of the Internet. The conferencing system, Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES), provides features for classroom discussions, a sophisticated question and response facility, an exam activity and other group learning tools. Beginning in 1986, the Virtual Classroom[TM], a teaching and learning environment constructed in software and available via the Internet, has been developed with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Sloan web.njit.edu/~turoff/Papers/DesigningVirtualClassroom.html 1/11
Designing a Virtual Classroom
Foundation, the state of New Jersey, and industrial partners including IBM and Apple. As part of this project, it is offering an entire degree program, the B.A. in Information Systems, via videotapes plus the Virtual Classroom[TM]. An increasing number of graduate courses are also offered remotely.
Collaborative Learning & Active Participation
The educational methodology utilized for the concept of the Virtual Classroom[TM] (a classroom in an electronic space) reflects asynchronous group communications and collaborative approaches to education and training. The student is an active part of a learning group but proceeds to learn and understand on an individual basis independent of the speed of other learners in the group. The Virtual Classroom[TM] is a teaching and...