Characterizing On-line Communication: A First Step.


In response to a call for new content and instructional techniques in the teaching of mathematics, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has launched an organization called MATHLINE, whose first project involved facilitacing electronic communication among mathematics teachers nationwide. This document describes a study which examined the members’ reasons for joining such a group (MATHLINE in particular), the types of communication fostered, and the perceived benefits of involvement. Messages were downloaded and sorted into statements, questions, and replies. Statements were further scrutinized for elements of fact, opinion, and parable. Questions were subdivided into the pragmatic and the programmatic. Results indicated that replies, whether answers or supporting evidence or yet more questions, were the most frequent kind of teacher-to-teacher online communication. It is hoped that analysis of these messages might be carried further into research on the roles played by different members of an online learning community and the communication patterns between them. Many sample messages are included verbatim. (Contains 13 references.)

U S DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION Oe ce of Educaltonat Resparch ,,trto nt tot.eoett. EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION CENTER (ERIC) 0 This document has been reproduced as recerved hom lhe person or organization originating a U Minor changes have been made to improve reproduction cluahty * Paints al view cr Optntons stated in this document do not necessanry represent ntfin,a, Obfit pchil on or pOttCy Characterizing On-line Communication: A first step Beth Rosenstein Cole University of Wisconsin -Madison 1025 West Johnson St. Room 575 Madison, WI 53719 email: [email protected] Presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting New York, NY, April 12, 1996 I would like to thank Dr. Margaret J. Wilsman and Dr. Mary Harley Kruter of MATHLWIE for allowing me the access to make this paper possible. I would also like to thank Dr. Margaret R. Meyer for introducing me to MATHLINE and for her advice during the writing process. in addition, I am grateful to the members of the Spring 1995 Interactive Media and Computers in the Curriculum course under the direction of Dr. Michael Streibel for helping me form many of my ideas. BEST COPY AVAILABLE 2 “PERMISSION TO REPRODUCE THIS MATERIAL HAS BEEN GRANTED BY Beth R. Cole TO THE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION CENTER IERIC).” Setting Mathematics education in the United States is currently undergoing dramatic changes based on new theories of how students learn. In 1989 The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) published a volume called Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. This followed numerous calls for the improvement of mathematics education in the schools of this country and presented an image of what a reformed mathematics curriculum and classroom would look like based on the idea that students learn by constructing their ovvn knowledge. The Standards called for new content in mathematics classrooms. Areas of mathematics once only taught to the intellectually elite, were recommended for all students. Mathematical topics such as algebra, geometry, probability, and statistics, once considered accessible only to high school students, were recommended for middle school and even elementary school students. New curricular materials are being developed to address these changes in and are beginning to be used in schools. In addition to changing content, another important component of the reform movement is to change classroom teaching. In 1991, the NCTM published a second volume as a follow-up to the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards. This volume, titled Professional Standards for the Teaclung of Mathematics, directly addressed the changes necessary in the teaching profession in order to make the current reform effort successful. The current vision requires teachers to teach new content and to teach in new ways. The effort is to change the tradition of lecture and drill in mathematics class. The Standards documents discuss active, even noisy, classrooms in which students are active participants in their learning. Mathematics teachers are being asked to learn or relearn new mathematics and teach in radically different ways. The question becomes how best to support teachers as they move toward reformed teaching. Teaching has traditionally been r profession of isolation (Huberman, 1993). One teacher and many students are together in a closed room. Typically, there are no other adults in the room for the entire year. The teacher’s time not spent teaching is often occupied with supervision and administrative tasks. This leaves little time for self reflection and much less for intellectual discussions with peers. There have been many studies that show an important factor in the success of a reform is a chance foi teachers to talk to one another (McLaughlin, 1993). Currently this is not possible for most teachers. One forum in which teachers can “talk” to each other is through electronic communication. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is one organization facilitating teachers’ electronic communication. Their effort, MATHL1NE, is an umbrella organization that will offer a variety of on-line services for teachers and students. The first project of MATHLINE is called the Middle School Math Project. Teachers involved in the project are all given electronic accounts accessible through local or toll-free telephone calls. Groups of 25 to 30 teachers are connected to a learning community that is headed by a facilitator. Members of a learning community are located in the same geographical region and are sponsored by a local PBS station. Each teacher who is a part of MATIALINE receives a set of 25 video tapes and she or he views a particular one at about the same time as the other members of their learning community. After a video is viewed, each teacher is expected to try the lesson presented on the video tape in their classroom. The lessons are created to align with the Standards documents ir terms of both content and approach. All of the videos for the 1994-95 school year focused on classroom discourse, one of the components of the Standards documents. Before, during, and after the teachers try the lessons, they communicate with other participants in their learning community using the MATHLINE network. In addition to having access to the learning community, teachers have*access to a national forum. In this electronic area there are no facilitator or moderators, and messages are open to all MATHLINE participants. While the discussions on the local board usually focus on the content of the video tapes, the national discussions are completely open. Teachers have the opportunity to discuss scheduling, curriculum, assessment, or anything else of interest. The topics on the national board have varied greatly this year.