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Computer-Based Facilitation of Pedagogically Valuable Learning Activities In Large Classrooms


Abby L. Parrill
University of Memphis

Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the Spring 1997 CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
          The presence of large classrooms in our universities is a reality that is not likely to change in the near future. Large classrooms unfortunately deter educators from using the broad variety of pedagogically valuable learning activities that have been reported in the educational literature. Examples of valuable learning activities that are challenging to incorporate into large class formats include collaborative (group) learning, writing assignments, guided-inquiry, interactive class di~cussions, portfolio-based assessments, and group projects. This article describes several ways in which computers can be utilized to facilitate the incorporation of some of these activities into large classrooms.
Writing Assignments in Larae Classrooms: Select-ADue date
          The value of writing has long been recognized as evidenced by the fact that institutions of higher learning have 'writing across the curriculum' requirements. One deterrent to the incorporation of writing assignments in large classes is the time-consuming nature of grading such assignments. I have utilized a web-based form to allow students to register for due dates distributed throughout the semester to facilitate the grading of writing assignments in large enrollment courses. The web-based form collects name, student identification number, first choice of due date, and second choice of due date. This information is sent to a CGI-script (written in the Peri scripting language) that checks to see if the maximum number of registrants for the first due date choice has been reached. If the maximum enrollment has not been reached, the student is given their first due date choice. Otherwise the script checks their second choice. If their second choice already has maximum enrollment, the student is unfortunately given their least preferred due date. This possibility does provide some incentive for registering early. The web-based form and the CGI-script will be provided via email to anyone interested in them.
Group Projects in Large Classrooms: Online Group Discussion Pages
          One common student gripe about group projects is their inability to find common meeting times. The use of computer-based discussion pages can assist students to hold asynchronous meetings and discussions. Several mechanisms exist for implementing online discussions among groups of students. Electronic mail can be used, either through the use of group mailing lists or listservs. A newsgroup-like system would also provide a discussion mechanism, with the added benefit of maintaining an archive of postings. I have utilized the group functionality designed into the LectureOnline course development and delivery system developed at Michigan State University by Gerd Kortemeyer (kortemeyer@ nscl.msu .edu). This system allows course instructors to design web-based courses or course supplements, to develop semi-individualized homework assignments, and (most important to this topic) to organize students into groups. Each group can access group pages for any group to which they are assigned and post notes to other members of their group. Instructors can access the group pages for all groups. Instructor access to project discussions can assist in the evaluation of contributions by various group members. This provides instructors a good mechanism for dealing with another common student concern, distribution of work in group projects.
          The two examples in this article should demonstrate that computer use in instruction need not be limited to educational tools for students. Computers also provide capabilities to facilitate classroom activities and assessment.


10/10/98 to 10/14/98