Teaching Teleapprenticeships in a Freshman Biology Course

Sandra R. Levin

James A. Levin

Ray Boehmer

University of Illinois

April 1994

Paper presented at the 1994 annual meeting of the

American Educational Research Association


We are in the first year of a three year longitudinal study looking at computer-based networks for teacher education in science and mathematics (Levin, Waugh, Brown & Clift, 1993). We have implemented a model known as Teaching Teleapprenticeships in several courses in the teacher preparation program at the University of Illinois. One of these courses is a Biology course, a general introduction to biology, taken by many of our undergraduate education majors. This allows us to examine how the model works in a large lecture/laboratory course. We have also begun implementing the model in three other courses in the College of Education at the University of Illinois, an advanced science methods course, an advanced mathematics methods course, and an extramural course taught to practicing K- 12 teachers. In addition, we have been working with two innovative student teaching programs (spanning early education, elementary education, and secondary education) in which students take a number of their professional courses from collaborative teams of school- based and university- based teacher educators. This paper focuses on the experiences of several education students in the general Biology course. For these students, it is the first of several steps they will take to integrate the use of computer-based networks into their undergraduate education. These students are becoming Teaching Teleapprentices.

The Teaching Teleapprenticeship is a model similar to a conventional apprenticeship that involves the interaction of people with many different levels of expertise, but in this model, many of these interactions are via electronic mail (e-mail). These teaching teleapprentices have begun their training by learning to use e-mail to communicate with their professor, experts in a particular domain, other university students, K-12 teachers and students and friends by electing to complete an extra-credit project for their Biology 100/101 course. This freshman biology course included three general areas of study: Maintaining a Livable Environment, Human Health & Disease, and Evolutionary Biology. This paper takes a closer look at how four students in this Biology course learned and used Eudora, a telecommunications program for the Macintosh It also describes the successes and problems that were encountered and how the use of telecommunications affected their course selection, perceptions of their teacher education program, and their lives.

Throughout the course of our research, we will use a new method of evaluation, situated evaluation, as defined by Bruce & Rubin (1993):

"Situated evaluation is an evaluation method that analyzes the varieties of use of an innovation across contexts. The evaluation is focused on the innovation-in-use, and its primary purpose is to understand the different ways in which the innovation is realized. This new term is used to emphasize the unique characteristics of each situation in which the innovation is used." p. 203

The purpose of situated evaluation within this project is to explain why a computer-based network was used the way it was; to predict the results of using the network; to identify dimensions of similarity and difference among settings; to improve the use of Eudora, an electronic mail software program; to improve the technology; and to identify variables for later evaluation. Observations, interviews, and questionnaire responses were used to evaluate the use of computer networks in this study. Interview questions and the questionnaire are located in Appendices A and B. For a comparison of the similarities and differences between situated evaluation and other evaluation methods, such as responsive, formative, and summative, see Bruce & Rubin (1993), pp. 193-213.

Idealization of Teaching Teleapprenticeships

In order to analyze different elements of electronic networks within the teacher education program, Bruce & Rubin (1993) suggest that "it is important to look at how the students act upon the innovation, in this case electronic networks, shaping it to fit their beliefs, goals, and current practices." p. 205. Below, we have described a scenario of a student's experiences with computer networks as she proceeds through the teacher education program. It is meant to be used as an example of how an education student might perceive the use of computer networks. This does not mean that the model describe is the "best way," "only way" or the "most successful way" to use computer networks. It is just as important to understand why students did not use electronic networks as it is to look at how or why students used electronic networks the way they did. This idealization was contained in the proposal (Levin & Waugh, 1992) that was funded by the National Science Foundation to support this research.

An Idealization of the Teaching Teleapprenticeship Model

To better explain how a student might proceed through the teacher education program, we have described a scenario of a fictitious student, Tracey, as she proceeds through her program as a Teaching Teleapprentice.

Pre- service. In Tracey's first education course, the instructor selects messages sent by K- 12 teachers over the National Research and Education Network (NREN) related to current topics in the course, and integrates them into his lecture/discussion. One of the students is asked to take notes, which are then edited by the instructor and sent back on the NREN network to the K- 12 teachers. This course includes instruction in the use of word processors, spreadsheets, databases, graphics programs, and telecommunications in education. While many students elect to complete their assignments using their own personal computers, Tracey uses the computers in the College's computer laboratory.

The next semester, as part of her science methods course, Tracey participates in an ongoing NREN- based science project, working collaboratively with other education students and with K- 12 teachers and students. Several groups from around the world are engaged in distributed design teams, groups of individuals at different locations, to develop recreational activities appropriate for groups of astronauts in the planned space station "Freedom." Tracey reads previous messages about the topic sent to the projects' design team and then writes several messages focusing on one particular aspect of the problem- - the behavior of bouncing balls inside a room with twelve walls. As part of her science methods course requirements, Tracey develops a lesson plan that uses a computer simulation of the physics of bouncing balls in a dodecahedron to explore the properties of several possible "zero- g ball games." Tracey posts a synopsis of her simulation and lesson plan on the electronic bulletin board where it is discussed, evaluated, adopted, and adapted by several teachers.

In her science methods class, Tracey has a forum to discuss central issues with other students and with experienced teachers who actively promote a more inquiry- oriented perspective on science and who would serve as electronic discussion leaders. These issues are discussed in light of very specific examples from Tracey's own experiences in working with children during the eight week practicum experience concurrent with the course, her experiences in the methods class, and the experiences of the practicing teachers.

Student Teaching. Like most student teachers, Tracey is overwhelmed by student teaching. However, unlike traditional student teachers, Tracey has a network to provide professional advice, emotional support, and practical hints. Fellow student teachers, campus friends, and Tracey's faculty advisor are available via electronic mail. The electronic message system works both ways, twenty- four hours a day, and no one needs to be present to take messages. If Tracey's faculty supervisor wants to communicate with her or her cooperating teacher, driving to the school or playing "telephone tag" is not necessary.

Tracey is able to carry with her a notebook computer with a built- in modem, so that she can use the computer in her K- 12 classroom. She can also take it to the teacher's lounge and hook it up to the phone there to participate in electronic interaction. She can carry it down to the computer lab to plug it into a printer there to get hard copies to post on her classroom walls. She can easily carry it with her to her classes at the university, and she can take it home to work on her class projects in the evening and to use her telephone at home to continue her electronic interactions.

Tracey uses the computer as an instructional tool and as an administrative tool. She uses the computer and electronic network in teaching a variety of subjects and in teaching topics that span traditional subject classifications. Real world problems are tackled as Tracey and her students use the computer to perform tedious calculations, allowing Tracey to spend more time teaching students higher level thinking skills. Because Tracey has extensive experience using the computer, time consuming administrative chores such as calculating grades, developing lesson plans, writing form letters, and creating tests are all simplified by using readily available software.

Tracey helps the students in the class where she is student teaching participate in a "telescience fair," assisting them in contacting NREN- based resource people and refining submissions to the telescience fair judges. These judges include individuals at an aerospace company in California, agricultural engineers from Illinois, and bioscientists from Massachusetts.

Professional Teaching Career. Now, as a practicing teacher, Tracey is looking for a good idea to motivate her earth science class. She accesses via the NREN a Learning Resource Server that specializes in information about ongoing instructional network activities, and finds an activity organized by a teacher in California who is interested in working with teachers across the country on a project in which students collect data and then use it to calculate the circumference of the Earth. As a part of the activity, Tracey's class and several other classes all measure the shadow of a meter stick at noon on the same day. To do this, Tracey retrieves a spreadsheet template from the Learning Resource Server that helps her compute local noon in her location, so she can schedule the class observations. Her class then uses the data to estimate the Earth's circumference. In this way, Tracey engages the class in the whole process of doing science, not just in collecting data and writing up a lab report. She involves her students in discussions with students at the other sites concerning the nature of the problem and various methods of solution.

As with many first- year teachers, Tracey encounters problems with teaching certain abstract concepts. She sends a message describing her difficulties in teaching the concept of gravity and the distinction between mass and weight back to the university where she graduated. The question about mass and weight had been asked previously, so Tracey receives an immediate response from the Learning Resource Server there. The question about gravity is forwarded to a science methods class. Tracey knows that even though she will not receive an immediate responses (since she was in that science methods class as a student, and she knows that the question will be incorporated into a student project). But she also knows that the question will receive an in- depth consideration, and that a response will be very useful for her the next time she teaches the concept, as well as adding to the body of knowledge available electronically to teachers world- wide. During the semester, Tracey communicates with the students addressing her question, clarifying problems encountered so that research into her question, is in fact, helpful to her when completed.

During her second year of teaching, Tracey discovers that a graduate level course is being taught in the uses of micro- based laboratories in science courses. She signs up to take this course offered at a university 120 miles away, because after two introductory face- to- face meetings at the university, the remainder of the course is conducted over the NREN. Even though Tracey is teaching in a remote rural district, she is able to continue her education, both through formal courses offered through the NREN and through her informal interactions with university and K- 12 teachers over the network. She is also able to keep close contact with members of her cohort class of education majors, most of whom are also in their second year of teaching, drawing upon them for support. She can send questions to faculty and current undergraduate students at her alma mater. She is also able to draw upon other people that she's met electronically during her involvement in NREN- based projects throughout her undergraduate courses and her student teaching. Finally, Tracey discovers that a number of her students' parents have computers and modems (as they use them in their farm or agriculturally related businesses), and she organizes a parent- teacher collaborative to involve the parents more closely in their children's education through electronic interactions.

Realization of Teaching Teleapprenticeships

This idealization of Tracey's story includes several elements of how a student might proceed through his/her pre-service, student teacher experience, and professional teaching career. Now, let us analyze some of the real life experiences of several education majors learning to use electronic networks in their pre-service training.

Extra-Credit Projects

The Biology course referred to in this paper has an enrollment of about 300 students each fall. Approximately 50 education students were enrolled in this course during the fall semester of 1992. As a part of the course, students were given the options of doing extra-credit projects worth 30 points. One option was to write a summary of a Biology journal article of their choice. Each summary was worth five points. The education majors were given the choice of an extra-credit project which included the use of electronic networks. Those education majors interested in learning specific details about this project were asked to attend an informational meeting held on September 9. Approximately 30 students attended this meeting. Of these 30 students, about 20 became involved in this project. During the semester, several students decided to complete the other extra-credit project.

Student Profiles

Twelve students completed the computer network extra-credit project. Of those twelve students, four were selected to be interviewed. All four students were Elementary Education majors in their first year at the University of Illinois. Two students were focusing on science education, one student's area of concentration is mathematics, and one student plans to teach music. During their course of study, these students will be taking several courses that include the use of telecommunications in one form or another. In addition to the Biology course taken in the Fall of 1992, these students will also encounter computer networking in mathematics methods, science methods, and Junior Practicum courses.

Four students who began the telecommunication extra-credit project and later switched to the other optional project were interviewed by telephone to learn why they chose one project over the other. See "Reasons for Not Completing the Telecommunication Extra-credit Project" for a summary of these interviews.

Finding Biology Challenge Questions

Research assistants working on this project used the Internet to scan several net news boards related to science for challenging questions. The Biology students were sent twenty Biology related questions and were asked to select one research question and correspond with the originator of the message. Near the end of the semester, these students were given a questionnaire related to the challenge question and telecommunications, and were asked to write up a summary for a final report. While these questions were related to Biology, none of the twenty challenge questions were directly related to the course content.

Challenge Questions Selected

The four students described in this paper were selected because their grades ranged from high to low. The students responded to a variety of biological challenges.

Tammy responded to two questions. The first message about scorpions led to an extended exchange of information. The sender provided information about scorpions and in return, Tammy corresponded with the sender in Spanish.

hello, scorp-fans! i study scorpions. ok, call me wierd, but i'm sure most of you out there study something that *most* people call *BIZARRE*...but anyway (sorry for bad syntax/grammar...in a rush), i'm doing a little project on the distribution of the common striped scorpion, _Centruroides vittatus_...and anything else anyone is willing to throw in on scorpion *stuff*. i've been studying scorps since 1974, avidly since 1978, but i'm now just a sophomore at a southwestern univ., Nacogdoches, (naked roaches). e-mail or post, i don't care...but posting would be fun for those who wish to learn more about the *dastardly* little critters! i'm full of (it) information about scorpions and i'd love to share what i know... i don't know ev'rything 'bout 'em (DUHHH) but i'll find out.

The second message asked for information about corn silk.

Dear Mrs. Eding, What do farmers do with the corn silk? Tom Levin

Janet chose the following challenge question. She chose this question because she was slightly familiar with topic from a high school health course.

What happens when you drink alcohol? Why and how do we get drunk? Does anyone know how long it takes before alcohol reaches the brain?

Lynn corresponded with the sender of this message about fleas. She chose this topic because she thought it was interesting.

Someone told me the other day that there are two kind of fleas, dog fleas and cat fleas and that dog fleas won't bite humans but cat fleas will. Any truth to this? Thanks in advance, Sandra

Doreen tackled the following question on Birch Bark. What looked like a simple question quickly became a lengthy, complicated challenge.

My name is Ned Marsh and I am a 5th grade student at Ford Elementary School in Virginia. My teacher has suggested that I go online to ask a question about something we are doing in our class. One of my teacher's friends near our school has a dead birch tree and has said that it is very hard to get the bark off of it. We think that we can use this bark in class for several projects. Does anyone have any good methods of getting the bark off of a birch tree? If so, we would really like to hear from you. You can reach us by this discussion group, or we also have an Internet account: *******@radford.vak12ed.edu Thanks, and have a nice day.

Understanding the Reasons for Change

During the fall semester of 1992 and spring semester of 1993, we examined how the use of telecommunications effected change in the students beliefs, values, and goals in the teacher education program. To investigate how this experience effected change, we took a closer look at questionnaire responses, how the electronic network was used as an environment for learning about telecommunication, how it was used as an environment for knowledge acquisition, and how it was used as an environment for communication. We also documented how unexpected student experiences served as a reinforcement for learning about telecommunications.

Questionnaire Responses

Half way through the semester, questionnaires were sent via e-mail to the Biology students working on challenge questions. Six questions were asked (see Appendix B). Of the six students who responded, all of them have had experience with either Apple II, IBM, or Macintosh computers and have taken one or more semesters of Biology in high school. Prior to this course, none of the students had ever used e-mail. Five out of six responded that learning about electronic networks and Eudora was the best part of this extra-credit project, while one person was reserving judgement until later in the semester. In response to describing what the worst part of this extra-credit project was thus far, there were six different responses: remembering to check for messages, waiting for a response, finding the time to research the challenge question, not knowing how to get started, not having the opportunity to collaborate with other classmates, and problems encountered when using Eudora in the dormitories.

The Network as an Environment for Learning Telecommunications

Approximately 30 students attended an informational meeting. The project coordinator, explained details of the project, what the students would be asked to do, and demonstrated Eudora, a telecommunications program for the Macintosh computer. At the end of the meeting, the students were given a computer disk which contained the Eudora program, documentation, and additional files needed to use the program. The students were asked to go to the Computer Services Office on campus and obtain a student account to access the university's mainframe computers. The first hands-on workshop was set for the following week.

The two hands-on workshops were held in the College of Education's computer laboratory. Students used Macintosh computers to learn how to send and receive e-mail with the Eudora program. Students also learned how to modify configuration and settings files. The project coordinator and several research assistants were on hand to answer questions. Due to the start of a new semester, several students did not yet have their own computer account.

A second hands-on workshop was scheduled for three weeks later. This workshop was held to help those students who were still having technical problems or questions.

The Network as an Environment for Knowledge Acquisition

None of the students interviewed were completely familiar with the topic they chose, but each student used the network as a context for learning about their topic. Each student had a slightly different experience when researching their question. One student developed a friendship using e-mail; one student never received a reply from the person sending the message; another student had difficulty finding information about the topic and asked the project's Science coordinator for help; and the fourth student found that a simple question turned into many hours of research.

Tammy corresponded daily throughout the entire semester with the person who wrote the scorpion message. She received timely responses and developed a friendship over the network. While Tammy was learning about scorpions, she and her friend corresponded in Spanish. Tammy also selected a second challenge question related to corn silk during the semester.

Tammy consulted with an expert to research her topics. She talked with her roommate's father, a farmer, to find out what they do with corn silk. The scorpion project was an exchange of information on scorpions with her responding in Spanish. This exchange of information developed into a close friendship. She did not look in any other reference materials to learn more about scorpions. Tammy considered using printed reference books, but found that unnecessary since she received so much information from her friend in Texas.

Tammy liked the idea of students posing questions on a computer network and having other students research topics. She was concerned that some of the questions asked by students might be related to a homework assignment. Tammy would prefer to use the network as a teaching mechanism rather than as a means to obtain a right answer. She saw questions posed on the network as a way to reach content experts who might be able to further explain a topic. She would like to use the network as a tool for students and teachers to contact experts. Tammy also saw the possibility of conducting interviews over the network.

Tammy saw herself using a computer in the classroom when she is teaching, however, she was not sure how much e-mail will play a part in her mathematics teaching at the secondary level. Tammy thought it might be more difficult to use e-mail to answer mathematics related problems. She thought questions about science, similar to questions posed in this project, might be easier to discuss than mathematics questions. She envisioned mathematics students using software to help them learn concepts rather than using e-mail.

Alcohol consumption was not a topic covered in this Biology course, however, Janet knew something of the effects of alcohol from her Health and Freshman Biology classes in high school.

Janet learned much more about the effects of alcohol by doing this project. Janet focused her response to short term effects of alcohol, including statistics related to alcohol consumption in the United States. Her paper included information on deterioration of the liver and brain, a description of how wide spread this problem is in this country, how it has changed into a social habit, and how alcohol consumption is accepted in today's society.

Janet replied to the person who originally sent the message, but she never received an acknowledgment. Since she did not hear from this person, she had to make certain assumptions about the information requested. While researching the topic, she didn't contact other experts in the field, but instead talked to her father, a Health teacher, about the problem. Janet looked at textbooks, articles and the on-line catalog system in the library, but relied heavily on her father's information.

Janet reported that participating in this extra-credit project made an impact on how she viewed what might happen when she teaches in a regular classroom. She was not aware that computer networks like this existed and that teachers would have access to this kind of resource. Janet saw using e-mail as a resource for teachers who are in schools. Four years from now when she graduates, she wonders what computer equipment will be in her classroom.

Lynn responded to the girl from Alabama who asked the question about dog and cat fleas. While the question posed sounded simple, she found the question difficult to answer. After extensive research, she was unable to find sufficient information on fleas. She contacted the Science coordinator on this project who suggested that she contact a professor at the university who is recognized as an expert in the field. This expert provided information on different species of fleas, symptoms caused by flea bites, and locations in this country where fleas are prominent.

Lynn saw how students could use this method as a way to ask teachers or teaching assistants questions about course topics. Lynn thought that learning about a topic by taking on an extra-credit project of this type is useful to the person answering the question by taking an in-depth look at a problem. It is also beneficial to the sender of the message because it is an additional resource for students to get several responses about a particular subject.

Doreen found that, as she gathered information on birch tree bark, the topic was much broader than she expected. She started her research by finding out how the Indians went about making canoes out of birch trees. She contacted a professor in forestry at the university and a person from the Northwestern Indian museum in Evanston, IL. These experts mailed her packets of information. Her final paper included the history of how Indians used birch tree bark, the process used to remove the bark from the tree, and activities and crafts for the students.

Doreen enjoyed working on this extra-credit project and thought that she learned a lot. She thought using computer networks was a good way to learn about science and would like the opportunity to expand her knowledge on the topic for another course assignment.

The Network as a Context for Communication

Each of the students interviewed used the computer to communicate with professors, project coordinators, other students, and friends. Some students limited their communication to what was expected of them for this assignment while others quickly saw how e-mail provided a quick, inexpensive, and easy way to communicate with friends across the country. The reasons for continuing to use the network as a means of communication or not using the network varied. One student no longer used the network to communicate when the class ended because she was too busy, another student would use it but she no longer had her disk with the Eudora application since it was handed in with her final report at the end of the semester, and yet another student continued to use e-mail on a regular basis after the class ended.

Tammy used e-mail extensively throughout the semester and continues to use e-mail after the class to keep in touch with friends locally and out of town. Tammy used a program known as Gopher to obtain e-mail addresses of friends at Northwestern University. She felt very comfortable using e-mail and would communicate with her current professors if it was required.

When asked if using e-mail has changed her view of correspondence and computers she said "Yes, definitely!" Prior to this Biology class, Tammy used e-mail at a friend's house. This person has an IBM computer and modem. Tammy used this computer to contact her friends at the Naval Academy.

During the fall semester Tammy checked for e-mail messages daily due to the volume of e-mail sent and received. During the following spring semester, she received less e-mail so she checked for messages about twice a week. During the project Tammy received an average of 5 or 6 messages a day. During the next semester, she received an average of about 6 messages twice a week. Telecommunications became a normal, easy, inexpensive way for her to communicate with her friends.

Janet reported that she was too busy this semester to use Eudora. Last semester she used e-mail to correspond with her professor and members of the research project. She always received prompt replies. Janet tried to correspond with the sender of the alcohol message, but never received a response. She never used e-mail to correspond with friends although she was aware that other students did so. Janet thought that she would use e-mail later in her undergraduate program and when she is a teacher. Janet saw e-mail as an efficient, inexpensive way to communicate. She liked corresponding with e-mail since she hates to play "phone tag." During this project, Janet checked her mail at least twice a week, sometimes every other day.

Janet envisioned herself using e-mail in the classroom once she is teaching if she has access. Using e-mail in the classroom will depend on where she is employed and which resources are available. She knows that many schools do not have funds to purchase computer equipment. If there are not enough computers in the school it might be difficult to integrate networking projects in the classroom. Janet is hoping to teach grades K-2 so using e-mail would depend on whether or not the students could read. Janet saw the relevance of using e-mail in Science where her students will have the opportunity to ask questions similar to the way the extra-credit project addressed questions asked by elementary students.

Lynn saw herself using e-mail when she begins teaching. She was particularly interested in the ability to correspond with professors at the University of Illinois and other teachers and student teachers who have gone through a similar program. Lynn doesn't really know how students in an elementary music class might use computer networks, but she speculated that it would depend on how quickly the elementary students can learn how to use technology.

When Doreen used e-mail, she corresponded with her professor, members of the research project, and the person who sent the original challenge message. She received expedient replies from her professor and research coordinators, however, she never received a reply from the person who sent the challenge message. Doreen checked for incoming messages only when she had to send e-mail messages. She normally sent and received e-mail messages on the weekends. Doreen did not correspond with any friends or classmates.

As a communication tool, Doreen found e-mail an effective way to communicate. She thought it was great to have a mechanism for teachers to ask questions. She was also interested in finding out what programs are available in schools, what schools have computers, who can use them, and who can be contacted via electronic networks.

Unexpected Reinforcement of Networks as a Tool for Learning

A pleasant yet unexpected occurrence happened in the semester following the introductory biology course. Two of the four students interviewed were asked to use computer networks as a part of their science courses. These two courses were not a part of our research on Teaching Teleapprenticeships, but it indicates the expanding use of telecommunications in education.

Tammy's Geology professor mentioned in class that he would like to set up a electronic bulletin board where the students could ask questions and he or the teaching assistants would be able to respond. She was looking forward to participating in this discussion.

Doreen was taking a Plant Biology course from a professor who was enrolled in an extra-mural class on computer networking. She expected to be using telecommunications later in the spring semester.

Doreen hoped that some of the research she did last semester on the birch tree bark might be used for extra-credit in this Plant Biology class. She did not want to have to answer another question like she did last semester because doing a project similar to the one last semester involved a tremendous amount of work, and she wonders if professors understand just how much is involved when responding to a challenge question. Doreen hoped that she can do some additional research on the structure of a tree for example building on what she has done last semester rather than starting another question from scratch. Doreen seemed to believe that the telecommunications assignment in her current Plant Biology course would be similar to what she did last semester. Doreen thought that expanding her research on a topic that she has already gotten familiar with would be much more beneficial to her than to simply answer another question.

The first author of this paper recently received an e-mail message from Doreen's instructor informing us that she had gotten in touch with the K-12 teacher with whom she communicated in the fall semester and was expanding the project she did on birch bark canoes to provide more information to "her" teacher. The instructor of her Plant Biology course has agreed to accept her work as an extra-credit project even though the extra-credit project offered to the students in his class entailed attending a lecture or seminar presentation and writing a summary and critique of the talk to be "published" to the FrEdMail electronic network for K-12 science teachers.

This instructor also informed me that some other Education students in his class also might be interested in answering a Biology challenge question like the one Doreen did. An explanation of this semester's research activities were sent to the instructor and his students were invited to participate.

Differences Across Settings

When using situated evaluation, it is important to analyze the characteristics of how computer networks are used by the students. There is no "one right way" to use computer networks. At the present time, we are documenting how students in this introductory biology course used computer networks to complete an extra-credit project. As we continue to analyze data from students in other courses participating in this study, we will compare and contrast how computer networks were used in a variety of contexts. In this introductory biology course, students had a purpose for using telecommunications. They used computers and computer networks to contact experts in a particular area of biology, to research biological topics, and to write their final paper. They also encountered problems. Analyzing the types of problems students encounter and when these problems occur will also contribute to an understanding of how computer networks are used across contexts.

Purpose of Using Telecommunications

Researchers (Riel & Levin, 1990; Riel, 1990a; and Bruce & Rubin, 1993) have noted that when individuals have a purpose for using an innovation like telecommunications, they continue to use the technology. This was very apparent during the interview process of this project. While two students used e-mail to contact friends, only one student continues to use it. This person saw the advantage of corresponding to friends in different parts of the country as an effective, low-cost way to communicate. The two students who used Eudora only to correspond with their professor and project coordinators within the scope of their class assignment, discontinued using Eudora even though they understood that e-mail can be an effective and efficient way to communicate.

Although one of her classes might require the use of telecommunications later in the semester, Tammy continued to use Eudora to keep in touch with friends despite the fact that she was unfamiliar with most of the options available in Eudora.

Using telecommunications was a new experience for Janet. Her past computer experiences included the use of Apple II and IBM computers. Using Eudora had a definite impact on her life because she not only learned how to communicate with e-mail, but also learned how to use the Macintosh.

Even though Lynn used Eudora to contact friends last semester, she had discontinued using it because none of her classes required it and she was too busy. Learning about Eudora had impacted her life by discovering how much can be done with computer networks. Lynn saw e-mail as the wave of the future and was more aware of its usefulness in the classroom.

Although Doreen found Eudora difficult to use and commented that she used the program very little, she was looking forward to using e-mail and Eudora in her Plant Biology class this Spring. While preferring the IBM computer, she used Eudora on the Macintosh for all her e-mail correspondence. When she had the opportunity to use e-mail in other classes, she hopes to learn more about the Eudora program.

Access and Available Resources

Having access to computers with networking capabilities is crucial to the success of projects discussed in this paper. Most freshman at the University of Illinois live in dormitories, most of which are equipped with Macintosh and IBM computer laboratories. Several other computer laboratories are also available throughout the campus including one in the College of Education. Each student interviewed used the computer laboratory in their dormitory building or in a building close to their dormitory to communicate using Eudora and to write their final report using word processing software. The student who had to leave her residence to access a computer laboratory across the street reported that it took an extra effort just to walk to a different building to use the computers.

Tammy used a Macintosh computer and MacWrite II to write her paper. She almost always used Macintosh computers now even though she had an older model of an IBM in her room at school. Only when the Macintosh computers were all being used did she use an IBM.

Janet and Lynn used Macintosh computers in their dormitory to send and receive e-mail messages. Both students used Microsoft Word to write up their final papers.

Doreen was a computer user, but she sometimes procrastinated because she found it a hassle to go down to the computer laboratory across the street especially when it was cold. Doreen also found it easier to use the IBM in the computer laboratories because she often found the IBM computers available when all of the Macintosh computers were in use. Doreen kept two disks, one for the IBM and another for the Macintosh so she could use whichever computer was available. Doreen used an IBM and WordPerfect to write her paper and a Macintosh computer for telecommunications.

Using Written and On-line References

When researching their challenge question, these students used both traditional and computer-based resources. They talked to experts in the field, and used the university library on-line computers and CD-ROM databases to locate information about their topic.

Tammy relied heavily on information from experts. These individuals communicated with her using the telephone or e-mail. Printed information was received through the U.S. mail.

Janet has used ERIC for research projects in other classes. Janet did not know how else computer networks could be used except for what she did in the Biology class and using ERIC.

Lynn contacted an expert in the field of entomology to gather information on fleas after her search of printed and on-line information yielded little information.

Doreen first started researching her question by looking in encyclopedias on the different kinds of birch trees. She identified the type of birch trees used to make canoes, then narrowed her topic to talk about one species of birch tree. She used InfoTrak (an on-line database), and magazine articles to find information on the kinds of tools used to strip off birch bark. Since there was limited information from these two sources, she continued her search in science journals on CD-ROM and in print form. Doreen did not understand the terminology used in these journals, so she contacted local libraries and nature centers, but again found that these sources of information were limited. On a visit home in the Chicago area, she continued her search and found an article and a book on Indians that proved helpful.


As with any new technology, students encountered problems when learning how to use the new technology. These problems have surfaced in other research telecommunication projects(Chung, 1991; Stapleton, 1992). The problems these students experienced were minor and mostly occurred at the beginning of the semester. Once these initial problems were addressed, the students continued with their projects.

E-mail can be sent but not received. Tammy was at first able to send e-mail but not receive messages. The problem was traced to an incorrect machine name in her configuration file.

Content of floppy disk erased. Shortly into the project, Tammy's floppy disk was erased by mistake. She was given a new floppy disk, but the previous messages located on the floppy disk were lost.

Setting switches. Tammy experimented with some of the Eudora settings and in doing so received duplicate messages.

Delay in obtaining an account. Janet became frustrated at the beginning of the semester because it took over two weeks to obtain a valid student computer account.

Confusion about using Eudora. Once Janet's account was activated, she was confused about how to send e-mail. The difference between the menu items Send Message and Send Message To were confusing. This minor problem was quickly resolved at one of the hands-on workshops that she attended.

Invalid account. Doreen had problems with an invalid account. It took her three weeks before she even got started.

Mainframe computer down. Sometimes when she was using Eudora, she couldn't get through because mainframe computer was down. This was confusing to her because she did not know whether or not the problem was related to something she did.

Eudora floppy disk handed in. At the end of the semester, several students handed in the floppy disk they were given at the beginning of the semester. This disk contained the Eudora program and all the messages they wrote and received during the semester. Since they handed in their disk, they no longer had access to the program that allowed them to continue using e-mail. In future semesters, students will be asked to either copy their files to another floppy or exchange their current floppy for another one.

Lynn experienced no problems.

Reasons for Not Completing the Telecommunications Extra-credit Project

Four of the eight students who began to participate in the electronic network project then later either dropped the network project or switched to the other optional extra-credit project (reading Biology journal articles and writing up summaries) were interviewed by telephone. Several reasons for not completing the network extra-credit project were given. These reasons included (a) encountering problems when first learning how to use e-mail; (b) perceiving the network project would take too much time to complete; and (c) losing interest in the network project due to lack of response from the originator of the challenge question selected. Of these four students, two learned to use Eudora and currently use e-mail to communicate with friends and two know how to use e-mail but they are not using e-mail at the present time.

Recommendations and Implications

During the interviews, students were asked to comment on ways to improve the workshops and to think about how using telecommunications impacted their lives.

Recommendations for Improving Workshops

Most of the students reported some confusion about what the extra-credit project entailed, but the confusion was cleared up after the first workshop. All of the students interviewed commented that the training sessions could be improved by having all hands-on workshops. That was our intent as well, but severe thunderstorms prevented us from going to a computer laboratory during the first workshop.

The students liked the tutorial and noted that it was very helpful. One student would have preferred printed documentation rather than having the Eudora instructions in a text file. Another student printed the documentation and carried it in her notebook.

They all agreed that there were plenty of people available during the workshops to help them learn how to use Eudora, but some students would have liked more time on the computers. One student appreciated the fact that we provided the Eudora application on the floppy disk to each of the participants so that they could go to any Macintosh computer to send or receive messages.

Implications in the Classroom

Research results indicate that computer- based networks can function as effective tools both for the professional development of teachers and for curriculum development and dissemination. Numerous findings have shown that teachers will work with network colleagues and exchange information relevant to curriculum development in the domains of science (Katz, McSwiney, & Stroud, 1987; Levin & Cohen, 1985; Newman, 1986a; Newman, 1986b; Newman, 1987; Newman, Brienne, Goldman, Jackson & Magzamen, 1988; Newman, 1989; Waugh & Levin, 1989), mathematics (Levin, 1985; Levin, Rogers, Waugh, & Smith, 1989; Thalathoti, 1988; Thalathoti, 1992), and problem solving (Waugh, Miyake, Levin, & Cohen, 1988.)

These students will be going back to their home towns or elsewhere to find teaching positions knowing more about computers and electronic networks. They understand how these networks can facilitate learning. Most of the students see themselves using e-mail in the classroom. They see how computer networks can be used as a mechanism that allows teacher collaboration and provides a way for teachers and students to ask questions from experts in a variety of fields. E-mail can link teachers in a school, teachers at different schools, and teachers with their mentors at the university. They see the use of telecommunications as a great way to get ideas from other teachers in their field and incorporate them in their own curriculum.

But, at the present time, many of the students do not know which schools have computers, where computers are located in schools, or what software and other hardware might be available. They wonder if they will be lucky enough to get a job in a school that uses computers. They see that children learn from computers because it is fun. They are also aware that some kids may know a lot more about computers then they do.

Janet and Doreen, the science education students, see themselves incorporating networking activities in their science curriculum. Tammy, specializing in mathematics, is a little uncertain about how computer networking can be incorporated into her mathematics teaching. Instead, she envisions herself and her students using mathematics programs on the computer. Lynn, the student focusing on teaching elementary music, is not familiar with any computer programs that are used for teaching music. She thinks that schools of the future will require teachers to know how to use computers or expect them to use computers in their classroom.


As these students continue their undergraduate program we will continually monitor their perspectives on how computer networking has effected their lives. At the present time, we are already observing several advantages and disadvantages of incorporating computer networking in the teacher education program.

Students participating in this project had no previous experience with telecommunications. Computer networks can create an environment for learning telecommunications, for knowledge acquisition, and as a context for communication. Offering extra-credit network projects seems to be an effective way for freshman education majors to learn how to use telecommunications. Receiving prompt e-mail responses provides positive feedback for students to complete the project. Access to computers is an important element contributing to the success of using computer networks. Students having multiple purposes for using telecommunications, contacting friends using e-mail in addition to communicating with instructors or class colleagues, tend to continue using the technology. Students familiar with on-line resources, (i.e. library on-line computers, databases, CD-ROMs) tend to use them regularly for class assignments. Finally, the use of computer networks in education is already spreading to university courses not involved in this study.

Students using Eudora tend to encounter minor "start-up" problems, but once those problems are resolved, the students find Eudora easy to use. To analyze messages sent and received during each semester, we must insure that students exchange their disk with the project coordinator.

Recommendations for Further Research

In this first year of our study, we are already seeing a number of different elements surfacing when pre-service students use telecommunications and from this, more questions arise. We will need to monitor how many workshops students need once they are familiar with Eudora. Will they need to know how to attach files and send movies or graphics via e-mail? Should we organize workshops about using Gopher (a distributive information server)? Should we provide a workshop for students wishing to use IBM computers for their telecommunication needs? Should teachers learn how to use other electronic bulletin boards, such as FrEdMail (a free educational bulletin board), as an alternative for teachers to use in schools that are not connected to the Internet? Will students need to be retrained on the use of Eudora if they do not continually use the program?

Problems encountered in each of the courses this year need to be analyzed for similarities and differences. Do the same problems surface in each of these courses? Will computer laboratories be as accessible to students not living in dormitories? Is there an easier, more expedient way for students to obtain computer accounts?

Do students in the education program find using telecommunications an effective resource? Are their other ways, besides extra-credit projects, pre-service education students can be introduced to computer networks? If students stop using Eudora after being introduced to it in the context of an extra-credit project, how long will it take for them to continue using the program on a regular basis? Will communication with friends be the only reason for continued use?

Once student teachers learn to use telecommunications in their education program, how will it affect their use when they begin teaching? When the education students graduate, they lose their student computer account. How will the lack of a student account on the Internet affect the use of telecommunications in the classroom? Will this research project be able to pay the university for teacher accounts? Will the teachers try to find alternate ways to access education experts and resources found on the Internet? Will the Information Infrastructure and Technology Act that supports the development of the National Research and Education Network (NREN) be approved by the new Congress and implemented in time to offer support for teachers once they have been cultivated in the use of computer networks?

These are not easy questions to answer. Some of these questions deal with national and state government support. Other questions relate to how the teacher education program changes with the introduction of computer-based networks. But the most critical questions of all are: Will the introduction of telecommunications in this teacher education program have a lasting impact on these teaching teleapprentices? Will this new technology change the way they think and teach using computers and computer-based networks in the schools?

Appendix A

Personal Interview Questions

General Questions

What classes are you taking this semester? What will you be taking in the fall?

What education area are you most interested in? (elementary, secondary, special education)

Do you still have your Eudora floppy disk you used in the Biology class? Can I have a copy?

Project Questions

Was the purpose of your extra-credit project clearly explained?

Did the extra-credit project have an impact on the Biology 10/101 course? If yes, in what way?

Did the project have an impact on your view of Biology? If yes, in what way?

Content Issues

What topic did you address in your extra-credit project? Give a brief summary of the "answer" that you composed.

Did you know much about the topic when you began?

What new information did you did you learn about the topic?


Did you contact the originator of the challenge message for further information?

Did you consult any scientists or content experts to solve the problem?

What references did you use in researching this topic?

What sources did you consider using but did not?

Can you think of other situations in which you would be using the network?

Did you use Gopher or any other kind of database or information source?

Did you use a computer to write up your extra-credit project? If so, what program did you use?

Eudora Questions

Are you still using Eudora? the network? If yes, for what purposes? If no, ask next question.

Are you using some other communications program?

Have you changed any of Eudora's settings or configuration?

E-mail Questions

Did you use e-mail to correspond with your instructor, classmates, or friends?

Did you get prompt replies?

How often do you (did you) check for e-mail messages?

Are you taking a course this semester that requires the use of e-mail?

How do you use e-mail? What process or procedure do you go through?

Has the use of e-mail affected you in any other way?

Do you find e-mail an effective way to communicate?

What are your impressions of the usefulness of e-mail for answering questions like this?

Do you see yourself using e-mail when you begin teaching in the classroom?

What do you think about using e-mail in the classroom to have the students go about answering questions in much the same way?

Dialup or other network problems

How many training sessions did you attend?

How can the training sessions be improved?

Did you have problems using Eudora?

Did you ever run out of space on your floppy disk during the course of the semester?

Where did you mostly use Eudora from?

If you used Eudora from different places, did you have problems using different machines?

Appendix B


We're interested in getting some feedback from you about how the extra-credit Teaching Teleapprenticeship project is going. As I mentioned at the beginning of the semester, this is part of a research project we are conducting to improve the teacher education program, both here at Illinois and nationally., Here are a few questions I'd like you to answer. If you have any questions about the research project, your extra-credit project, etc., please feel free to contact me. Thanks!

If you want, just reply to this message, and insert your answers right after the questions. If you feel more comfortable printing out the questions and writing in the answers, please send it through campus mail to me.

Jim Levin

210 Education Building

1. Your experience with computers before this semester:

2. Your experience with electronic mail before this semester:

3. You experience with biology before this semester:

4. The best part about this extra-credit project so far:

5. The worst part about this extra-credit project so far:

6. Your suggestions for improving this project:


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Chung, H. K. (1991) Factors that affect the use of instructional electronic message systems. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Illinois.

Katz, M. M., McSwiney, E., & Stroud, K. (1987). Facilitating collegial exchange among science teachers: An experiment in computer-based conferencing (Technical No. Harvard Graduate School of Education, Educational Technology Center.

Levin, J., & Cohen, M. (1985). The world as an international science laboratory: Electronic networks for science instruction and problem solving. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 4, 33-35.

Levin, J. A. (1985). Computers as media for communication: Learning and development in a whole earth context. In Fifteenth Annual Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society, . Philadelphia, PA:

Levin, J. A.,Rogers, A.,Waugh, M., & Smith, K. (1989). Observations on educational electronic networks: Appropriate activities for learning. The Computing Teacher, 16, 17-21.

Levin, J. A., & Waugh, M. (1992). Computer-Based Networks for Teacher Education: Science and Mathematics Teaching Teleapprenticeships. A proposal to the National Science Foundation Advanced Applications of Technology Program.

Levin, J. A., Waugh, M., Brown, D., & Clift, R. (1993). Teaching Teleapprenticeships: A New Organizational Framework for Improving Teacher Education using Electronic Networks. In Annual Meetings of the American Educational Research Association, . Atlanta GA:

Newman, D. (1986a). Local and long distance computer networking for science classrooms. In American Educational Research Association Meetings, . San Francisco CA:

Newman, D. (1986b). Telecommunications: A phone line in the classroom. In A. J. Seager (Ed.) To support the learner: Enhancing learning through technology. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Newman, D. (1987). Local and long distance computer networking for science classrooms. Educational Technology, 27(6), 20-23.

Newman, D. (1989). Computer mediation of collaborative science investigations. Journal of Computing Research, 5(2), 151-166.

Newman, D., Brienne, D., Goldman, S., Jackson, I., & Magzamen, S. (1988). Peer collaboration in computer-mediated science investigations. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Meeting, New Orleans.

Riel, M. (1990a). Cooperative learning across classrooms. Instructional Science, 19, 445-466.

Riel, M., & Levin, J. (1990). Building electronic communities: Successes and failures in computer networking. Instructional Science, 19, 145-169.

Stapleton, C. E. (1992). Network activity stages: Organization of successful electronic collaboration and communication. In S. Gayle (Ed.), National Educational Computing Conference, (pp. 241-247). Dallas, TX:

Thalathoti, V. V. (1988). Educational electronic networks: Implications for mathematics education. (Technical report). Champaign IL: University of Illinois, Department of Educational Psychology.

Thalathoti, V. V.(1992). Teaching exploratory data analysis using a microcomputer-based telecommunications network. Doctoral Dissertation. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois.

Waugh, M., & Levin, J. A. (1989). TeleScience activities: Educational uses of electronic networks. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 8, 29-33.

Waugh, M., Miyake, N., Levin, J.A., & Cohen M. (1988). Problem solving interactions on electronic networks. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association Meeting, New Orleans:

Sandra R. Levin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 130 Education Building, 1310 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61920 <sandy-levin@uiuc.edu>

James A. Levin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 130 Education Building, 1310 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61920 <jim-levin@uiuc.edu>

Ray Boehmer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 130 Education Building, 1310 South Sixth Street, Champaign, IL 61920 <r-boehmer@uiuc.edu>

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