Docstoc

Virtual Weddings

Document Sample
Virtual Weddings Powered By Docstoc
					                      Virtual Weddings


Cultural Studies, Linguistics and Literature Getting Hitched

        Evaluation of a Project Integrating English Studies with
            Information Communication Technology at the
              Department of Modern Languages/English




                                Umeå University
                                Department of Modern Languages/English
                                Ulla Widqvist
                                Wednesday, 07 November 2001
                                Examensarbete 5p, Lärarutbildningen
                                Supervisor: Elisabeth Mårald
Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................... 3
   THESIS STATEMENT AND AIM .................................................................................................. 4
   THEORY................................................................................................................................... 4
     The principle of learner autonomy..................................................................................... 4
     The principle of reciprocity................................................................................................ 5
     Working over the Internet .................................................................................................. 5
   DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT ................................................................................................ 6
   THE TEST RUN ......................................................................................................................... 9
   METHOD ................................................................................................................................ 10
ANALYSIS.............................................................................................................................. 12
   FIRST STUDENT QUESTIONNAIRE ........................................................................................... 12
     To join or not to join ........................................................................................................ 12
     Expectations ..................................................................................................................... 13
     Previous knowledge.......................................................................................................... 14
   SECOND STUDENT QUESTIONNAIRE ....................................................................................... 14
     Expectations ..................................................................................................................... 14
     Technology ....................................................................................................................... 15
     Achieving the goals .......................................................................................................... 16
     The holistic view............................................................................................................... 16
     Group work ...................................................................................................................... 17
     Degree of difficulty........................................................................................................... 17
     The time factor ................................................................................................................. 18
     Lasting knowledge............................................................................................................ 18
   TEACHER QUESTIONNAIRE .................................................................................................... 19
     Achieving the goals .......................................................................................................... 19
     The holistic view............................................................................................................... 20
     Group work ...................................................................................................................... 21
     Expectations ..................................................................................................................... 21
     Reactions .......................................................................................................................... 21
   POSSIBLE PROJECTS FOR HIGH S CHOOL/UPPER S ECONDARY LEVEL ..................................... 22
CONCLUSION ....................................................................................................................... 24
BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................................................................................. 25
WEB SITES ............................................................................................................................ 25
THE VIRTUAL MANIFESTATION ................................................................................... 26
QUESTIONNAIRE ONE ...................................................................................................... 29
FINAL QUESTIONNAIRE .................................................................................................. 30
TEACHER QUESTIONNAIRE ........................................................................................... 31




                                                                                                                                            2
Introduction

In recent years cross-disciplinary studies have become increasingly popular. These are
seen as a way to motivate students, since it usually provides them with a greater
understanding for the use they can have of the different subjects.


For the third consecutive year the Department for Modern Languages/English, at
Umeå University, the project Cultural Simulation: Virtual Weddings and a Real Wedding of
Linguistics, Cultural Studies and Literature (hereafter referred to as the Wedding Project) is
trying to do just this. Working in small groups in their third semester of under-
graduate studies of English students study literature, culture and linguistics on a
specified theme. They combine the knowledge they have gained into a web site,
produced by the students, and finally build a virtual world. In the first two runs the
topic for the project, as well as the virtual world, was the wedding. This year it is the
city. Different cultural and linguistic aspects of the topic are explored, along with
reading novels on the subject, and finally the findings are compiled into a unity; the
virtual city with links to their web site.


Being in my final semester of my teacher education it is highly interesting to explore a
territory that combines my two subjects; English and Media. Working as a teacher I
hope to do just this. Therefore it seems natural to evaluate the project, and try to learn
as much as possible. Moreover, it would be of help to the teachers of the project to
gain knowledge as to how successful the project is in comparison to the goals set up.


Questions that I would like this essay to answer include: How do language students
experience working in a project that is largely technological? Have the students felt that
they have been able to combine the three fields of study? What do the students think
of working in a group instead of working individually on their essays? What made the
students choose, or not choose, working with this project? What do the students feel
was the largest benefit in working this way? Has the project given the students
knowledge valuable for their future lives? What were the goals for the project, and
                                          as
have they been reached any of the years? H the project turned out the way the
teachers expected?




                                                                                                 3
    Thesis statement and aim

    My thesis is that this project leads the way for a new way of working with language
    studies, where cross-disciplinary studies not only increase the students’ interest for the
    integrated subjects, but also provide the students with a more holistic view of the
    subjects. To prove this I will evaluate the Wedding Project by asking students about
    their expectations and how they experienced the project, and by asking the teachers for
    their opinions of the project. The answers will be compared to theories by Ben gt
    Jonsson, Helmut Brammerts and David Little, as introduced in Language Learning in
    Tandem over the Internet1.




    Theory

    In Ben gt Jonsson’s, Helmut Brammerts’ and David Little’s Language Learning in Tandem
    over the Internet, some important principles of language learning are listed. The book is a
    guide to learning with a fellow tandem student, so that a Swedish student, who wishes
    to learn German, would work with a German student, who wishes to learn Swedish.
    Working this way the Swedish student would get expert help with his or her studies in
    German and vice versa. The German student can check translations; they can practice
    speaking over the Internet, etcetera. Even though the Wedding Project works in a
    different way, the principle of learner autonomy and the principle of reciprocity are
    valid for all language studies, especially when working in a project such as the Wedding
    Project.

    The principle of learner autonomy
    The present interest in Learner Autonomy stems from Henri Holec’s Autonomy and
    Foreign Language Learning2, in which he states that the goal for adult education is to
    prepare the learner to actively partake in the learning process. Adult education should
    be “an instrument for arousing an increasing sense of awareness and liberation of man,
    and, in some cases, an instrument for changing the environment itself. From the idea

1
  Bengt Jonsson, Helmut Brammerts, David Little, Språkinlärning i tandem över Internet (Härnösand:
Institutionen för Kultur och Media, 1996), transl. Ulla Widqvist, hereafter referred to in the running text by
surnames and page reference only.
2
  Henri Holec, Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning (Oxford: Pergamon 1981), hereafter referred to in the
running text by surname and page reference only.


                                                                                                            4
    of man ‘product of his society’, one moves the idea of man ‘producer of his society’”
    (Holec 3). The idea in itself was not new; this is how small children learn, out of their
    own interest in something. What is new is to see autonomy as the goal for individual
    learning development. Or, as Jonsson, Brammerts and Little put it:
           Each [person] is responsible for his or her learning process. He or she decides what,
           where and when to learn something, and can only expect the support that is asked for
           from his or her project partners3. (Jonsson, Brammerts, Little 4)

    The responsibility for learning lies on the student and not the teachers. In fact, it really
    is not possible to teach, only to entice people to want to learn by making it more
    interesting.


    The principle of reciprocity
    When working in a project it is important that all participants take responsibility for
    their work.
           A successful learning process rests upon [all] parts being dependent upon
           and supporting each other. Therefore they should contribute to the mutual
           work, whilst benefiting to the same extension4. (Jonsson, Brammerts, Little 3)

    Working in a project all group members should benefit from each other in different
    ways, from sharing information they find to knowledge about the technology that they
    have gained. There is no teacher, nobody to tell the students what to learn and what to
    look for. All group members have obligations to each other and to the group as a
    whole. They all have to contribute to the work, but they also have the right to expect
    the same from all other group members. This may mean that two groups work in
    completely different ways. In one group there may be a person working very hard,
    bringing the other group members to the same level. In another group a person is
    working very little, making the other group members think “what’s the use in working
    any harder?” Hopefully the former alternative is more common.



    Working over the Internet
    Working over the Internet provides the students with possibilities of contacts with
    people from all over the world. Creating a web site, where all papers are published,
    facilitates for others to partake in the development of the web site and the virtual
    cities. Comments on papers can be e-mailed to the students and the virtual world can

3
    Transl. Ulla Widqvist
4
    Transl. Ulla Widqvist


                                                                                                   5
    be visited to see the progress in the building of the cities. Students can work from
    different physical locations, and still be in constant contact.
            Working over the Internet provides a number of advantages: Texts can be produced and
            read via different means of communication. Answers [to e-mails] can be well thought-
            out, both linguistically and content-wise. But the Internet also provides a possibility to
            communicate synchronous with a lot of people in chat groups5. (Jonsson, Brammerts,
            Little 6)

    The editor used for creating the web pages, Microsoft FrontPage, is easy to use, and
    the site can be accessed from any computer with the software installed. This makes it
    easy for the group members to see what everybody else is doing, and how work is
    progressing. The project also uses an e-mail list, where members can be in constant
    contact, ask questions when necessary, and receive answers quickly.


    In addition, publishing your works on the Internet usually makes students put more
    effort into their work, since anybody with a computer and an Internet connection can
    see it. The medium is the message; for some students learning English shifts from
    boring to fun, for others working with computers becomes interesting.

    Description of the Project

    The aim of the Wedding Project is to achieve a more holistic view of the students’
    English studies through creating a model that incorporates the use of information
    technology and virtual worlds into the study of English. The technology is used to
    achieve a synthesis between the components: linguistics, cultural studies and literature.
    Each run of the project culminates in an event in the virtual world created by the
    students. 6


    In groups of three to four persons students work together and progress a number of
    stages (see Figure 1), in which different skills are introduced and/or developed (see
    Table 1). Work is started in step one by collecting material, and continues in step two
    by analyzing this material and representing it in hypertext form. Thus far the work is
    mainly individual. From step 3 and upwards the work will be more group oriented and
    the group members have to agree on how to create the virtual world and link it to their
    hyper texts.



5
    Trans. Ulla Widqvist
6
    http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/


                                                                                                         6
    Figure 1. The progress pyramid7


    The software used to create the virtual world is the ActiveWorlds suite. The resulting
    environment is similar to many computer games, where you control a character in a
    computer-generated three-dimensional world. ActiveWorlds software is well suited for
    this purpose due to its integration of the virtual world and the web browser. Figure 2
    illustrates the ActiveWorlds environment. In the main window is the virtual world.
    Below that is a window for chatting with other people. The window to the right
    displays the students’ web sites, where visitors can read the produced papers. By
    clicking on objects in the world different papers are displayed. Right now two persons
    can be seen chatting in one of the cities.




7
    http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/


                                                                                             7
Figure 2: An Active Worlds window

As pointed out above, the primary aim of the project is to achieve synthesis between
the various modules that are taught, and to represent this process and its results in a
virtual environment. Even though the academic analysis is the main goal, the
exploration of new media is necessary to the project. The skills obtained by the
students, as they progress up the pyramid, are shown in Table 1, in relation to the steps
in the pyramid in Figure 1.




                                                                                            8
                General                         Computer                   Virtual world
                skills                          skills
     Step       implementation                  building a                 finalizing the
     5          presentation                    world                      world
                technique                       presentation               the actual
                                                technique                  manifestation
     Step       negotiating                     modeling                   create artifacts
     4          skills                                                     and roles
     Step       communicative                   various kinds              visit other
     3         competence                       of                         worlds
                integration                      communication             invite people
                                                software (VW, chat,        put a graphic
                                                video                      representation
                                                 conferencing               of the frame in the
                                                etc.)                      world
     Step       write academic-type             exploring                  hypertext
     2          papers                          hypertext                  presentation
                critical
                thinking
     Step       how to find material            using corpora              Visit an empty world
     1          how to present                  using the Net              create the initial
                factual material                using VW                   page
                                                software
                                                simple
                                                hypertext
    Table 1: Aims in relation to the pyramid8



    The test run

    In the spring of 1999 the project was run for the first time, as a test run. At that time I
    was an English student at the C level and chose to participate in the project. The
    lasting memory must be three months of confusion and one month of extremely hard
    work. Since this was the first time the project was run nobody was quite sure of what
    to do, or how to do it. There was a lack of supervision that resulted in a few students
    doing hardly anything for the first months. Personally, I think that students at
    university level should take responsibility for their work, which would mean that
    supervision ought to be superfluous, but that seems not to be the case for these (few)
    students. Learner autonomy depends on the students being conscious of their
    responsibilities and ability to work without supervision.


      Also, Humlab, the computer lab we were to use, was not completed. The lab could
    not be accessed until late April, and even then there was no equipment for building the




8
    http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/


                                                                                                  9
    virtual world, where the virtual manifestation of the project was to take place. The
    belated access to Humlab turned May into a hectic month, finishing the web site9.


    Being the most computerized student in the group, much of my time was spent
    helping other students. I did not mind helping, but sometimes I could just not find the
    time, which meant that at times I had to work at home. However, Humlab is a very
    good computer lab, and today none of the above mentioned problems remain.


    Since building the virtual world was the main reason for my joining the project, it was
    very disappointing to realize that this would not happen. In spite of this, perhaps
    because of the hectic last month, only positive memories remain today. Working in the
    lab with the others was very pleasant. Even though everybody wrote individual papers,
    it was enjoyable working in a group and having people to talk to about ideas. Also,
    since I am now studying towards a teacher's degree, I appreciate having participated in
    the project even more, and I believe that this kind of project is well suited for upper
    secondary level.




    Method

    To find the answers to my questions two questionnaires were made, one at the start of
    the term, and one near the end. These, I was hoping, would show the students’
    attitudes to the project, if it had changed during the semester and, if so, in what way.
    Also, some of the students who took part in the first run of the project answered the
    questionnaire. As I have written above, the first run was a test run, and therefore not
    representative. It is still of interest to see how the students experienced working on the
    project, and how experiences have changed over time.


    All students agreed to write their names on the questionnaires, which, in some cases,
    enabled me to see whether their expectations were fulfilled or not. This turned out to
    be very interesting, since the answers to these questionnaires were a bit different from
    the present students’ answers.




9
    http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/mainmenu.htm


                                                                                                 10
The teachers, Senior Lecturer Pat Shrimpton and Doctor Patrik Svensson, were
interviewed in order to find out whether the goals of the project were met from their
point of view.




                                                                                        11
Analysis
There were two questionnaires for the students, one at the beginning of the term and
one close to the end. Some students who took part in the previous runs also answered
the questions, which gave a picture of how the project has changed over time. The
teachers answered one questionnaire, also at the end. All questionnaires can be found
in the appendix.


First student questionnaire


The questionnaires are included in the appendix. The first questionnaire was answered
in late January, and the second in late May. In addition to these, the students had a
possibility to add to their answers at the manifestation on 6 June. The teachers also
answered in late May.



To join or not to join
         - that is the question

     To work with computers was outside my comfort zone and since I like to stretch it, I
     wanted to take the chance to learn more. (Previous student)

The first question was why they decided to join the project and whether the project
information meeting was helpful when deciding whether to join or not. 60 % of the
students that joined, the present ones as well as the previous ones, became more
interested by the oral information at the project information meeting, as well as by the
handout. The meeting was also regarded as giving a clearer picture of the project. Also,
the reason for joining was mainly to do something different. Some were interested in
working with other students. Most students seemed to be interested in learning more
about computers and new technology, as well as creating web pages. The students
participating in the test run all seem to have been more interested in building a virtual
world than the present students. This may have to do with how the project was
introduced at the information meeting. One of the previous students thought that “...it
seemed exciting to build a virtual wedding, using "bricks" from each subject from the
English course”, which shows a good understanding of the project goals, to work
towards an entity made up of the different subjects. Another of the previous students
said that one major reason was the teachers. “Pat Shrimpton is a good tutor and Patrik


                                                                                            12
Svensson is organized, so I figured that this would be a great opportunity to work in a
good team.”


As for the students who did not join, this group also felt that the information meeting
had been informative and helpful when making the choice. The main reasons not to
join seems to have been either that they had already decided what to write about, or
needed to practice writing individual essays. However, some admitted to not working
well in groups, others were afraid that future employers would consider it some kind of
playground. One student made it quite clear that the project did not seem serious
enough, even though he now in retrospect thinks that this was wrong, the project is in
fact very serious.



Expectations

      There are very few good courses in computer using. Here we have an opportunity to use
      it. (Present student)

      [I expect] that it will be interesting, different, and hopefully fun. (Present student)

Many students expected to learn more about computer technology, creating web pages
and building the virtual world. Especially the previous students, who in many cases had
none or little knowledge of computers, expected to learn more about them; both the
basics like scanning images, but also more advanced things like building the virtual
world. Some also wanted to learn more about interacting with a group, since this is
becoming increasingly important whatever ones future career will be. All students
seemed to expect it to be interesting and fun.

When it comes to the amount of work expected, all students except one expected
more or about the same amount of work as when writing an individual C essay, or, as
one of the students put it “More. Not only because we were writing several essays
instead of one, but also because of all the other work around it, making "nice"
hypertexts and so on. I expected to spend a lot of time learning about computers too.”
It seems as if most students realized that they would have to put in the same amount
of work in their writing. However, some seem to have thought that building the virtual
world would not be very time-consuming.




                                                                                                13
Previous knowledge

All present students had previously sent e-mails; “Of course”, as two students replied.
Everybody also knew how to use Microsoft Word and were accustomed to playing
computer games, or had at least tried it once. Only two had written hypertexts, though,
and only one knew how to create web pages (using Dreamweaver). Computer
knowledge ranged from beginners to students accustomed to using computers as tools
in their schoolwork. Three students did not think that they would have any problems
with the technology, one student was fairly sure about needing help, and the rest were
in-between.


Of the students in the test run only one student did not think that there would be a
problem with the technology, all the others expected problems to some degree. All of
them had used Microsoft Word, even though some admitted to using it as a typewriter.
Not everybody had sent e-mails, nor played computer games. Only one had written
hypertexts and created web pages.

      When I was smaller I used to play "tetris" on my father's stone-age computer.... Does
      that count? (Previous student)

This is typical of the first group of students. Many had used a computer, but only very
little, and only one considered herself computerized and “at home” with computers.




Second student questionnaire

Expectations
Many students say that the project did not turn out the way they expected. However,
they seem to have been a bit unsure as to what to expect. Some had not realized that
they would write so many papers, or that they were going to write papers at all. Some
feel that they have constantly been out of time, which meant that they had to hand in
papers that they were not completely satisfied with. Also, they feel that they should
have been able to start sooner with building the virtual city. The building of the city
seems to have had a low priority (on the teachers’ side) at the start of the semester,
even though this has now changed. One student feels disappointed and feels that the
project has been too strict concerning subjects to write about and how to present
them, and that this has been too conservative.



                                                                                              14
Technology
In spite of some worries beforehand, the present group of students seems to have had
no major problems with the technology, on the contrary. Those who were a bit unsure
about their previous computer knowledge think that they learned a lot and feel a lot
more confident with computers today, even though two think that it has been quite
difficult. There have also been obvious advantages, in that communicating with the
teachers has been so easy. E-mail has been the main way of communication, and the
teachers always reply very quickly. Moreover, it is possible to send and receive email
from home, since most student dorms are connected to the Internet, providing that
you have a computer, of course. A couple of students point out that they have always
been able to get assistance when needed.


The previous group of students was less accustomed to working with computers,
therefore there was a bit of frustration with the technology. However, most students
seemed to think that working in a group helped a lot. There was always somebody to
ask about how to do things, and even the least computerized student felt that she
could help other student at times. This seems to have worked out according to the
principle of reciprocity. All group members felt that they could contribute with
something, be it computer knowledge or other. Also, all students seem to have felt
responsible for the papers produced within the group, even though the different sub
groups seem to have functioned more or less well. Some students felt that they did not
get the support they expected from the other group members; others felt that this was
one of the major benefits of the project. However, many of the students thought that
it would have been good with more tutoring in the computer lab, or at least to have
the possibility to find the teachers to ask questions. The teachers seemed to be
traveling a lot during the late spring, and were absent at times.




                                                                                         15
     Achieving the goals
            I did not have a clear goal in [sic] the beginning, however it became clearer as the project
            went on. The goal was to learn about virtual worlds and to do an interactive thesis
            discussing Cultural Studies, Linguistics and Literature. (Previous student)

     Most students seemed to be unsure of the goals of the project at the beginning. Since
     the first group never actually got to create the virtual world, that group was quite
     disappointed; the virtual wedding that everybody had been expecting to create never
     took place. In spite of this the students were satisfied as a whole with the project. Also,
     everybody seemed to be satisfied with their own work, their papers and essays. The
     present students think that the project has turned out more or less the way they
     expected. The emphasis on the essays has been greater than expected, which some
     think was good. They also think that they have achieved the goals, more or less.



     The holistic view
            I feel that the work has suffered because of too much “combining”. (Present student)

     All the previous students felt that the project made it possible to combine the three
     fields of study (Cultural Studies, Linguistics and Literature), that this was in fact one of
     the lasting memories and a very good part of the project. However, it would have
     worked much better without the delay with Humlab. Since there was no Active Worlds
     server it was not possible to build a virtual world, which made it more difficult to
     create a synthesis of the three disciplines. Instead, the group worked with the web site,
     trying to cover as much as possible10. There were papers on weddings in different
     cultures, historical background, representation in fiction and magazines, etymological
     background on some ‘wedding’ words etcetera. Reading each other’s papers provided a
     lot of information that created a unity, the wedding.


     The present students think that this has been a major problem. There was so much
     work to do all through the project that there was no time to stop and reflect over the
     holistic perspective of the project. Some papers combined two or three disciplines “by
     default”, depending on the subject, in other cases the students feel that this is difficult.
     One goes as far as saying that “this just messes things up”. However, at the end of the
     project, when the cities were just about finished and the students had been able to
     implement their ideas into the virtual world, it started to become clear that they had
10
     http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/mainmenu.htm


                                                                                                           16
actually created a unity, a world consisting of their ideas of the three fields that
combined become “The City”.


This seems to indicate that to achieve the holistic view of their English studies, some
time must pass, during which the project, be it consciously or unconsciously, matures.



 Group work
       You develop a team spirit that is invaluable when it is used correctly. We could help
       each other and discuss problems in our group. I think this is a good first step before you
       start working in companies outside the university. (Previous student)

All students have enjoyed working in a group. Some, who claimed usually being loners,
said that it worked very well, since all papers were written individually, but there was
also always the possibility for feedback from the others. The group also had to agree
on how to produce the web site, layout, content etcetera. This improved their ability to
work with unknown people, but it has also caused some friction, as some students
have had to wait for others to finish. The students in one of the present groups have
written all their papers individually, without any supportive help from each other, and
working as a group only with the web site and the virtual world.


All seem to agree that the greatest benefits with working in a group are the support
and feedback, developing a team spirit, learning from and helping each other.



Degree of difficulty
       It is easy to fall into just writing descriptively when there are so many criteria that have
       to be met. (Previous student)

The questionnaire also included a question as to whether the students thought that the
project was too descriptive, or whether they had been able to be analytic in their
writing. Being analytic is a problem when the papers are fairly short. One thinks that it
has been too descriptive, however, most students feel that they have been able to
problematize and write analytic papers. It is of great importance not to fall into writing
descriptively, since this is so easily done when producing many different papers in a
short time.




                                                                                                      17
     The time factor
     Most students agree on having spent a lot more time working on the project than they
     would have, had they chosen to write an individual C paper. However, one student
     think that due to the amount of time spent just finding out what to do and what to
     write about, there has not been enough time left for writing good papers. Another
     student says that if she had written an individual paper she would have worked a lot
     more at the beginning of the semester, which would have made the latter part of the
     semester a bit calmer. On the other hand, the project has had a defined timetable,
     which has made it easier for the students to plan and finish on time.



     Lasting knowledge
             To work in teams and the importance of it is something I am working with now. The
             teamwork has therefore been of great value for me. (Previous student)

     The question whether the project has given any knowledge valuable for the students’
     future life is very interesting. It seems as if the answer of the previous students is of
     greater importance than the present students, since many of them are now working in
     different fields. Some of them use computers very little today, but all seem certain that
     it would be easy to catch up and start working with them again. “I'm not so afraid to
     try anymore”, as one of them put it. Other students work as teachers, or study to be
     teachers. For this group it seems natural to work in projects with cross-disciplinary
     studies. Also, the group agrees that one always learns something from writing essays,
     perhaps mainly analytical thinking. The subject for one student’s D essay was the
     Internet. In addition to this she is planning to write a C essay on computers and people
     for another subject. One student is working part time at one of the campus computer
     labs.


     Among the students there are some who plan to become teachers. They agree that this
     kind of project is interesting, but it would probably have to be a cross-disciplinary
     project, or the technology would be to time consuming. There is simply not time
     enough for a project of this size in the time scheduled for English alone. At the same
     time young people of today seem more computerized from year to year, which may
     mean that the technology soon will be of no problem. In Education and Knowledge11, a
     paper from the Swedish Board of Education, there is an emphasis on the use of
11
  Bildning och kunskap, särtryck ur läroplanskommitténs betänkande Skola för bildning SOU 1992:94
(Stockholm: EO Print AB, 1999) 67, trans. Ulla Widqvist


                                                                                                    18
computers as a tool in today’s education. Working on a project such as the Wedding
Project gives these students a firm basis for their future, and improves their chances of
using computers as a tool in their English classes.


Some of the present students do not think that they have learned very much, creating a
web site and “some other computer stuff.” Must, however, think that they have
learned much or very much about computers, something that will be of value in their
future studies and work.




Teacher questionnaire

Achieving the goals
When asked about the goals of the project the teachers answered quite differently than
did the students. According to the teachers there are goals on several levels:


??    Technical - to improve the student's contact with technology through asking
      them to produce web pages but also to open up for them an awareness of the
      possibilities of ICT (Information Communication Technology) - not just as a
      source of information but also as a medium for creative use. It is important for
      them to be offered the opportunity to explore in a relatively friendly
      environment.
??    Academic - to counteract the effects of modularization, which splits up the
      students' studies into discrete bits that are hardly ever linked together. To
      increase holistic understanding of a phenomenon and how it is linked to the
      various sub disciplines.
??    To create a new arena for academic work and analytic thinking. To experiment
      with new media and to bring in the outside world to the process.
??    To increase the students' functionality in a group.
??    The usual goals with studies at C level e.g. development of critical thinking,
      producing a piece of individual work that involves looking at secondary sources
      etc.




                                                                                            19
The goals are not thought to have been completely achieved in any of the runs. The
City is a better theme than the Wedding from an academic point of view - more
sources, easier to find good analytical topics. The technology can become a problem
and tends to get left to the end. This term (spring 2001) has been the best so far, with
the students starting a little earlier on the web pages and their world.


According to the teachers the students find it difficult to be analytical when they write,
and that takes time to develop. They also think that is a good that the students are
writing several shorter papers, rather than one C essay. This makes it easier to give
them directions, which they can then put into practice in the next piece of work, rather
than having to deal with a lack of analytical thought in a long essay. In a way the goals
have been achieved because everyone, so far, has produced the work asked for -
including the technical work. Everyone finished their C essay within one term, except
one person who had personal problems, she finished a bit later. The technology part
did not work very well the first time but now, technology is not a major obstacle. The
teachers also find it rewarding to see several of the students experimenting with the
media.



The holistic view
As to the question whether the students have been able to combine the three fields of
study, this has turned out differently for each run, and is getting better every year. The
first group did not really achieve this. One reason was that the teachers themselves
were not exactly sure of what they were doing. It was an experiment and everything
did not work out as planned. This time it is going much better.


By working with topics in the three sub fields it is difficult not to get some kind
of synthesis. Asking the students to think about concepts concerning the city at an
early stage - so that they could think in terms of combining the three fields from the
start - worked out well. However, the teachers seem to think that there has been a
tendency to make the final manifestation a bit too concrete and not "symbolic"
enough. To achieve synthesis the students should probably start working on the virtual
world earlier.




                                                                                             20
Group work
Collaborative work is rewarding in many ways and teaches a lot of “life skills”, and
since all the papers are individual there are no problems with students not pulling their
load. Also, having chosen to do the project they are presumably interested in it and
there are no students who are just coasting with the group without contributing
anything. Having to actually produce something for other people to see is a strong
motivating factor. Group work is a good thing but everyone has to be responsible. As
a teacher it is fairly easy to see if someone is not pulling their weight in a group. In this
project there is a good balance between individual work, individual responsibility and
collaborative work and collaborative responsibility. Both students and teachers seem to
enjoy the project. It also shows that collaborative work tends to increase throughput at
the C level.



Expectations
It is interesting to see how the final manifestation turns out differently every year and it
is always difficult to predict. The most important difference between the three runs
relate to access to technology and choice of topic. Also, the project is much more
structured this time, which makes it easier to come to grips with as a student. Among
other things the schedule is fairly strict this time. Still, the teachers are always surprised
at how long it takes the groups to actually start working. The projects have all seemed
very slow at first and frenetic towards the end. (This seems to be just like most work
produced by students at university, author’s note). The topics that the students choose
to write about are often surprising; they show a rather limited knowledge of the fields
after two semesters of English. This could be helped by providing more references to
sources and with more direction in their reading.



Reactions
The project has received a great deal of national and international attention and most
of it has been very positive. From other people working in higher education there have
been many positive responses and a great interest in the project. However, there have
been comments on the fact that the students do not write a "proper" essay. Since the
project requires the same kind of skills as an individual essay, plus the technical skills,
the teachers do not think that this is valid criticism. For the individual papers the
students have to critically analyze their work and their sources, especially Internet


                                                                                                 21
sources. They work independently and are of course not allowed to copy other
people’s work.


The Head of Umeå University once said that students have to be met at the level they
are actually at in their studies - not at some level they may have been at in the past.
This seems to be what is done in this project; dealing with two of the major challenges
that face us today - computer literacy and how to synthesize and make sense of all the
fragmented information that comes our way.


The project has received negative criticism as well as positive, of course. Traditional
academics tend to be a bit concerned about the form and formality aspects, that no
traditional paper is produced. There have been reactions as to the wedding theme and
having an all female student group (the first group). However, in the light of there
being only two male students in a group of twenty taking the C course that semester, it
is not very strange that the project group consisted of only female students. Moreover,
neither of these two male students stated the wedding theme to be their reason for not
joining the project.


Also, some teachers point out the risk of showing other people what your students
have produced. This is always a risk when publishing work on the Internet. If the work
is of poor quality, the English department gets bad publicity, which may result in fewer
students applying and render it more difficult when looking for qualified staff.
However, according to the theory concerning working over the Internet, students tend
to work extra hard when they know that many people will see and read what they
produce and publish. This seems to hold true for the Wedding Project as well.



Possible projects for High School/Upper Secondary
Level

This type of project is extremely suitable for students at High School/Upper
Secondary Level. By combining two or more subjects students learn more, and find
use for subjects that they may not have liked previously. Also, it is a bit frightening to
see so many language teachers still being almost hostile to new technology. On the
Internet a majority of the web sites are published in English. Why not use this as a
resource in our English classes to inspire our students? Material can be found on any


                                                                                             22
     subject; students can choose what they want to work with. Examples include history,
     where the students can choose a person or an occasion to write about, literature, social
     science etcetera.12 Publishing the results on a web site often make students more
     conscious of the quality of their work. Writing a paper that nobody except their
     teacher will read is not of that great importance, except to students working for an A.
     When posting a paper in the Internet, however, you never know who may read it.
     Certainly most of your friends, maybe some relatives, and perhaps complete strangers
     as well.


     Work with other schools is also possible, maybe even schools in other countries, on
     the same project. This is a bit more difficult, since working on your own project you
     can decide for yourself how to work. However, working with a school in England
     could be very rewarding for our Swedish students in English.13


     It is of great importance to be aware of the problem of copying material from the
     Internet and claiming it as the student's own. This is too great a subject to go into here,
     but it may be a good idea to talk about copyright before starting the project.


     Finally a word of caution. Learner Autonomy is a method for adults, or at least
     teenager students. Recently an evaluation performed at a Swedish Elementary school
     has been made published. At this school computer based teaching has substituted the
     teachers for children from the age of twelve. The children have had to do most of their
     work without aid of teachers, supervision has been provided to a certain degree. The
     evaluation shows that 30 % of the children are not qualified to continue their studies at
     gymnasium (ages 16 - 19).




12
   Birgitta Carp, Ann-Christine Janhagen Olsén, Free Choice - idébok i engelska (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2000)
 98.
13
   Una Cunningham/Staffan Andersson, Läraren eleven internet (Falun: AiT Scandbook AB, 1997) 73


                                                                                                            23
Conclusion

The Wedding Project seems to be a good way to get students more interested in all
aspects of their English studies. It is interesting to see how the first group of students
in retrospect feels that they have achieved the synthesis of literature, cultural studies
and linguistics. This seems to indicate that the project is helpful not only for the
moment, but rather that it provides the students with lasting knowledge and a more
holistic view of their English studies in the long run.


The holistic view just seems to be dawning on the present group. They have been very
caught up with trying to fit everything into every paper. However, it seems as if the
holistic view is something that matures with time, something that is not appreciated
until some time has passed. That would have to be evaluated for another few rounds
of the project to clearly show whether this is really the case.


Furthermore, the students all seem to think that the collaborative aspect has been
helpful in that it has provided them with support and feedback in their studies, as well
as helped them develop a sense of team spirit. Since one of the goals of the project is
just that, to prepare students for their future vocations, it is of great importance to see
that the they all, with one exception, feel that they have benefited from collaborative
work.


As a whole the project seems to have been fairly successful, in that it has achieved its
goals more or less for all runs, as far as it has been possible.




                                                                                              24
Bibliography

Carp, Birgitta and Ann-Christine Janhagen Olsén. Free Choice - idébok i engelska. Lund:
Studentlitteratur 2000

Cunningham ,Una and Staffan Andersson. Läraren eleven internet. Falun: AiT Scandbook
AB, 1997

Holec, Henri. Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon 1981

Jonsson, Bengt, Helmut Brammerts and David Little. Språkinlärning i tandem över Internet.
Härnösand: Institutionen för Kultur och Media, 1996




Web sites

http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/                              Wedding Project web site             010424
http://www.activeworlds.com/edu/index.html             Active Worlds web site               010424
http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/mainmenu.htm                  Wedding Project test web site        010521




                                                                                               25
The Virtual Manifestation

After many weeks of writing papers on different subjects related to the city, it was time
for the final virtual manifestation. On the 6th of June the presentation of this year’s
wedding project was given. The time was set to 18:00 CET, to make it possible for
American visitors to join. Each city was presented for about ten to fifteen minutes,
followed by fifteen minutes when the visitors were free to look around and talk to the
students. First out was City North, followed by City West and City South.




       Visitors in City South



Prior to the presentations there was some chit-chat between students and visitors, informing
visitors about what was to take place. In plenty of time everybody was told where the first
presentation would take place, and how to get there. The presentations included information
on how the students had come up with ideas for their respective main themes, how they had
worked with planning their cities, how the buildings related to their concepts, how their web
essays connect literature to the virtual constructs etcetera.

During the presentations there were twenty-five to thirty visitors. Some were friends
and relatives to students and teachers, but there were also visitors from other



                                                                                                26
countries, among others Reed D. Riner, Professor in Anthropology at Northern
Arizona University, and an authority in e-learning, and Bruce Damer, visionary in
virtual worlds, also from the United States. Since there are many different kinds of
worlds in Active Worlds, there were a few visitors who were a bit confused at first, but
who seemed to grasp the concept of what was going on after a while.




       Presentation of City West

Everybody seemed impressed with the presentations, and there were also some very
positive remarks and responses to the students afterwards.

      I think [the students] very effectively demonstrated an integration of the 'sub-disciplines'
      in the theme of cities. The presentations were professional and informative. I had been
      exploring the cities for a week, and the presentations -and crowd of on-lookers! -
      suddenly brought all the semester's work to life. Reed D. Riner

      First toilet I’ve seen in avatar worlds! - Mike Heim

In some of the cities students walked the visitors through a tour. People were
impressed with the details of the cities, especially the teleports that transport visitors
from city to city, and the public toilet in City South.




                                                                                                     27
      Presentation of City North



In conclusion of the evening students and teachers evaluated the project and the
presentations along with some snacks and wine.




                                                                                   28
Questionnaire One


  1. Did you attend the project information meeting? Was the meeting helpful in
     making a decision as to whether to join the project or not?

  2. Why did you decide to join the Virtual Wedding project?

  3. Do you expect the project to result in more, less or about the same amount of
     work as an ordinary C essay?

  4. What are your expectations of the project?

  5. What specifically do you expect this project to teach you?

  6. Is the use of computers the main reason for your choice, or do you see this as a
     bonus and an opportunity to learn more?

  7. Do you think that the technology (using computers and making a website) will
     be a problem for you?

  8. Do you know how to use Microsoft Word?

  9. Do you know how to make a web page? If yes, which program do you use?

  10. Have you ever played a computer game?

  11. Have you ever written a hypertext?

  12. Have you ever sent an email?




                                                                                        29
Final Questionnaire

1. How have you experienced working in a project that is largely technological?

2. Have you felt that you have been able to combine the three fields of study (Cultural
   Studies, Linguistics and Literature)? In what way?

3. What do you think of working in a group instead of working individually on your essays?

4. What do you feel is the largest benefit in working this way?

5. Has the project given any knowledge valuable for your future life? In what way?

6. A C essay should problematize something. Have you been able to do that, and if so, in
   which way? Or has the project been too descriptive?

7. Do you plan to be a teacher?

8. If so, do you think that having participated in this project will be beneficial to your future
   teaching career?

9. What were the goals for the project and have they been reached?

10. Do you think that you have spent more, less or about the same amount of time as you
    would have spent writing an individual essay?

11. Has the project turned out the way you expected? In what way?




                                                                                              30
Teacher Questionnaire


1. What are the goals of the project?

2. Have the goals been reached in any of the runs?

3. Do you feel that the students have been able to combine the three fields of
   study? Has it turned out differently in any of the runs?

4. In your opinion, is there a problem with students working in a group instead of
   individually?

5. What do you feel is the largest benefit in working this way?

6. Has the project turned out the way you expected? In what way? Has it turned out
   differently in any of the three runs?

7. What reactions has the project received?




                                                                                     31

				
DOCUMENT INFO
Shared By:
Categories:
Tags:
Stats:
views:5
posted:8/2/2011
language:English
pages:31