A presentation at the American
1999 Miniconvention on Education and Technology
Paula Edmiston Georgia Tech Research Institute
The most popular method of online communication is email, but this collaborative group decided early in the program that webboards would be used as the formal medium for student and faculty communication. Since the students were working in a very specific time frame (the academic calendar), their motivation to visit and interact with the webboard was high, and the use of the web-based discussion was successful.THe major problem in using he Internet has been the variable experience of the members of the project. Among both the students and teachers are people with skills ranging from to high level abilities to use software, to those who have just begun to use the Internet and need a great deal of help to learn the class tools. This has caused a certain level of frustration among those who find additional, unexpected amounts of time have to be devoted just to learn how to use the tools necessary to communicate with other about the primary material they've come together to learn.
Eventually the students were introduced to Athenaeum, an academic talker. The talk site made it possible for both students and professors to meet together in real time to discuss the research being conducted and to review the documents they were creating.A series of web-based calendars were provided to assist in scheduling meetings and deadlines.
I usually meet with Dr. Treadwell at Athenauem to talk him through installations and archiving, but on occasion he gives me telnet access into his site so I can work on the files alone. Other times I'll place step-by-step instructions on a message board in Athenaeum to give him more permanent documentation for maintenance tasks. See the message board in the Athenauem office for a series of instructions for archiving a board.
Four boards are installed each semester: one for each student group (boards One - three) and a board for faculty discussion.
While WWWboard doesn't come with a module to archive discussions, we worked out a webboard archival system, using a patern of subdirectiories under each group directory. The boards were initially istalled in directories, "group1", "group2", "group3", "group4" the last, group4, was the board for faculty discussion). Subdirectories were created under each of these, first for years (1999, 1998, etc) and within the years, often divided into months or quarters (we were a little inconsistant here!). The board scripts with their "messages" subdirectories, were moved into the archive directories.
We wanted, but haven't found in Matt's or any other web board script, a method of archiving to a database that could be used to analyze the discussions.
As you can see in the Group 1, Spring 99 WWWboard the discussions were lively and indepth (link removed 12/12/2007).
A number of other web-based discussion boards were tried in the summer of 1999 but none met the needs of the collaborative group as well as Matt's boards. We looked at WebX, but found it awkward to use, difficult to customize and frustrating to learn. We tried WebBoard, one of the better alternatives. WebBoard is similar to WebX in one's ability to customize and individual user profile. It's modules to return and edit existing posts and the spell checker were its strongest features. It's a trade-off: the advanced features made it more difficult to learn to use and even today many of the students in these courese have little to no experience with Internet tools (other than the relatively passive link clicking of the World Wide Web). So once again we searched for another script. The last script we tried was Discus, a free script that allows for personal user customization, spell checking but no editing of existing posts. Again we felt the advanced features were more difficult to adapt to than the return of better interactivity with the script.
And so we returned to Matt's scripts.
We recently switched to Lozinski's Calendar. Although it costs $50.00, it's well worth the purchase price! One can create as many calendars as necessary and the web-based configuration routine makes setting up the individual calendars very convenient. This is a moderately difficult script to install, and as far as I can tell, can't be installed in an account with a tilde! The calendars will be used for this first time this fall, 1999. You can see an example of a group calendar not yet in use.