Reinventing Collaborative Learning using Blackboard


Frances Grodzinsky (USA), Joe Griffin (Ireland) and Pat Jefferies (England)


Many organizations within society have reinvented themselves using Information Communication Technology (ICT). Consequently their internal operations and the potential global reach of their activities have dramatically changed. This has been particularly evident in the field of education. ICT, with its web-based resources, has served as the driver of change in the areas of both distance learning and classroom learning. It has made educational collaborations a reality, irrespective of physical distance and may thus change the face of collaborative learning and assessment within the classroom as well. This study will focus on one such collaboration.

First, it will examine the use of a commercially available collaborative learning management tool (CLMT), Blackboard, and detail how it has been used to enhance the teaching of computer ethics professional issues Professional Issues in Software Engineering (PISE) at the University of Limerick in Ireland, at De Montfort University in England and at Sacred Heart University in the USA. Theis Blackboard system to be used in this experiment comprises an integrated set of tools: publishing tools that allow the course instructor to publish teaching materials, communication tools such as discussion boards, chat rooms and whiteboards to allow for asynchronous or synchronous student/student & instructor/student communication and statistical tools to gather data on student activity in the different functional areas of the CLMT.

Next, it will describe a multi-institutional collaboration. Using Blackboard, the authors of the study have created virtual groups comprised of students from all three institutions. Each group of students will undertake a collaborative project that analyzes a scenario that is based on an ethical dilemma. The authors will study the dynamics, interactions, critical thinking skills and evaluative techniques of the virtual groups alongside traditional non-virtual groups who are analyzing the same scenarios.

Although diverse problems have led each of the authors to Blackboard, the modules taught in the three institutions are very similar in nature. For example, Professional Issues in Software Engineering (PISE) (Limerick) is a final year undergraduate module for computer science students and focuses on the legal, ethical and social aspects of computing. Although the module has been taught for a number of years at the University of Limerick, increased student numbers have added to the pressure on the existing group teaching and assessment methods. The module taught at De Montfort University is entitled The Professional Context of ICT (PCICT). For the past three years, this has been offered to final year undergraduate Software Engineers as a compulsory module. This year, however, the module will be offered across two geographically dispersed campuses of the university as an option for all final year computing undergraduates. Aspects addressed within this module are almost identical to those contained within the PISE module detailed above. For the last three years, the course offered at Sacred Heart University, entitled Computer Ethics: Society and Technology has been developed and team-taught by a computer scientist and a sociologist. The marriage of these two fields is enhanced by the belief that technology does not exist in a vacuum but is developed for and driven by social forces. This course was designed as a writing course in the belief that students’ ability to communicate is critical to their professional success. Blackboard has been used to facilitate the group of twenty-five to engage in a weekly threaded discussion of ethics articles and issues, to create directed reading questions for in-class presentations and for the posting of paper topics and assessment rubrics that are used in the evaluation of written work. Professional issues is studied as a module within the larger scope of computer ethics.

Collaborative learning and critical thinking skills are very important in the field of computer ethics and professional issues. Group work and peer dialogues enable students to explore and critically analyze the ethical issues surrounding them as professionals involved in the design, implementation and use of ICT. Furthermore, research into the development of moral reasoning, a major pedagogical issue, has shown that collaborative learning improves students’ skills in this area. An analysis of learners’ learning is useful as faculty try to understand how best to engage their students. The authors’ intent is that this study will demonstrate that tools such as Blackboard facilitate collaborative learning and to that end, enhance students’ moral reasoning skills helping them to become better communicators, critical thinkers and ICT professionals.


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