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Building a
Collaborative
Web Project
Define
Design
Deliver
1. Define your role
2. Identify learning objectives

2. Defining your role

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Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

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One of the results of Web projects is the changing role of the teacher and student. In the traditional classroom, the teacher is often seen as the sole source of knowledge.

But, the world is too diverse and complex for the teacher to seriously assume that role. 150 years ago, a person could have a basic understanding of the sum total of Western knowledge; science, philosophy, literature and technology. Today, we feel fortunate if we can memorize all our passwords.

To effectively work on a Web project, the teacher needs to let go of the idea of being an expert and rely on the knowledge and ideas that the students are more than willing to share.

Once the teacher recognizes that it impossible to know all things at all times, the question arises, "Well, what is my role?" How does the teacher fit into this new environment?

To refer back to the quote, "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are":

  • Do what you can- The goal is not to become a computer expert. The goal is to focus your students on the learning. As a teacher you don't need to understand every aspect of technology. You need only enough understanding to be comfortable and to see the opportunities.
  • with what you have- And, what you have is a lifetime of experience you can share with your students.
  • where you are- With technology and telecommunications we are no longer confined to a physical "where". Educators, used to working in isolation, can now collaborate with other teachers through e-mail to share concerns, information, and best practices.

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Now educators need to steer people through, not toward, information.

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Educator as Facilitator

Rather than being simple dispensers of knowledge, teachers quickly discover their primary tasks during Web projects are to guide and mentor their students.

They help their students learn how to question and how to develop hypotheses and strategies for evaluating information.

Characteristics of an Effective Project Facilitator

During the process of developing a Web project, the students are responsible for creating most of the content, which forces the educator to rethink their role.

Instead of providing answers, a skilled facilitator has the ability to motivate, to ask the right questions, to keep the students moving and focused on the learning.

The teacher's role easily and naturally changes with the use of the medium. Teachers become side-by-side learners with the students, helping them to use the technology in an environment which promotes cooperative learning, inquiry, investigation, and the development of higher-order thinking skills.

The following includes a list of characteristics that have proven beneficial when facilitating a Web project. You'll notice that there isn't one mention of HTML, Java, or Network administration. Remember, this is more social science than rocket science.

Models- The teacher can set the standard for each of the project teams. Some students have difficulty assuming the role of a team member at first. One student may dominate the discussion, while others are too shy to participate. Some may not be open to new ideas, while others have too many ideas and have no idea where to start. To help students with their roles as team members, the teacher

  • is active in the group discussions, but not overpowering
     
  • demonstrates a willingness to listen to new ideas
     
  • observes team needs, offers support
      
  • checks inappropriate team behavior such as judgmental statements, or put-downs of ideas, and then reinforces productive behavior whenever possible
     
  • reassures each member that they are an integral part of the team, and that each is accountable for playing their part
     
  • is always focused on the goal

Encourages Communication and the Flow of Ideas-

  • gets the communication going by prompting the students "These are some of your ideas, what kind of project would work best...?" "Do you agree with...?"
  • encourages involvement of all team members, "We've heard from this part of the group, but this other group hasn't had a chance to speak and they may have something to add."
  • encourages critical thinking by challenging student's assumptions, ask "what-if questions", "Think outside the box, what are some other ways to approach this?" "Is there anything that you would want to add?" "Are we asking the right questions?"

Clarifies- Sometimes students need help in organizing all the ideas that they generate. To clarify, the teacher can

  • ask for an update of the student's work, "I'm hearing some great ideas, could someone summarize the main points?"
  • ask questions to clarify comments and restate if members are confused, "It sounds as if you're saying...Is that correct?"

Refocuses- In their enthusiasm, students may focus more on the medium and lose sight of the original project goals. To get the students back on task, the teacher may ask

  • "I think we've lost our direction, can anyone tell me what our goal is?"
  • "How does what we're talking about now relate to our project?"

Moves the team toward action- The best ideas mean nothing if they're never acted upon. To motivate students to move forward, the teacher can help identify the first step.

  • "We've considered a lot of options, what would you recommend we do first?" "What do you think is the best way to proceed?" "How should we get started?"

Reflects- It's important that the teacher, throughout the project, helps the student team members reflect on what they've learned.

  • "Think back to when you started the project and then think of where you are now. What are some of the things that have surprised you, what have you learned?"

This process will become clearer as  you begin to define and design your projects. But, just like with any learning activity, you'll want to clearly define your learning objectives prior to beginning.

Page 1: Getting started
Page 2: Define your role
Page 3: Identify learning objectives

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