CMC in Education

Computer-Mediated Communication in Collaborative Educational Settings

Report of the ITiCSE'97 Working Group on CMC in Collaborative Educational Settings


In educational environments that stress collaboration, the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) tools can be a source of support as well as a challenge. This paper begins by considering general educational and economic goals and how CMC can be helpful in attaining these goals. A taxonomy of tools for communication and collaboration in education is described. Many sides of the issue are considered, including the roles of teachers and students, problems that can arise and potential solutions, goals and issues of assessment, and software design issues.

This web page only contains the abstract and summary. The text of the full paper can be bought from the Association for Computer Machinery as the ITiCSE'97 Working Group Reports and Supplemental Proceedings © 1997 ACM 1-58113-012-0/97/0010, $3.50.


This paper addresses the use of computer-mediated communications (CMC) in educational environments that stress collaboration. The audience for this paper is broad: both readers new to thinking about how this class of tools might be applied to their own instructional settings and those who have been working with these tools for some time and wish to understand more of the issues underlying their effective use now and in the future. The paper was drafted during the 1997 SIGCSE/SIGCUE Conference on Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education, so faculty involved in designing or delivering computer science courses is an obvious target. However, much of the material covered will be of general interest to any post-secondary faculty or others involved in professional development.

As a starting point, we define CMC in the broadest manner since the term is now used to cover a wide range of tools that are being adapted to a diverse set of learning environments. In this broad definition, CMC refers to any form of interpersonal communication that uses some form of computer technology to transmit, store, annotate, or present information that has been created by one or more participants. Using this definition, CMC tools include email, conferencing, groupware, chat rooms, desktop videoconferencing, and Internet-based audio applications. A good overview of these tools can be found in Woolley's overview article [17]. Collaborative learning, also known as cooperative learning, can be defined as the instructional use of small groups through which students work together to maximize their own and each other's learning. A good initial background to collaborative and cooperative learning can be found at Why should we consider CMC and collaboration as important educational methodologies? Certainly both are being incorporated with increasing frequency in a wide variety of contexts and curricula to improve current practice. On a global scale, these technologies and approaches, often in combination with other tools for distance education, will play an important role in delivering education. This will apply to those out in the work force who will need regular educational experiences and retraining due to job changes that require career shifts throughout life. Even more dramatic are the challenges facing countries dealing with rapid population growth and the need to rapidly increase the educational capacity of already stretched institutions. These pressures are likely to foster the development of instructional systems that are more economical than our current face-to-face models. Technology in general and computer-based systems in particular can play a critical role in addressing these problems.

This means that we must learn from our current experiments in this area, even those that are in their early infancy. Already we are seeing traditional courses in a variety of disciplines augmenting their practices with some form of networked-based tools and collaborative experiences. The purpose of this paper is to provide an introduction for those considering use of these approaches. We suggest a critical basis for guiding their implementation and evaluating their effectiveness, with an eye to building a better pedagogy.

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Ursula Wolz (co-chair)
The College of New Jersey, USA

Jacob Palme (co-chair)
Stockholm University and Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Penny Anderson
The College of New Jersey, USA

Zhi Chen
University College of Kristianstad, Sweden

James Dunne
Long Island University, USA

Göran Karlsson
Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Atika Laribi
Université de Genève, Switzerland

Sirkku Männikkö
Stockholm University and Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Robert Spielvogel
Education Development Center, USA

Henry Walker
Grinnell College, USA

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ITiCSE'97 Working Group Reports and Supplemental Proceedings © 1997 ACM 1-58113-012-0/97/0010 $3.50

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