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|Ethnography of Course Delivered by FirstClass|
Where and when was the study carried out?
What were the aims and objectives of the study?
How many students were involved in the study?
What were the main findings?
The expectation for the course unit was that it would involve the development of collaborative skills through group working and the development of peer interaction. Students were observed orienting themselves to course requirements so that the conference transcripts reflected the students and tutors understanding of what they ought to do. It was found that the transcript served as an official document. In many instances, on-line activity was an artificial construct consciously produced as material for assessment.
Interestingly, collaboration was not achieved in the expected form: students did collaborate, they were observed off-line working in groups talking over and around machines. The work would then be presented in the conference as individual messages, a division of labour. However, the expectation, of peer interaction was that students would draft and redraft work on the system and that the process of collaboration would be visible, did not happen.
Reflections on the study
It also questioned the reliability of the use of transcripts for research and assessment purposes. Transcripts were often incomplete and only provided partial records of the activity of the conference. On-line text was often a public display. Therefore, the transcribed record was not so much about what happened but more a reflection of what participants thought ought to be happening. Students and tutors recorded those things they believed were required to fulfil the requirements of the course.
Ethnographic evaluation, by adopting an 'indifferent' stance to the course and observing informally the practice of students' and tutor's on and off-line, provided information not readily accessible by other methods of evaluation. It revealed the detailed way in which students co-operated together in order to achieve what they took to be the course requirements. A more formal evaluation procedure may have concentrated on the 'learning process' and not have considered some of the observed interaction might relevant to education.
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Last modified: 26 March 1999.