Computer Networks and Online Education: History and Overview of the Field

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1 Computer Networks and Online Education: History and Overview of the Field 1861 Telegraph is invented 1876 Telephone is invented 1969 ARPANET Begins is invented 1972 Computer conferencing is invented Mid 70s University Courses are Supplemented by and Computer Conferencing 1981 First Totally Online Course (Adult Education) The Source 1982 First Online Program (Executive Education) WBSI Executive Education (IEIS) 1983 Networked Classroom Model Emerges (Primary and Secondary Education) ICLN: Research Project in 4 Countri RAPPI: Canada - X-Cultural Project i Countries 1985 : National Geographic Society K Network 1987 : AT&T Learning Network 1988 : WIER: Writers In Electronic R 1989 : SITP in British Columbia, Can 1984 First Online Undergraduate Courses Virtual Classroom (NJIT) 1985 First Online Graduate Courses Nova Southeastern University Connect-Ed (New School of Social R OISE (University of Toronto) 1985 First Labour Education Network Solinet (Canadian Union of Public Em 1986 First Knowledge Building Network CSILE (OISE) 1986 Online Professional Development Communities Emerge OISE Ontario Educators Online Cou 1990 Global Lab, Lab Net And Star S TERC 1992 Educators Network of Ontario 1986 First Online Degree Program Connect-Ed (New School of Social R 1989 University of Phoenix Online 1989 Internet in launched 1989 First Large Scale Online Course Open University (U.K.) 1992 World Wide Web is invented CERN (Switzerland) 1993 First National Educational Networks SchoolNet (Canada) 1995 TeleLearningNCE (Canada) 1998 CL-Net (Europe) 1996 First Large-Scale Online Education Field Trials Virtual-U Research Project 2000 As the table above shows, research, development, and field practice in online learning has a long history. Nevertheless, many apparently think that online education is very recent, perhaps born of

2 the invention of the Web. In fact, online education was one of the first progeny of the invention of , and its development is intertwined with the history of computer networking. Remarkable as it may seem (given the exponential rate of adoption), communication and computer conferencing began less than three decades ago. These networked communication systems were the fruit of the research of visionaries who sought to create broad opportunities for meetings of minds, participatory government, and interconnected social and cognitive communities (Hafner and Lyon, 1996). In its vibrant 25-year history, online education has tackled tough questions and developed various models to try to understand how new methods of learning and teaching can be effective, exciting, and relevant. But while developments in the 1980s and 1990s prepared for a revolution in the field of education, most of the noise generated in the media questioned the value and quality of online education and expressed the concerns of some faculty who felt they would be displaced by less well-trained staff. Evidently, we need to further promote the ways this new knowledge about online learning will affect plans for Virtual University activities and explain how online education may claim to be one of the major forces to socialize cyberspace. Ithiel de la Sola Pool (1984) recognized by the early 1980s that computer networking would profoundly affect our world. One could argue that computer communication is one of the perhaps four most fundamental changes in the history of communications technology. Any such list is, of course, judgmental, but the case can be made that writing 5,000 years ago, printing 500 years ago, telegraphy 150 years ago, and now computer communication were the four truly revolutionary changes.

3 While remains the major networking application in education, its group communication counterpart, computer conferencing, is the core of online education as a collaborative learning environment. Murray Turoff designed computer conferencing to be a collective intelligence system that would structure group communication for information exchange and problem solving (Hiltz and Turoff, 1978, p. 43). Educational adoption of computer networking began in the mid-1970s, following closely upon the invention of packet-switched networks in 1969 and of and computer conferencing in In the early years, academics and educators had limited access to computer networks. Nonetheless, many of the scientific researchers involved in early experiments with ARPANET were also academics, and by starting to link their students with the larger knowledge community, they introduced and computer conferencing into their courses. Coincidentally, they expanded opportunities for student communication, interaction, and collaboration. Just as , a technological afterthought to ARPANET s original purpose of creating a file-sharing system, immediately became the dominant application, networking changed the means of educational communication beyond what any had imagined. In the 1970s, electronic mail made possible more generalized educational adoption of computer networking. It was first used for academic information exchange and then to supplement university-level courses. By the early 1980s, network communication began to be adopted by K-12 schools. And indeed they originated an entirely new approach in online education: the networked classroom, in which teachers and learners launched joint writing and

4 research projects. Some employed basic methods, such as informal electronic pen pals, while others developed cross-cultural collaboration projects integrated with their respective curricula. One of the earliest examples was the Canadian RAPPI network (Réseau d Ateliers Pédagogique Pilote) ( ), which linked schoolchildren and teachers in over seventy secondary schools in Canada, France, England, and Italy (Hart, 1987). RAPPI used the computer conferencing system at the University of British Columbia, Canada, to facilitate information exchange. The curricular focus was social studies and writing, and through the network students learned about other cultures, lifestyles, and perspectives. In the process, they gained increased knowledge about themselves and how they fit into a larger global community. It was an ambitious launch of network classroom activity, at both national and global levels. Another approach that emerged in the early 1980s has matured into the Learning Circles (Riel, 1996). Launched by the InterCultural Learning Network (ICLN) in 1983, the project first used sneaker mail (Riel s term for mailing diskettes) and then to link schoolchildren in San Diego, California, with peers in Alaska and other American states and eventually Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Israel (Levin et al., 1990). The purpose of the project was to facilitate joint writing of classroom-based newsletters. What was especially important, however, was the research component, which explored the effect of networking on curricular activities. The research question was whether writing to real audiences on the network improved writing. Controlled studies of cross-classroom collaboration showed an increase in student writing skills (Riel, 1996), and having an audience was also found to be more motivational than writing for assignments only (Cohen and Riel, 1989).

5 The first totally online courses began in 1981 with non-credit mini-courses and executive training programs. One of the first was the online Executive Education program launched in 1982 by the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute (WBSI). Feenberg (1993) describes the struggles experienced by the first WBSI-associated faculty who sought to master the online group environment. No one had ever tried teaching a course totally online, and, of course, no one had ever studied in an online course. All were proceeding blind, without context, base of knowledge, or precedents. Feenberg describes the faculty process, based largely on trial and error but with feedback from folks such as Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz, who had in 1978 coined the term groupware. WBSI faculty, some of them famous orators, were surprised by startling failures. The failures yielded important discoveries that remain relevant: long textual lectures do not work online, nor do Q&A approaches on their own (1993). Students would not participate, and long virtual silences ensued. Eventually the faculty adopted group learning activities, such as discussions, and history was made. As access to computers and networks continued to grow, educators recognized that cyberspace could be shaped for a wide range of uses. They also realized that online education was a separate field and began to explore how they could enable students to socialize in this new space. Their activities led to path breaking new approaches for networked collaboration that helped to define both online education and online collaboration. They were early precursors to subsequent offspring such as the CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) movement. From the early 1980s, creative applications of computer conferencing in university courses have contributed towards the development of a powerful new mode of learning: online collaborative learning (Harasim, et al 1995; Hiltz and Wellman, 1997; Bradsher, 1996; Hiltz,

6 1994; Kaye and Mason, 1989; Khan, 1997; Feenberg, 1993). In 1989, the Open University launched the first application of computer conferencing in a large-scale distance education course; 1500 students had access to tutors and peer discussions online. The mid-1980s witnessed many other experimental applications online: Solinet emerged as one of the first wide-scale online labour education programs; a variety of professional development networks were launched, which created a base for online learning communities; and efforts at online professional continuing education began. The 1990s were a time of other significant firsts in online educational activities: national educational networking programs, such as Canada s SchoolNet, a first step in networking all schools, museums, libraries, and aboriginal communities in the country, is one example. And major online research programs, such as the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence in 1995, and field testing, such as Virtual-U field trials in 1996, were also initiated. The approaching Silver Anniversary of online education is an auspicious time to note its outcomes as well as its history. To explore the features of the new paradigm of learning, the article examines how online education has resulted in: New Modes of Educational Delivery New Learning Domains New Principles of Learning New Learning Processes and Outcomes New Educational Roles and Entities.

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