Cyber Diversity – online instruction

It’s not unusual that all 15 students in one of Dr. Maureen Eke’s
African American literature course sections at Central Michigan
University are White. What’s striking, however, is that Black students
and their Black professor from a campus located hundreds of miles away
are beamed onto a large television screen to join Dr. Eke and her
students in class discussions and lectures.

For the students at historically Black University of Arkansas-Pine
Bluff and their teacher, Dr. Bettye Williams, participation in these
class discussions and lectures is made possible by interactive
television equipment.

“African American literature, in essence, seems to be a natural way
to create a community of learners between diverse institutions,” Eke
says.

The diversity movement in higher education has taken many forms in
the past several years. Beyond recruiting a diverse array of students,
administrators and faculty, some schools have begun requiring diversity
courses in the curriculum and encouraging students to volunteer in
nearby communities. Such initiatives have grown popular as educators
increasingly search for ways to prepare their students to enter a
diverse workforce.

In the case of Central Michigan University (CML) and the University
of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB), technology is seen as another tool for
enhancing campus diversity. School officials and faculty members are in
the third year of a five-year project that combines team teaching with
two educational technologies: interactive television, or ITV, and the
Internet. The Building Community Through Technology (BCTT) project, is
funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for $1.3 million over five years.

The project uses television equipment to allow a teacher and his or
her students on one campus to conduct a class with students and a
faculty member on another campus, and vice versa. The respective
classrooms are linked by interactive television technology, which
involves the transmission of live audio and video through telephone
lines. Thus, students and faculty at both locations participate in
discussions, pose questions and conduct class exercises.

“Our hope is to add two classes a year to the project,” says Dr.
Carole Beere, project co-director and dean of graduate studies at CMU.

This school year, four courses are being team taught by faculty
members at the respective schools. The project began with two classes
each semester during the 1997-98 school year. By the 2000-01 academic
year, the program will include 16 faculty members and cover eight
classes per semester, serving as many as 480 students. Half of these
students will be enrolled at CMU and the other half at UAPB.

A visitor to the respective campuses would have little trouble
noting differences between CMU and UAPB (see Universities at a Glance
box, next page). Racial makeup, school sizes, and local community
settings are just a few of the differences that have allowed
administrators to garner support for this project.

Based in Mount Pleasant, a city of roughly 25,000 people, CMU is
considered a mid-sized university. It enrolls students from all parts
of Michigan. Out of CMU’s undergraduate student enrollment of 15,202
students, 7.2 percent are minorities.

UAPB is primarily an undergraduate university and is part of the
University of Arkansas higher education system. Located in Pine Bluff,
a racially-mixed city of 60,000, UAPB enrolls some 2,262 undergraduate
students. Ninety-five percent are Black, and 87 percent come from
Arkansas. The school has a significant number of students who come from
the Arkansas Delta region, an area characterized by high poverty and
unemployment rates.

That such differences exist among campuses led Beere, who is White,
to conclude that CMU should cultivate a partnership with an HBCU.

“I was at a conference that had a session presenting information
that HBCUs do a better job than predominantly White institutions at
retaining and graduating Black students. I had the idea that our
institution could learn from an HBCU ways of improving our record with
Black students. I recognized that White students on our campus needed
the exposure as well,” Beere says.

“We need the minority students more than they need us. Our student body is homogeneous,” Beere noted.

Beere obtained support for the idea from her school and from the
W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Kellogg officials reportedly recommended UAPB
as the partner school, and UAPB officials welcomed the partnership.

Dr. Qumare Morehead, co-director of the project and a UAPB
sociology professor, says participation in the project is providing
UAPB experience with distance education technology. At the start of the
project, UAPB was able to purchase $93,000 in equipment with help from
the Kellogg Foundation.

“We thought it was a wonderful project for our institution,” Morehead says.

Weight On The Faculty

CMU’s Eke estimates that she spends about twice the time on the
interactive course than she would on one that’s not televised. Much of
that extra preparation time is consumed by the telephone conversations
Eke has with her teaching partner in Arkansas.

“It’s a very demanding task to prepare,” says Eke who is a native of Nigeria. “It has required a lot of sacrifices.”

Coordination between teaching partners represents a critical part
of course preparation, according to Eke and others. Partners have to
devise a teaching format, which involves heavily scripted lectures and
moderated class discussions, a grading plan, and developing a comfort
level for working in front of the camera.

In the first teaching year, sociology professors Dr. Robert Newby
at CMU and Dr. Thomas Knight at UAPB, teamed up to teach “Social
Problems.” Williams of UAPB and Eke, both of whom are Black and teach
literature on their respective campuses, taught African American
Literature. The four faculty members spent a year planning the course
before they offered it on their campuses.

“It took a lot of time to work out the details,” Beere says.

Social Problems and African American literature were the maiden
courses because they had content directly related to race in America.
It was felt those courses had the greatest potential for sparking
serious debates and discussions around which the clash of faculty and
student perspectives would prove most beneficial.

Newby believes that it was beneficial that CMU had Black professors leading the launch of the BCTT project.

“We were very sensitive to the fact that we were dealing with a
Black institution. I think there was more trust [between the
institutions] at the beginning because we were Black,” Newby added.

Subsequent courses, which include criminology and psychology for
the current school year, have a more subtle connection to race. Courses
in college algebra and marketing are also scheduled for the project.

Beere says the greatest challenge for the faculty, all of whom are
volunteers, has been their lack of experience with team teaching and
using distance education technology.

Dr. Bryan Gibson, an associate professor of psychology at CMU, did
not let the prospect of the extra work and a lack of familiarity with
distance education scare him away from joining the collaboration.
Gibson is teaching the introductory psychology course with UAPB’s Dr.
Ebo Tei. He says the project attracted him because as a social
psychologist, he is interested in how contact between Blacks and Whites
can improve relations and lessen misunderstandings between them.

“I’ve been exploring my curiosity about how models of interaction can affect relations between different groups,” Gibson says.

Dr. Tei, chairperson of the department of social and behavioral
sciences at UAPB, says the opportunity to learn teaching in a distance
education format represented one he found hard to pass up.

“This project is part of the movement of technology into the
classroom. I believe in moving ahead with technology that will enhance
teaching and learning,” Tei says.

The program has an Internet component, which encourages students to
use e-mail in their courses. Use of the Internet has not developed as
fully as some believe it could. The Internet is expected to be used for
communication among students working on joint assignments as well as
for communication between students and faculty at both universities.

Program’s Hot Spots

At a recent higher education technology conference in October, CMU
representatives debuted a videotape segment of the Social Problems
class from last year. The segment featured a student, a blond-haired
woman named Nancy, declaring that she has neither patience nor empathy
for poor people. “Poor people make me sick,” she says. The declaration
appeared to upset some of the UAPB students who, in response, tried to
argue that her views were misguided.

In the first year of the project, confrontations, akin to the one
prompted by Nancy, between CMU and UAPB students occurred from time to
time, according to participants. Such confrontations have tested the
skill of faculty members to keep tense situations from disrupting the
continuity of the classes.

“I have to do a lot of managing,” Newby says, adding that debates
in his class have been “spirited” because of “contrasting views”
between the two groups.

Knight says the Social Problems course is designed to include
considerable time for discussion among the students. “We try not to
make it too lecture heavy,” he says.

Karen Stribling, a UAPB senior from Pine Bluff who is studying
social work, says the interactive course format matches her preference
for a learning environment.

“I like a lot of interaction,” she says. “I don’t like to sit and be too quiet.”

Joanna Henrikson, a White senior at CMU who indicated that she
likes the interactive class format in the African American literature
course, says she sees the flare up of tense situations between the
classes as opportunities for learning and understanding. Henrikson
credits both Eke and Williams for having the skill to smooth over rough
spots, but she feels the teachers could have pushed for a deeper
exploration of issues that were in conflict.

“There were a couple times when it was tense, but the problems were let go and not dealt with,” Joanna says.

Ron Kooi, a White senior student at CMU, says he has relished the
interaction he has had with the UAPB students and Williams in the
literature course. He says that on a number of occasions, he “was
rebuffed” by Williams over comments he had made that apparently rattled
her and UAPB students.

“I tend to speak my mind,” Kooi says. “And I have spoken up when things were said that I didn’t agree with.’

UAPB’s Morehead says she has counseled UAPB students to “be civil
in [their] debate.” She says the potential for controversy has been
part of the process.

Gibson says the racially-tinged tiffs common in the Social Problems
and African American Literature classes have not resulted in his
course, largely, he thinks, due to absence of racial content in the
course.

Tei agrees with teaching partner Gibson that psychology does not
lend itself to debate in the way that literature and sociology courses
do.

“Psychology is a discipline that’s research based. Discussion of research methods does not stir up confrontation,” Tei says.

Students have a number of opportunities to evaluate the interactive
courses through essays, focus groups and written evaluations, according
to Beere. The classes are also video-taped for evaluation purposes. She
says officials at both schools want the project to evolve into a
permanent program for UAPB and CMU.

The website address for the Building Community Through Technology project is www.oit.cmich.edu/bctt/>.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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