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Reciprocal Collaborative Teaching
Stephen W. Draper
Department of Psychology
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ U.K.
WWW URL: http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve
A version of this paper was presented at the ALT-C'98 conference.
The MANTCHI project explored collaborative tutorial teaching over the
Internet between four universities in the subject area of HCI. All sites
authored exercises, and delivered exercises to their own students that had been
authored elsewhere in a reciprocal arrangement. The Internet supplied the
medium for sharing material, for some active remote support during delivery
(for instance remote marking of student assignments), and some interaction
between students at different universities. The project also explored the use
of "tertiary" material: the re-use of interactions recorded during one
delivery and made available to learners in later deliveries. The units of
teaching and learning exchanged were called "ATOMs", and corresponded to about
one week's work for students on a module. A small unit size is important for
flexible and ready adoption by a variety of sites, thus maximising the amount
of re-use of material. It is argued that this collaboration based on
barter leads to gains in authoring time, curriculum quality, quality of
materials, and staff development.
This paper presents a model for reciprocal collaborative teaching, based
on experience in the MANTCHI (1998) project. (MANTCHI stands for MAN
Tutoring in CHI. MAN stands for Metropolitan Area Network: in this case the
155Mbps Internet connections within a number of Scottish city areas. CHI
stands for the subject of Computer-Human Interaction, also known as HCI.) The
project ran for about a year and a half, and involved four universities in
central Scotland, exploring collaborative teaching supported by the Internet.
As discussed below, this collaboration was reciprocal in that all sites both
contributed material and delivered material authored at the other sites.
The subject being taught was Human Computer Interaction (HCI), mainly on
Master-level courses. The material was used on existing courses with students
working for credit towards degrees, and this learning was subject to extensive
educational evaluation studies, based on the method of Integrative Evaluation
(Draper et al. 1996), and reported elsewhere (Draper & Brown, 1998).
Material such as exercises, student work, and tutors' feedback were exchanged
in various ways, most commonly by the WWW (World Wide Web). For instance an
exercise could be specified on a web page, student solutions submitted using a
forms interface on the WWW, and similarly returned with tutor comments by
reposting as a web page. Although the main focus of the project, like that of
this paper, was on using the Internet to support teaching collaboration, some
of the activities also used the Internet for student collaboration between
institutions: to explore the technology, to share seminars, or to do joint
The use of new technology on these courses -- such as video conferencing, and
some CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) tools -- was not only
interesting to the project members as researchers and teachers, but was also
appropriate practical experience to students on HCI courses, who should be given
experience of such technology in the same way science students might be given
lab work. This meant the teachers felt justified in exposing their students to
this, but it did not seem to make the students noticeably more forgiving when
the technology, or the teachers' expertise in operating it, failed.
In contrast to much CAL (Computer Assisted Learning) work which focusses
on replacing primary exposition formerly done by lectures or textbooks, MANTCHI
addressed tutorial teaching (defined as anything except primary exposition).
Thus authoring was essentially the design and written specification of
exercises or similar learner tasks, often presupposing that the learners had
received related primary exposition (e.g. by reading selected papers). The
student work might then be marked: that is, submitted by the student, and
given written feedback by a tutor and perhaps a grade for formal assessment
The project was also interested in "tertiary" material: the possible re-use of
learner-learner and learner-tutor interactions. This was based on a
distinction by Mayes (1993, 1995) between three classes of courseware. These
are distinguished firstly by their authoring mode, where primary courseware is
produced for a wide audience, secondary courseware is produced by a teacher for
a specific (i.e. local) class, and tertiary courseware is simply compiled from
previous interactions. They are also distinguished by the role they typically
play in the teaching and learning process. In the Laurillard (1993) model of
this, primary courseware most often addresses primary exposition, which
corresponds to activity 1. Activity 2 and its counterpart activity at the
level of personal experience and action concern learners re-expressing or
re-using the knowledge, as in writing an essay or doing an exercise, and
correspond to our authored exercises and to secondary courseware. Tertiary
courseware corresponds to iteration, dialogue, feedback, and discussion
between teacher and learner, represented in Laurillard's model by the cycling
between left and right (teacher and learner) sides of her diagram, and by
having four rather than only two activities (teacher gives a version, learner
gives a version) in the top and bottom regions.
Thus while the project's authoring was itself secondary courseware, this was in
part a necessary starting point for capturing ensuing interactions with a view
to re-use as tertiary courseware. It was found that in fact simply storing
interactions such as email discussions did not seem to be highly valued by
learners. However what were highly valued were "TRAILs": past questions (set
exercises), past student solutions, and the tutor feedback or comments on
these. ("TRAIL" stands for Tertiary Reusable ATOM Instantiated for Learning.
"ATOM" refers to one of the authored exercises, and is introduced below.) This
is consistent with observations on other courses, such as the frequent request
in open-ended course evaluations for more tutor feedback, and the high value
put by students on past exam questions and model answers when these are made
Tertiary material can only be created by earlier deliveries of the learning
activity. Teaching collaborations allow many more deliveries of the same
activity per year, and so are particularly useful for developing tertiary
The units used in the projects were activities of about one week's work
for students on a module (approximately eight hours work, including contact
time). They were called "ATOMs" (Autonomous Teaching Objects in MANTCHI).
Eight ATOMs were both written and delivered at least once, and two more were
written but not delivered during the project. These materials may be found via
the project web site.
There was a variety of types of ATOM, but one format was:
- An exercise authored at one site
- Delivered there, and at several other sites as well by "local deliverers"
- Delivery actively supported by a "remote expert" (usually the author)
- In later deliveries, TRAILs were available to students (based on material
stored from the earlier deliveries).
Remote experts were sometimes used to give feedback on student work, and
sometimes to hold tutorial discussions over a video link. Some ATOMs did not
use a remote expert as part of the delivery.
Choosing a small size for the unit of exchange in teaching
collaborations is important for a range of related reasons to do with how
likely it is for material to be adopted. From an author's viewpoint,
deliverers seem reluctant to use material "not invented here". From a
deliverer's perspective, different situations, courses, students, and
institutions require different materials and curricula. Small units increase
the chance of being able to re-use part of what is used elsewhere, whereas
large indivisible units lead to rejecting large units in order to avoid
unsuitable parts of them. Another major consideration is that in the short
term (and in this project), it is much easier to introduce one or two ATOMs
to an existing course than to redesign the whole course around larger
chunks: major redesigns require major approvals procedures, which typically
take over a year. Similarly on a personal level, most course deliverers will
want to try out only one or two units before committing to using them more
The EUROMET (1998) project similarly decided on a policy of using small course
units to maximize re-use across their multi-national project, which is
concerned mainly with primary exposition. They originally planned to use units
of 15 minutes of learner time, but pressure from authors, who argued that it
made no sense to subdivide material this finely, has increased this unit size
somewhat. Their resulting units seem to correspond to single learning
objectives. In MANTCHI, the ATOM units correspond to a single "tutorial"
activity. These units not only have a natural coherence, but correspond to the
units in which courses are commonly planned. Fitting in with the units in
terms of which course planners think, increases the ease with which parts can
be adopted and used.
In MANTCHI, all sites both authored material and delivered other sites'
material. This seems to be a unique feature. (EUROMET also has authoring
sites delivering some material from other authoring sites, but they also have
many client sites which do not contribute material.) This reciprocity builds
users of material (in the sense of teachers who adopt it) into the design team.
It keeps participants vitally aware, not just of the problems of authoring, but
of what it is like to be delivering to one's own students (in real courses on
which their qualifications depend) material that others have authored: a true
user's perspective. Furthermore, in this situation there is a strong tendency
for authoring to be demand-driven not supply-driven: that is, to focus choice
of material on what deliverers think is important for their courses, not on
what authors choose to fill out a course or textbook with. In MANTCHI, there
were project meetings at which ATOM topics were agreed. Potential authors
suggested topics, and others then indicated whether they would be interested in
using them. Roughly four times as many were proposed as were taken up: a
buyers' market. To the extent that deliverers accurately represented learners'
interests, this implies an improvement in the quality of curriculum content.
Certainly, in later interviews, deliverers all said they were improving the
content of their courses either by introducing better topics or better units on
There is a fundamental reason for collaborative teaching between
universities: the structure of higher education is that individuals specialize
in narrow topics, but all are required to teach broadly. While teaching is
done locally, then most teaching is done by people who, while competent
compared to the students, are not expert in many of the particular topics they
cover. It is becoming possible through the Internet and other communication
technologies to teach collaboratively, and so to overcome the geographic
dispersal of expertise. At an individual level, teachers would volunteer to
author a topic they are already expert in, and in exchange to adopt an exercise
in a topic they think is important, but do not feel expert in. (This is
certainly what happened in the MANTCHI project.) Material can then be re-used
in several institutions, thus both saving authoring costs and raising quality
because participants author what they know best, because they are authoring
less but for wider scrutiny, and because each piece of material will get
delivered more often, and so revised and improved more often and more rapidly
during its (short) lifetime.
Thus such collaboration offers gains in saved authoring time, in raised
curriculum quality, and raised quality of individual materials. These
arguments are expanded, and supported by data from an interview study, in
Draper & Foubister (1998). It is reasonable to hope, although it has not
been directly demonstrated, that they result in gains in learning quality.
In some ATOMs, there was a role for a remote expert during delivery.
Although local deliverers may welcome any and all help, the most important
function of a remote expert is probably to deal with novel and unexpected
student responses, whether in solutions they offer that require assessment or
in questions in a tutorial. These are things not dealt with in papers and
textbooks, and the main cause of anxiety for teachers trying to deliver a
topic on which they do not feel expert. However some of the deliverers in this
project said that they felt that after such support for the first one or two
deliveries of a topic, they would then feel confident of doing without such
support. This amounts to a form of staff development: of supporting the
development of new capabilities in teaching staff through this form of
Note however that the ATOMs to which this applies (those using a remote expert
in delivery -- four of the ATOMs in this project were of this kind) require
barter arrangements not just for the material, but for this work. Provided it
approximately balances, it is still worthwhile: after all, at the individual
level, you get active support on topics you feel uneasy about in return for
answering questions on your specialist topic, for which you probably find
"difficult" student questions interesting.
Some project members report that they will be continuing their
reciprocal teaching collaborations beyond the life of the project, and the
special motivations it offered. In addition, efforts are being made to present
the materials via the website in a format where others could use them (at least
those requiring no remote expert work during delivery) with little or no
personal involvement with project members. Though the subject area of HCI may
make students interested in novel technology for its own sake, it also makes
them more critical. It seems likely that this form of collaboration would
also succeed in other subject areas, at least where students have routine
access to the WWW.
The reciprocal teaching collaboration described in this paper is based on
symmetrical barter, not market trading and payments between institutions. The
exchange is of small units of teaching, which are then drawn on for a small
part of existing courses. Thus course design as well as administration and
delivery remain local affairs, but there is some sharing of authoring, and to a
lesser extent of delivery. Analysis and experience so far suggest that it
leads to gains in authoring effort, curriculum quality, quality of materials,
and staff development.
The author acknowledges the support of Scottish Higher Education Funding
Council (SHEFC) through the Use of MANs Initiative for the MANTCHI project.
Thanks to the many people involved in MANTCHI: the web site gives a list of
personnel (MANTCHI, 1998).
Draper,S.W., Brown, M.I., Henderson,F.P. & McAteer,E. (1996)
"Integrative evaluation: an emerging role for classroom studies of CAL"
Computers and Education 26 (1-3), 17-32 and Computer assisted
learning: selected contributions from the CAL 95 symposium Kibby,M.R.
& Hartley,J.R. (eds.) Oxford: Pergamon 17-32
Draper, S.W. & Brown,M.I. (in press) "Evaluating tutorial
material in MANTCHI"
in M.Oliver (ed.) Innovation in the evaluation of
learning technology (London: University of North London)
and [WWW document] URL
Draper, S.W. & Foubister,S.P. (in press) "A cost-benefit
analysis of remote collaborative tutorial teaching"
in M.Oliver (ed.) Innovation in the evaluation of
learning technology (London: University of North London)
and [WWW document] URL
EUROMET (1998) EUROMET project pages [WWW document] URL
Laurillard, D. (1993) Rethinking university teaching: A framework for the
effective use of educational technology p.103 London: Routledge.
Additionally a diagram of the Laurillard model is at:
MANTCHI (1998) MANTCHI project pages [WWW document] URL
Mayes, J.T. (1993) "Commentary: impact of cognitive theory on the practice of
courseware authoring" Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 9,
Mayes, J.T. (1995) "Learning Technology and Groundhog Day" in W.Strang,
V.B.Simpson & D.Slater (eds.) Hypermedia at Work: Practice and Theory
in Higher Education 21-37 (University of Kent Press: Canterbury)
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