Last changed 2 Oct 2000 ............... Length about 2,000 words (17,000 bytes).
This is a WWW document maintained by Steve Draper, installed at You may copy it. How to refer to it.

Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [mant] [this page]

Reciprocal Collaborative Teaching

Contents (click to jump to a section)

Stephen W. Draper
Department of Psychology
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ U.K.

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 student projects.

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.

Tutorial teaching and tertiary material

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 purposes.

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 available.

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 material.

The teaching units: "ATOMs"

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:

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.

Small unit size is important

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 widely.

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.

True reciprocal collaborative teaching

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 existing topics.

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.

Staff development and the role of the remote expert

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 reciprocal collaboration.

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 and

Mayes, J.T. (1993) "Commentary: impact of cognitive theory on the practice of courseware authoring" Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 9, 222-228

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)

Web site logical path: [] [~steve] [mant] [this page]
[top of this page]