ERCIM News No.37 - April 1999

Erasing Generation and Country Borders via Networking

by Josef Kolár, Tomás Macek, Bozena Mannová and Barbara Williams

Some IT courses delivered at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Czech Technical University (CTU) in Prague permit interesting educational experiments in which we aim both at technical and social aspects of teaching that uses modern Internet-based tools.

The first experiment was conducted as a part of the Global Cooperation Project during the summer term of the 1997/98 school year with computer science classes at both the CTU and North Hennepin Community College, USA. Although the main aim both classes was programming, the students also obtained a basic instruction as how to use modern Internet-based communication tools. The project was conceived as a pilot project for teaching team cooperation on a global scale. For three months the students worked in teams consisting of team members from remote places and different working and social background.

There were two videoconference sessions (at the beginning and at the end of the course) while most of the communication was done via e-mail, file transmission service, and WWW presentations. We tried to stress the social aspects of the projects so that the students were asked not to restrict their communication to professional issues. At the beginning, each student introduced him- or herself during a videoconference and a more complete presentation was done via personal WWW homepages they were asked to prepare.

For many participants the project was the first opportunity to have real working contact with a person from another country. They acquired new knowledge concerning educational systems in the two countries and learned a lot about differences in living styles. For the Czech students there was another positive outcome in the strengthening of their motivation to learn English. We noticed a remarkable improvement in their command of the language when comparing their initial and concluding presentations. All participating students got to know about current issues in the other country and also spoke about their personal interests.

Most of us who have ever worked in a different country realize that some of the local issues look different from elsewhere. The Global Cooperation Project helps the students to get this kind of different perspective at almost no extra cost as compared to international student exchange. It gives them a background that makes them more eligible for a stay abroad later on during their study. We anticipate that it will also result in a greater ability to establish personal contacts, which will greatly facilitate future business cooperation.

To the teachers the project confirmed that good motivation helps the students more than hours of lecture. We were surprised by the intricate presentations the students were able to prepare for their Web pages in spite of the fact that they were given only a minimum instruction concerning the structure of HTML documents.

Another interesting teaching experiment is being developed in the first IT course for seniors, which is being taught at the department in the 1998/99 school year. It is designed as a bi-semestral course stressing the practical aspect of computer usage and does not include any programming. The enrolment of this course is 35 people (10 men and 25 women) whose age is between 55 and 79 years (65 on average). Mostly, these people do not plan to use computers for work since they are pensioned already. An important motivation factor for them was to be able to understand their grandchildren and perhaps help them when playing and learning with computers.
It is a well-known fact that grown-up people who have not had any opportunity nor need to get acquainted with computers during their education or at the beginning of their professional career have both objective and subjective problems to start using them. Upon our meaning, the most important obstacles are subjective in nature. These people are frightened with the omnipresent buzz about computers considering these machines too complex and themselves too far behind to be able to understand them properly. This is not a problem at all for children ñ they have do not fear computers do not bothering what is inside but playing the games that attract them.

We are successfully trying to persuade our senior students that this is the way they should take it as well and Internet services (starting with WWW) is used instead of games. The potential of these services and the ease of using them are very convincing. Once the subjective barriers are removed, senior students advance very well in other topics making usage of the features of grown-ups: determination and dedication.

Please contact:

Josef Kolár - CTU
Tel: +420 2 2435 7403

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