Using Web-Based Cases to Enhance, Extend, and Transform Pre-service Teacher
Training: Two Years in Review

Curtis J. Bonk, Indiana University
Katrina Daytner, Indiana University
Gary Daytner, Indiana University
Vanessa Paz Dennen, Indiana University
Steve Malikowski, Indiana University
[Full Article MS Word Format]

Cite as: Bonk, C. J., Daytner, K., Daytner, G., Dennen, V., & Malikowski, S. (in press). Using Web-based cases to enhance, extend, and transform preservice teacher training: Two years in review. Computers in the Schools (Special Issue: The World Wide Web in Higher Education Instruction).

For copies or more information, please contact:

Curtis J. Bonk, Associate Professor
Indiana University
School of Education: Room 4022
Dept. of Counseling and Educational Psychology
Bloomington, IN 47405-1006
(812) 856-8353 (work)
(812) 856-8333 (fax)
Web Homepage:

Acknowledgements: This paper was presented at the American Educational Research Association annual convention in Montreal in April of 1999. Funding for part of this research was provided by the Center for Global Change at Indiana University and by Proffitt Research Grant #29-402-01. For more information on COW conferencing or any of the other projects mentioned within this article, contact the first author (e-mail:, see also,

Keywords: asynchronous conferencing, teacher training, Web-based instruction, scaffolded instruction, e-learning, online mentoring, internalization, educational psychology, case-based learning, telecommunications.

Running Head: Two Years in Review

Using Web-Based Cases to Enhance, Extend, and Transform Pre-service Teacher Training: Two Years in Review


This study was part of a two-year review regarding the use of Web-based case conferencing to enhance, extend, and transform the learning of pre- service teachers in an introductory educational psychology course. First, Web conferencing enhanced the learning opportunities within educational psychology by providing an electronically shared space for hundreds of students to share, discuss, and reflect on case situations common in K-12 school settings. Second, this environment extended learning by including students from other universities and countries. Finally, instead of strictly relying on instructor cases and commentary, the Web transformed the learning process by allowing students to generate cases online and provide timely and relevant peer feedback. Across the two years of this study, students generated more than a thousand case situations that tended to focus on classroom management, motivation, and controversial issues or hot topics. Within these case situations, students were extremely task focused and offered each other extensive peer feedback. Despite many positive findings, various problems were encountered such as procrastination, limited text referencing, and few justified statements. Several future directions and recommendations are outlined.

As educational technologies advance and the complexity of teaching intensifies, there is increasing attention regarding how technology can play a role in teacher education. Computer technology can be viewed as a tool to enhance, extend, or transform the teacher education curriculum. The project described here attempted to address all three of these important technology roles by using computer conferencing for more than two years in the teacher education curriculum. The creation of an electronic space for students to post and reflect on observed classroom case situations helped enhance the learning of hundreds of pre-service teachers. In terms of extending the learning environment, learning was electronically nurtured and coached by practicing teachers, instructors, and peers from around the world. While these mentors questioned ideas and suggested insights into solving various educational dilemmas, student learning was being extended to other locales. Finally, the center of control in the learning environment was transformed. Instead of discussing and solving case situations fabricated by the instructor, cases posted to the Web were constructed by the students based on actual experiences. Additionally, students discussed and debated how to resolve those dilemmas. As a result, these pre-service teachers were being prepared for the types of technology activities that they might later integrate into their own instruction.

Case-Based Learning
There is intense interest regarding how to make teacher education classes more meaningful through cases (Grant, 1992; Merseth, 1991; Richert, 1992; Silverman, Welty, & Lyon, 1992; Shulman, 1992). In addition to cases, some educators feel that early field experiences help contextualize key course concepts. A recent trend is the use of computer conferencing to create electronic discussion groups among pre-service teachers about topics of interest or problems seen in schools (Admiraal, Lockhorst, Wubbels, Korthagen, & Veen, 1997; Bonk, Malikowski, Angeli, & East, 1998). The project reported here combined all three of the above ideas and extended them one step further by using the Web as a tool for pre-service teachers to be apprenticed into the field of teaching with electronic mentoring from instructors, practitioners, and peers.

The first author has conducted a series of studies since the spring of 1997 to discover whether pre-service teacher Web-based conferencing about early field experiences can have a positive impact on their learning of educational psychology as well as their apprenticeship into teacher education. This research builds on an earlier comparison study of synchronous and asynchronous conferencing, favoring the latter (Bonk, Hansen, Grabner-Hagen, Lazar, & Mirabelli, 1998). However, instead of teacher-generated cases as in that first study, this particular set of studies used student-generated cases and an asynchronous Web-based conferencing. Here, students discussed such issues as inattentive students, teacher bias, and limited technology resources.

Since this project was situated within a Vygotskian or sociocultural camp (Wertsch, 1985; Vygotsky, 1978, 1986), we used the computer conferencing activity as a means for scaffolded feedback from a variety of learning participants. Several sociocultural scholars and researchers influenced the design of this learning activity. As part of an electronic apprenticeship (Rogoff, 1990), we attempted to build both vertical and horizontal mentoring with student case feedback coming from both peers and adult experts (Bonk, Malikowski, Angeli, & East, 1998). For example, students from other universities provided examples of similar situations they witnessed, whereas other instructors and expert teachers spoke from experience or posted a question intended to provoke discussion or reflection. Using the cognitive apprenticeship framework from Tharp and Gallimore (1988), we analyzed the forms of learning assistance taking place in these electronic discussions (Bonk, Malikowski, Angeli, & Supplee, 1998). From this perspective, we developed a template or guide sheet detailing a dozen ways to electronically mentor students (see Bonk, Hara, Dennen, Malikowski, & Supplee, 2000). The 12 forms of assistance in this template (e.g., direct instruction, modeling, scaffolding, pushing to explore or articulate ideas, etc.; see Bonk & Kim, 1998; Bonk & Sugar, 1998) varied greatly within the Web-based electronic conferences. For instance, while modeling was extremely limited in these online conferences, feedback and questioning were more common.

We believe that student-generated cases operate more readily within a student's zone of proximal development (ZPD) than prepackaged text cases or teacher-generated ones. By employing this approach, we hope that students' internalize some of the strategies and recommendations they have encountered online with their peers and instructors. We also hypothesize that students' electronic conversations about their early field experiences will help them learn key course concepts; in effect, they should not only be able to recognize such concepts, but also to apply them when faced with similar situations. Along these same lines, semester-long conversations with other instructors, practicing teachers, and peers should enhance student ability to take the perspectives of others, while simultaneously helping them learn valuable technology skills.

Case-based learning on the Web may advance pre-service teachers' ability to take perspectives and internalize concepts. In effect, electronic conferencing in teacher education programs might help solve problems related to: (a) the isolation students feel when in the field; (b) the lack of community and dialogue among teacher education participants; (c) the disconnectedness between classroom knowledge and field experiences; (d) the limited reflective practices observed among novice teachers; and (e) the need to appreciate multiple perspectives and diverse cultures. In this project, more than one thousand different pre-service teachers electronically shared aspects of their field experiences over a five- semester span, while obtaining instructor and practitioner Web-based mentoring and feedback.


This summary research report stems from an extended study in pre-service teacher case-based discussions on the Web from the spring of 1997 to the spring of 1999. Most data analyses are of the first three semesters, however. Importantly, the tool for these case discussions, "Conferencing on the Web" or COW, remained the same throughout the project. Nevertheless, the number and level of participants, conference duration, and case topics varied each semester.

As a replacement for face-to-face discussions, pre-service teachers in this educational psychology course were asked to generate two teaching scenarios within COW based on problems or success stories that they viewed during their early field observations. Students were instructed to link theories and concepts from their class discussions and readings to their case observations. Writing and responding to these cases was a requirement of their 20-hour field experience. All names and places in these situations were to remain anonymous (for more information, see Bonk, Hara, et al, in press; Bonk, Malikowski, Angeli, & East, 1998). The Web-based learning format of COW allowed students and instructors from multiple sections to comment on the cases posted. In many instances, teacher practitioners and teacher education experts provided comments and questions on these cases. Students were asked to create two cases during the semester and respond to the case situations of six to eight peers. Within their own cases, students were to provide plausible resolutions for each case based on readings, lectures, and personal understandings (for a sample case, see Figure 1). The objective was to detail an interesting dilemma in terms of important concepts from one or more book chapters, and specify a personal recommendation for action in light of the course readings. Finally, students were to compare and reflect upon the differences between how they and the classroom teacher or textbook author might have resolved this dilemma. After posting their cases, students were typically asked to respond to Web cases of six to eight peers and, near the end of the conference, try to summarize the discussion within each of their own Web cases.

[Figure 1]

A large midwestern university coordinated the conference and Web server. Whereas most students and mentors were from this site, additional participants were located at other universities. In the first semester (spring of 1997), there were five sections of educational psychology generating and discussing cases; in the second semester (fall of 1997), there were six; and in the third semester (spring of 1998), there were three sections in the United States and another 30 students from two universities in Finland. The latter semester included two full-motion videoconferences between the students in the United States and Finland--one at the start of the Web-based conferencing and one at the end. From the spring of 1997 through the fall of 1998, more than 700 students discussed their early field experiences using COW, creating more than 1,000 cases of elementary, middle school, and high school situations based on observations of actual teaching problems or dilemmas in the field.

Though not analyzed in much detail here, in the fall of 1998, there were approximately 300 students involving two universities in the United States, two universities in Finland, and one university in Korea. In the spring of 1999, more than 100 students from another university in the U.S. as well as a few faculty and students from universities in Peru were added to the COW project. This group of nearly 400 participants created more than 600 cases. Across these semesters, there were often other students, instructors, graduate assistants, and practitioners who provided feedback to students and mentored them on their COW cases.

Quantitative Analyses
We have conducted a number of qualitative and quantitative analyses on the case data collected each semester. Only the quantitative data are reported here (for qualitative results, see Dennen & Bonk, 2000). For instance, the COW system logged all posting data, thereby enabling us to determine the total number of active participants, conference messages, and submitted cases. Through such data logging devices, we readily calculated the average length of discussion threads and cases, the average length of individual messages, the timing of student conferencing activities, and the depth of case discussion.

Across the first three semesters, 393 students generated a total of 687 cases or 1.75 cases per student. On average, then, we have had around 130 students using COW each semester to generate and discuss about 230 Web cases. From the spring of 1997 through the spring of 1998, there were a total of 3,832 messages, including 3,108 case replies, posted to the system. This equates to roughly 4.5 replies per case.

In comparison, in the fall of 1998, there were about 300 students involved from the U.S., Finland, and Korea. While the number of words per post fell to about 133 during this fourth semester of the COW project, there were 436 cases produced. Compared to typical case coverage of five to ten instructor cases per semester, such numbers are staggering! In total there were 2,491 messages in that conference of which 2,055 were case replies, which equates to approximately 4.7 replies per case. In the fifth semester (spring of 1999), the participants in the COW project continued to grow with additional students from the U.S. and Peru, though we had fewer participants from Korea and Finland. There were 624 cases posted in that semester and 1,768 replies or around 2.83 replies per case.

Interestingly, the average words per post increased each semester from 110 in the spring of 1997 to 130 in the fall of 1997 and then to nearly 140 in the spring of 1998. The words per post dipped slightly to 133 in the fall of 1998, but jumped to nearly 200 words in the spring of 1999. What elevated the discussion? This increase was likely due to better training, easier conference configurations, and the added international component. At the same time, the number of responses per case posted was reduced from around six responses per post in 1997 to three in 1999. In effect, while students engaged in greater depth of discussion, they did not respond within as many discussion threads.

Why is the raw data above important? Given that this was the first time most of these students actually traveled to a field experience, wrote a case, or corresponded using a Web-based conferencing tool like COW, this project was extremely successful at fostering student text production and social interaction. Students were engaged in a learning activity wherein they determined the topics of discussions and began offering advice as professionals in the field of teaching. They were engaged in a vibrant exchange of ideas across geographic locations and time. Students were extensively writing about common school experiences and receiving more feedback than typically experienced in conventional classroom settings. These and other findings are elaborated on and summarized at the end of this paper.

Case Evaluations

Portions of this conferencing data were previously analyzed to discover the forms of online mentoring, the depth of discussions, and student attitudes about the project (Bonk et al., 1998; Bonk, Malikowski, Supplee, & Angeli, 1998). To further evaluate the COW project and to begin construction of a public Web site of educational psychology cases, nearly 700 COW cases from the first three semesters of the COW project (i.e., Spring 1997, Fall 1997, and Spring 1998) were printed out and rated. These cases were evaluated for quality, relevance, and topic(s) addressed. Information also was gathered regarding the grade level(s) and discipline(s) addressed by each case. Unfortunately, when students were writing their cases, they did not always specify the grade and/or discipline they were observing. In general, cases ranged across the K-12 spectrum and addressed all major disciplines--art, music, physical education, math, reading, English, foreign language, science, and social studies.

The selected cases were divided between two evaluators who rated their quality and relevance using two 3-point Likert scales. The "quality" scale included such categories as completeness, details, coherency, flow, and language use. The "relevance" scale, designed to evaluate the level of interest and debate commanded by each case, included ratings for interest, intrigue, uniqueness, relative importance, connectedness to course content, and controversy. This scale, in essence, asked, "Was this a hot topic?" Table 1 details these scoring rubrics.

[Table 1]

Table 1. Coding Rubrics for Quality and Relevance Scales

|          |   |Completeness:   Lacks major components of case, serious |
|Quality   |1  |omissions                                               |
|          |   |Details:              Few or no essential and supporting|
|          |   |details                                                 |
|          |   |Coherency:         Hard to follow, poor case structure  |
|          |   |Grammar:          Poor sentence structure, several      |
|          |   |grammatical errors                                      |
|          |   |Completeness:    Contains most but not all major        |
|          |2  |components of case                                      |
|          |   |Details:               Essential details present with   |
|          |   |few supporting details                                  |
|          |   |Coherency:         Certain parts difficult to follow    |
|          |   |Grammar:          Good sentence structure, some         |
|          |   |grammatical errors                                      |
|          |   |Completeness:    All major components of case present   |
|          |3  |                                                        |
|          |   |Details:               Essential details and supporting |
|          |   |details present                                         |
|          |   |Coherency:         Easy to follow from beginning to end |
|          |   |Grammar:          Good sentence structure, few or no    |
|          |   |grammatical errors                                      |
|          |   |Interest:              Boring, trite, unoriginal        |
|Relevance |1  |                                                        |
|          |   |Intrigue:              Does not engage the reader       |
|          |   |Hot Topic:           Not a current hot issue in the     |
|          |   |field                                                   |
|          |   |Connection:        Makes little or no connection to     |
|          |   |course content                                          |
|          |   |Controversy:      Case content does not cause debate    |
|          |   |Interest:              Generates some interest, shows   |
|          |2  |some uniqueness                                         |
|          |   |Intrigue:             Moderately engages the reader     |
|          |   |Hot Topic:          A current or potentially hot issue  |
|          |   |in the field                                            |
|          |   |Connection:       Makes some connection to course       |
|          |   |content                                                 |
|          |   |Controversy:      Case content is capable of starting   |
|          |   |debate                                                  |
|          |   |Interest:              Very interesting, rich examples, |
|          |3  |unique                                                  |
|          |   |Intrigue:             Highly engages the reader         |
|          |   |Hot Topic:          A current hot issue in the field    |
|          |   |Connection:       Makes some or many connections to     |
|          |   |course content                                          |
|          |   |Controversy:      Case content sparks debate or multiple|
|          |   |perspectives                                            |

Before coding the cases for this project, the two coders tested the coding rubrics on practice cases to determine the utility of the scales. Of the 687 total cases from the first three semesters of the project, 50 were coded by both raters to determine inter-rater agreement for each scale. For both raters, there was 80% agreement for both the quality and relevance scales. No rater differences were greater than one point.

Descriptive Results

Case Quality

Examination of case quality mean scores by semester revealed minimal variation; a score of two was given to a majority of the cases. Overall, students wrote cases that provided the reader with enough information to understand the situation being described and to understand the perspective of the observer.

Among the cases that did not receive a score of two or higher, the most common missing element was a lack of sufficient details or information necessary to fully understand the situation and foster student depth of processing. The reasons why these cases fell short may have included the limited number of field observations, time constraints, limited training in case construction, and a general lack of motivation to complete the task. In contrast, cases receiving a three were well written from beginning to end and were full of details not only in regard to the events taking place, but also in relation to the contexts in which those events occurred. Such cases were detailed, meaningful, and important contributions to the learning community that the COW project attempted to foster.

Case Relevance

We calculated the average case relevance scores by semester. As was the case for the quality score, the majority of cases received a score of two for relevance. Highly relevant cases were written in a manner that peaked the interest of the reader by presenting situations that one could identify with and recognize as something he/she also observed or might likely encounter in the near future.

Cases receiving a low relevance score typically did not engage the reader. In such cases, the author typically failed to discuss a topic of general interest or wrote in a way that provided little meaning for the reader. Besides poor writing skills and time limitations, some cases were rated low as a result of students appearing to be interested only in receiving feedback for a specific situation, as opposed to providing a meaningful situation from which others could learn. Not surprisingly, cases rated high for relevance attracted the reader's attention from beginning to end with an intriguing situation; commonly these were cases that fostered the social and emotional development of students.

It is important to note that only a small percentage of cases made direct reference to course content and/or text content and thus this characteristic played a minimal role in rater coding for relevance. The lack of direct course or text reference may have been the result of students not yet mastering the course content at a level that would allow them to draw immediate connections to the situations they observed in their field placements. Also, since this was not a requirement for creating cases, students may have simply chosen to present what they observed for discussion (i.e., a contextualized story) without attempting to make connections to course content.

Total Case Scores

Total scores, ranging from two to six, were calculated by adding the quality and relevance scores for each case. A normal curve-like distribution was produced from the scores, with nearly one-half of the cases receiving a total score of 4. A score of 2 was given to 9% of the total cases; a score of 3 was given to 18% of the total cases; a score of 4 was given to 47% of the total cases; a score of 5 was given to 20% of the total cases, and a score of 6 was given to 6% of the total cases. The cases on the high end of these scales were primarily ones selected for inclusion in the Caseweb and INSITE projects, mentioned later, though they all required at least modest rewriting related to case contextualization and course connections.

Case Topics

As shown in Table 2, a wide variety of topics were discussed in the cases. Topic names were generated based upon the concepts and ideas addressed in typical introductory educational psychology textbooks (e.g., motivation, special education, classroom management, etc). Most cases discussed more than one topic, with more than 15 different major topics discussed overall. Knowing the issues that students were observing and finding interesting in schools helped us find certain types of cases to repurpose for other uses.

[Table 2]

Table 2. Frequency of Topics Addressed in Cases

|Topic                                       |Number of Cases            |
|Management                                  |312                        |
|Motivation                                  |185                        |
|Instructional Approaches                    |178                        |
|Individual Differences (special education   |152                        |
|and gifted)                                 |                           |
|Hot Topics (e.g., teacher burnout, violence |83                         |
|in school, corporal punishment, and drugs   |                           |
|and alcohol)                                |                           |
|Development (physical, cognitive, and       |70                         |
|social/emotional)                           |                           |
|Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory      |57                         |
|Cognitive Processes (cognitive learning     |51                         |
|theories)                                   |                           |
|Assessment and Grading                      |37                         |
|Diversity and Group Differences             |28                         |
|Teacher Behavior                            |22                         |
|Parents                                     |20                         |
|Curriculum                                  |17                         |
|Teacher Knowledge/Development               |14                         |
|Technology                                  |13                         |

By far, the most popular topic to write about was classroom management with approximately 312 cases of the 687 total related to that topic. Not surprisingly, the topic of management included both discipline and organizational matters such as physical environment of the classroom. Why was management such a popular topic? It may be that students were concerned with how to manage their future classrooms and were looking for feedback regarding their observations. It could also be that management issues were the most obvious or explicit in student observations and included experiences found both within and outside of a classroom. Discussion of some of the other topics (development, for example) often required more interpretation and longer periods of observation. In addition to management, students also chose to write a great deal about motivation (185 cases), instructional approaches (178 cases), and individual differences (152 cases). Again, it might be argued that students wrote about these topics more because they were concerned about how they might deal with these topics in the near future when they begin teaching. Some of our qualitative research detailed in other papers lends credence to these speculations (Bonk, Daytner, Daytner, Daytner, Dennen, & Malikowski, 1999; Dennen & Bonk, 2000).

A unique and popular discussion area that emerged from the COW project was the "hot topic" category. This category did not necessarily reflect any particular idea or concept from the field of educational psychology. Instead, this category encompassed global and controversial topics in education. Some examples of hot topics included teacher burnout, parent- teacher relations, corporal punishment, drugs and alcohol, adolescent issues, teen suicide, violence in schools, and differences between the home and school. However, many students started posting cases to this area even when there was a relevant topic category already in COW that they should have utilized. The "hot topics" area was so popular, in fact, that by the start of the second semester, a notation had to be made to use this area only as a last resort.

Each semester, students were asked about their Web-based conferencing experiences. In these attitude surveys, students always found COW to be easy to use. The utility of the discussions and peer feedback, however, shifted during the first three semesters from mixed reviews to highly positive experiences. There are a few plausible reasons for this change including clearer directions, greater instructor modeling, and more authentic audiences in the conference such as the students from two universities in Finnish. In fact, there are indicators that the addition of the international participants starting in the spring of 1998 raised the overall level and depth of discourse in COW.

Overall Quantitative Findings

In summary, students wrote cases of average quality and relevance in each of the three semesters evaluated here. Overall, student case relevance scores were slightly higher than quality scores. While the total case quality and relevance scores of all 687 cases approximated a normal distribution, a wide variety of topics were discussed within these cases. The most popular topic was classroom management, followed by motivation, instructional approaches, and individual differences. At the same time, a unique set of hot topics emerged from the data that did not necessarily reflect a major topic or concept from the field of educational psychology, but that did encompass global and controversial topics in the field of education. Such controversial cases produced the most discussion. It is important to note that the above findings fit prevailing learning and development theory. For instance, as both Piaget and Vygotsky would have expected, the controversial and unique cases (e.g., "What's the teacher for, anyway?," "Do computers replace teachers?," "My student and cocaine," and "Student plans to commit suicide") produced the most case dialogue. While student cases tended to gravitate toward classroom management and motivation issues, there also were a number of cases related to social issues (drugs, suicide) and religious concerns. The cases that encouraged responses had interesting contexts and problem situations, explicitly solicited student or instructor help, and were generally receptive to feedback.

As students become more familiar with using Web-based tools, the efficiency and ease with which they can be used as educational resources are increasing. There are a number of advantages associated with using COW as a resource for pre-service teachers conducting field observations. One advantage is that COW allows students to reflect on their field experiences prior to presenting their observations and ideas to others. Instead of a student attempting to jump into a classroom discussion and speaking with little forethought, one can organize his or her thoughts and present them in a coherent manner. This increases the meaning conveyed, while simultaneously enhancing the level of feedback.

Along these same lines, COW also allows individuals reading the cases to organize their thoughts prior to responding to their peers. There is time to think about the situation and the best ways to address it prior to responding. Such reflective responding can be a valuable component for students who do not like to react in a quick manner as well as for those who typically do not participate in classroom discussion. Additionally, COW is a valuable tool for students who are uncomfortable talking in class, since it provides an opportunity for students to talk to peers without the anxiety of speaking in front of a group. Consequently, such electronic experiences can be used as a bridge to move shy or introverted students to a more active role in class discussions.

Since students post their cases to a discussion forum, instructors can access the forum to see what issues their students are confronting in their field observations. Such access can be extremely beneficial when instructors lack sufficient class time to discuss student field experiences and concerns. Electronic conferencing is also beneficial when students go to their field observations at varying times and dates. Instructors can use time outside of class to discover how student observations are going as well as provide feedback and advice in an efficient and organized manner. Moreover, electronic conferencing offers a vital resource for those interested in seeing what common problems and issues are currently salient in K-12 classrooms.

In projects such as COW, students can read what other students are encountering during their field placements and hear how practicing teachers address a variety of tense and interesting situations. When students can compare how different teachers address similar situations, they are subsequently in a better position to think about how they might handle such situations when they are teachers. This capability is especially important for students who do not have many classmates from their major in class (e.g., speech and theater majors). As a result, students can to learn from the experiences of their peers in other sections of the same course. In addition, students have an opportunity to discuss issues and ideas that are not addressed in the textbook or course lecture.

Computer conferences also provide students with a wealth of perspectives to draw upon. In addition to commentary and questions from peers and instructors, students can get feedback from teachers in the field or pre- service teachers observing in different contexts. Such individuals might supply examples of the classroom activities at both rural and urban schools as well as samples of how schools from other countries might be similar or different. When students organize responses in a written record or attempt to chronicle various opinions and ideas on a given situation, they begin to think about that situation from different perspectives instead of just one. Finally, electronic collaboration with tools like COW not only provides a forum for discussion but also a resource for classroom instruction. For instance, an instructor might access interesting and relevant cases during class lectures or discussion to illustrate key concepts and ideas related to course content. Cases could be selected that address the concept of scaffolding or negative reinforcement. In effect, the instructor could use the electronic collaboration tools to provide a context in which students think about and understand course material.

Major Findings: Enhancing, Extending, and Transforming Student Learning with...


While there were admittedly some problems during the two and one-half years of the COW project, there also were several major accomplishments. For instance, Web-based conferencing using COW enhanced learning in the classroom by providing a vehicle for students to link concepts learned in class to actual school settings. In effect, the COW conference served as a safe harbor for these pre-service teachers to apply key terms and principles from their educational psychology textbooks. And instead of a few cases written and recycled by the classroom instructor, there were hundreds of cases for students to read, reflect upon, and debate, thereby further enhancing student learning.

As pointed out, we analyzed and rated the first three semesters of student work in COW. Using these ratings, we located and rewrote some of the most interesting and high quality cases. After linking these cases to different chapters of typical introductory educational psychology textbooks, we created the Caseweb site (see The cases in the Caseweb included case introductions, questions, and sample feedback (see Figure 2). In addition, the cases were linked to a bulletin board system for students to discuss and debate from anywhere on the planet with an Internet connection. Students from various universities are now using the Caseweb for class discussions and quizzes, thereby further enhancing student opportunities to learn this material.

[Figure 2]

In addition to enhancing the learning of educational psychology, students in this project also learned about various educational technologies. For instance, COW participants grappled with how to use Web-conferencing technologies to communicate with other peers and instructors across the planet. In addition, a few students participated in videoconferencing experiences with Finnish students and instructors. Through these activities, hundreds of pre-service teachers learned how to structure electronic collaboration activities for their own technology-rich classrooms of the future. Student learning was clearly enhanced when we combined the pedagogical and technological aspects of the COW project.

Technology to Extend Learning

The COW project not only enhanced student learning, but also extended it beyond traditional classroom boundaries. Technology was utilized in the first two semesters of this project to enable students in one section of the educational psychology class to discuss their field experiences with students in other sections. Hence, their learning was extended beyond the single school that they were observing to the positive and negative experiences of peers in hundreds of other locales. Instructors, therefore, could compare and contrast the respective student field experiences, while students could see how key concepts played out in a myriad of real-life situations. Students who might otherwise have become depressed about their particular school or teaching situation perhaps began to realize that teacher work environments vary greatly.

COW extended student learning beyond Midwestern K-12 settings to schools in other regions of the country as well as other continents. By the third semester, students from two Finnish universities were contributing and discussing cases in COW. In addition, during the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998, two videoconferences were held each semester for students to better understand one another. Further extending of the COW conference occurred when students from popular universities in Korea, Peru, and the southern U.S. were added to the COW discussions. In addition, practicing teachers and graduate students often provided pointed commentary and insightful questions on student case problems. Finally, during a couple of semesters, student teachers in international placements offered feedback and commentary from such locations as England, Australia, and Native American reservations. Such activities extend learning environments well beyond the normal educational psychology classroom.

International collaboration added a new dimension to the Web-based conferencing. As revealed in our qualitative research (Bonk, Daytner, et al., 1999), students from Finland were older than the U.S. students and were more likely to back up their claims with citations to the relevant literature. Finnish student cases and case discussions were more in-depth, while instructor feedback was more horizontal or collegial in nature. In effect, COW extended student learning to new and interesting places, while accumulating students' ideas in an electronic forum for later reflection and discussion. Unlike a traditional classroom wherein student oral contributions may soon be forgotten, in some classes, students were creating portfolios of their COW contributions--portfolios that might, in fact, stay with them throughout their undergraduate training and beyond.

Technology to Transform Learning

While COW was a legitimate tool to enhance and extend student learning, it also transformed it, if only for one course activity within a single semester. Nevertheless, since the spring of 1997, students in the COW project have constructed and debated more than a thousand cases about hundreds of different K-12 situations. As students socially negotiate meaning in COW, they gain a glimpse into how their peers and instructors might have solved certain problems and handled daily classroom dilemmas. In helping students co-construct this massive knowledge base of cases and responses, we were attempting to produce a learning community while promoting a different form of learning. To successfully participate in COW, it typically did not matter where you were physically located or when you wanted to join the learning community; COW was always awaiting your presence and participation.

Students in the COW conferences took some ownership over their learning and were constantly reflecting on situations that might arise when they began their professional careers. To foster ownership, the instructors assumed roles of coaches and consultants in this learning environment. Consequently, instructors and practicing teachers mentored student electronic learning by providing feedback, general recommendations, task structuring, pivotal questions, and indirect instruction. Such an approach is a transformation from the lecture-based instruction that often occurs in this type of course. At the same time, it aligns undergraduate educational psychology with the emerging social constructivist paradigm. In essence, COW instructors are practicing what they are preaching!

Other Findings: Pros and Cons

What else have we learned here? With minimal training, students readily adapt to the COW environment and generate hundreds of interesting cases in just a month or two of conferencing on the Web. Perhaps more importantly, the computer log data revealed that extensive feedback and advice on student teaching ideas occur long before students become certified teachers. On average, students receive four to five responses on their case situations. Equally important, off-task behaviors are minimal, as students are extremely task-focused and unaware of the quantity of electronic writing they produce. In COW surveys, students claim that the social exchange of these dilemmas helps confirm that the situations they are witnessing are indeed problematic and have many possible resolutions. Students especially like options to name their own topics, instead of relying on preestablished case categories (e.g., "Learning Styles" or "Assessment and Grading").

The interviews and surveys indicate that students benefit immensely from confirmation of ideas. With tools like COW, such confirmation and advice can come from instructors and mentors outside traditional classroom walls and scheduled meeting times. Here, students can be connected to others with parallel experiences. As a result, they can also receive feedback from peers who are interested in similar educational issues and problems. There is also more time for reflective and shy students to contribute to class discussions. And while class participation is less political, there are less disruptive and off-task behaviors than expected as students use tools like COW to complete a task. At the same time, there may be moments when it is important to encourage nonacademic discourse among participants since that builds opportunities for shared knowledge and the formation of learning communities.

Despite these positive findings, after more than two years of case conferencing, we still do not know how to transform this relatively brief, task-driven environment into an ongoing learning community. Too many students fail to obtain feedback on their cases because they procrastinate on case submission. Worse still, most case discussions lack sufficient justification or text referencing. Even though our interview data revealed that students believe that they retain more from the electronic conferencing, we do not yet have comparison data between Web conferencing students and those in traditional classroom settings. Further, while these discussions do not just happen automatically, it remains unclear how much structuring students require online as well as how to effectively manage masses of student input. When are electronic case discussions ever complete?

As indicated, a key problem here is that student discussion is primarily conversational and lacks appropriate relationships with course concepts and relevant literature. The fact that students simply want to post their stories and make comments based on personal experiences is not necessarily a negative finding; these initial conversations, in fact, may lead them on the road to teaching expertise. While students may also look at electronic conferences with preset requirements as busy work and an additional burden on their already busy schedules, the writing and reflection required by COW may have lasting impact. In fact, in the near future, we plan to develop case-based learning tools to further support student writing and reflection on the Web (for more details, see Bonk et al., 2000).

Pedagogical and Technology Recommendations

Our experiences with COW lead to a number of technological and pedagogical suggestions. On the pedagogical side, instructors must create clear and user-friendly structures in electronic interactions (Bonk, Hara, et al., in press). Such guidance is vital in lowering student anxiety and motivating students into Web-based learning. At the same time, instructors should not be hesitant to experiment with a variety of instructional techniques, some of which may not be highly structured or entirely clear, in attempts to foster both student interaction as well as personal reflection. Keep in mind that different conferencing tools can actually serve different instructional purposes. Tools for asynchronous or delayed collaboration like COW provide students with more time to reflect. But unlike the sequential conversational structure of COW, tools with threaded conversations allow students to send and receive more specific information and feedback.

Given the newness of the field of computer-supported collaborative learning, it is not surprising that there are a number of open issues and questions about the design of collaborative learning tools. In the near future, we envision Web sites like the Caseweb complete with directories of cases by subject area and topic. Embedded within those directories might be appropriate counter cases and case advisories from experts in the field. Sophisticated case tools might further include case introductions, expert commentaries, critical reviews, and associated video clips of different aspects of a situation. Ideally, students selecting a case would be allowed to view expanded or shrunken views, depending on the detail they require.

Sophisticated case tools might include the possibilities for labeling of case concepts and linking of key concepts between cases (Duffy, Dueber, & Hawley, 1998). To foster reflections, students might actually be forced to choose from a preset list of concepts before submitting their cases. Graphical link displays might show conceptual linkages across a series of cases or reference specific text segments from a case. To force more heated debate and controversy, there also is a need for role taking and mentoring options within the cases. In fact, with electronic cases, samples of previous mentor and peer feedback can be permanently stored for future learners. In this way, expert teaching and advice is not lost when one moves or retires. Sample mentoring options and questions might also be embedded to help experts and practitioners guide or mentor student learning. Finally, case comparison statistics can help users get a sense of the raw number of cases, most active topics and cases, range of feedback, depth of discussions, and timing of interactions. For tools like COW and the Caseweb to flourish, electronic mentoring guidebooks and training programs need to be developed. In addition, online mentoring success stories might help those contemplating the use of online case-based learning.

Future Directions

Pilot tests of COW with modest funding have now touched over 1,000 students from over 30 college classes who have electronically interacted with various peers, instructors, and practitioners. With additional funding, this project could reach tens of thousands of pre-service teachers around the world. Our research to date indicates that such electronic conferencing offers rich environments for students to share real-life teaching stories with peers and instructors.

Recently, we embarked on the next step of the COW project by creating The Intraplanetary Teacher Learning Exchange (TITLE), a place to connect pre- service teachers, instructors, and mentors across the globe, thereby enhancing the range of insight and advice on the Web related to teaching and learning. We also created a Web site called "INSITE" (see to support a popular educational psychology textbook, Psychology Applied to Teaching, published by Houghton Mifflin. INSITE contains cases, debates, field observation questions, classroom activities, and opportunities for instructors to share stories of teaching. Additionally, the tens of thousands of students reading this textbook can share their ideas related to a case situation or activity on the Web. Finally, we are developing a Web site entitled "" with even more enhanced collaborative capabilities. Web resources such as TITLE, INSITE, and move beyond ways to enhance, extend, and transform the learning of a few hundred undergraduate teacher education students, to thinking about how tens of thousands of college instructors and students around the globe can create and collaborate on cases and other instructional activities.

We are just beginning to understand how pre-service teachers can find more meaningful connections to educational psychology through Web-based conferencing. Electronic cases can link multiple sections of the same course or similar courses in different countries for interesting cross- cultural discussions, debates, and collaborations. Overall, asynchronous Web-based conferences have tended to promote extensive social interaction and dialogue on early field experiences, timely instructor and expert mentoring wrapped around authentic problems, and vast amounts of text in this jointly shared electronic space. We hope you join us in exploring such unique and important electronic learning venues.

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