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D. Cogburn1, A. Ramnarine-Rieks2, F. Espinoza Vasquez2, N. Levinson3

1American University/Syracuse University (UNITED STATES)
2Syracuse University (UNITED STATES)
3American University (UNITED STATES)
Information and communication technologies (ICT) and the development of tools to enable globally distributed collaboration have modified the ways in which students in higher education learn, both as individuals and through collaboration with other learners.

This longitudinal study from (1999-2008) involves universities from around the world in an historic exploration of geographically distributed collaborative learning. Students; initially from South Africa and the United States and later expanding to include participants from India, Mexico, Canada, and the West Indies; who enrolled in the “Global Graduate Seminar on Globalization and the Information Society: Information, Communication and Development”, were integrated into a synchronous and asynchronous computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment. Each semester, we collected narrative data from the participants about their experiences with the socio-technical infrastructure required to support innovative cross-national pedagogical models to build human capacity for a knowledge-intensive global economy. Based on this data, this paper addresses good practices and lessons learned from ten years of delivering the Globalization Seminar.

Following Creswell (1994), this study takes a mixed methods approach (QUAL+quant) with an emphasis on evaluating qualitative data to describe the experiences of seminar participants, with limited quantitative survey data adding to the descriptive analysis of the participants. The following primary research question guides our exploration: What factors influence student satisfaction in distributed collaborative learning environments? Subsidiary research questions include (1) what role do trust, culture and ideology play in the success of the Globalization Seminar? (2) Are there regional differences among students (3) Are there gender differences in student satisfaction?

Data for the study includes participant observation, narrative student evaluations, and the beginnings of post hoc surveys of student participants. Our findings focus on three areas: (1) technical infrastructure; (2) social processes and pedagogy; and (3) administrative infrastructure. Findings suggests that with the right technology, training, administrative support, and pedagogical approach; globally distributed virtual learning teams can become effective learning communities.

This study reinforces findings of previous studies which suggest that there can be high quality learning within a virtual environment. We have advanced our knowledge of technology-enhanced learning. We suggest investigation of many outstanding questions, particularly related to globally-distributed synchronous collaborative learning and the science of learning that could emerge (The Learning Federation, 2002). Exploring these concepts at the intersection of collaboratory research and research on CSCL can strengthen our knowledge of this area. Universities in both developed and developing countries are struggling to come to grips with these changes and to provide opportunities for their faculty and students to work with and learn from colleagues around the world. They are working on how to 'internationalize' their campuses and curricula (Altbach, 2004). For students, these changes have far-reaching implications for what they learn while pursuing formal studies, how they learn it and from whom, how they apply what they learn, and how they prepare themselves personally for these challenges.