Incorporating online projects into K-12 classrooms : the odyssey from beginners' perspectives
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This constructivist inquiry study explored the perceptions that teachers had of the experience of integrating telecollaborative or telecooperative projects for the first time. The purpose of this study was to illuminate connections that might be drawn across participants in order to promote participation in online projects involving communication among partners—one of the least utilized types of online projects. The six Canadian and U.S. teacher participants shared their experiences of and insights into integrating projects into either elementary or middle school classroom curriculum using of one of six K-12 telecommunications organizations that offer online projects: 2Learn.ca's Collaborative Learning Project Center; the Electronic Emissary project; ePALS; Global SchooNet; KIDLINK's KIDPROJ project area; or OzTeacherNet. Using constructivist inquiry strategies, a recursive process of data generation and analysis continued over a prolonged period of twelve months, revealing the experiences and perceptions depicted in each informant’s case study. Interviews were conducted by telephone and e-mail, and other sources of data available online (e.g. student work, project descriptions, and logs of e-mail communication between project partners) helped to elucidate and describe participants' experiences. The strategies employed were data-driven and inductive as data analysis moved from simple observation and connections of general patterns to themes across cases. Themes that emerged fell into one of three overarching categories. The first set of themes raised issues around ideas of online projects being integrated into the classroom. Issues included concerns about connecting projects to the curriculum, project design, and ways that projects mushroomed into more activities and subject areas than initially expected. The second set of themes centered upon issues about the benefits participants discovered while communicating with project partners. The final set of themes explored various influences upon project participation—both positive and negative. The findings suggest that there are several different avenues available for assisting teachers in their novice attempts to integrate telecollaborative or telecooperative projects. Findings also suggest that teachers who are curriculum specialists—rather than technology specialists—should be encouraged to participate in online projects due to their expertise and knowledge in curricular areas. However, implications drawn from the study are not necessarily generalizable to other settings. Rather, a frame of reference is provided to promote drawing of inferences and transfer of these inferences so that readers can connect their meanings to the contexts with which they are familiar.