The ability to communicate internationally has evolved greatly over the past decade with the development and evolution of the Internet as a global communications platform, and the ubiquity of mobile devices. These developments have enabled communication by synchronous and asynchronous voice, text, and video messaging. Since 2008, the authors have been studying how university students living more than 4000 miles apart use web-based and mobile communication and collaboration tools by placing them as members of international teams tasked to explore current technology trends and deliver an original digital media product that reflects their learning.
Each academic year, the authors adapt the methodology and instructional design of the TalkTech project to reflect current technology trends and tools, creating a learning scenario where students can develop their own digital literacy (D. Andone & Frydenberg, 2014; Frydenberg & Andone, 2015, 2016) and 21st Century skills (Frydenberg & Andone, 2011). Since 2008, this project sought out Web 2.0 tools and mobile and web applications that were just beginning to find their way into educational settings (Frydenberg & Press, 2010). The TalkTech project’s objectives have remained to develop literacy skills through the simulation of a global work environment in which team members use web-based collaboration and communication tools to create digital content.
Over the years, the instructors analyzed the project through the lenses of computational thinking SAMR (Substitution/ Augmentation/ Modification/ Redefinition) Learning Model (Puentedura, 2014), 5-stages of e-tivities for active online learning (Salmon, 2002) connectivism learning (Siemens, 2014), digital literacy (Wheeler, 2012) and 21st Century Skills (Bell, 2011).
The original research questions from TalkTech 2008 (Frydenberg & Andone, 2010a) have guided this project since its inception:
- How does participating in an international collaborative environment for learning change students’ perspective over their subject of study (multimedia and internet technologies)?
- How will students use Web-based synchronous and asynchronous technologies to collaborate with international peers to create a tangible work product in a short amount of time?
- What technical and cultural challenges will students identify in working globally, and how will they overcome them?
2. TalkTech Implementation
The TalkTech project is a partnership between first year business students in IT 101, an introduction to technology concepts course at Bentley University, and Bachelor in Telecommunications engineering students in the Technologies of Multimedia (TMM) course in their final year at “Politehnica” University of Timisoara (UPT). Approximately 50-60 students participate each year, so more than 600 students have taken part in the project since its inception. All have completed it.
All students had some previous experience using the web, collaboration tools, and mobile devices. All students speak English. The Romanian students are typically three years older than the American students, due to the courses in which they are enrolled. Participants formed self-selected groups of four of five (two or three students from each country) collaborate with their international partners. The authors recognize that differences exist in age, programs of study, technical abilities, and class sizes of students at each university. For the purposes of this research, the authors welcomed these differences to design a learning project that encouraged collaboration among group participants.
3. Desirability Test
Each year, to measure how desirable students found this experience, the authors followed a selection exercise developed by Benedek & Miner (2003) based on a set of 40 words, both positive and negative, covering a variety of dimensions. To account for any bias to give positive feedback, at least 40% of the words were negative. After the project, students selected five words that best describe their experience participating in this project. Students ranked the words they selected on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is the most precise. This method presents results visually in word clouds, from several of the TalkTech projects, as shown in Figure 1.
Fig. 1. TalkTech 2017 Desirability Word Clouds.
Students chose the words that appear in a larger font more frequently than words shown in smaller fonts. Of greatest interest is the term collaborative, which did not appear in the first iteration of the project but has been at the forefront of every word cloud in subsequent years. “TalkTech2008 was a social environment to share ideas with peers, see what others are doing and, as one student said, ‘give’ them ‘confidence that they are on the right track’ with their studies and understanding of technology.”(Frydenberg & Andone, 2010b, p. 11) Students found the tools to be accessible (the most popular word chosen in 2008), and as their use became commonplace, TalkTech evolved to include a collaborative project that students must complete.
In later years, collaborative became the predominant positive word, describing student involvements with collaboration tools and the opportunity to be a member of an international team. Frustrating remained one of the most commonly selected negative words, which often referred to difficulties of scheduling and interacting with team members due to time zone differences, and differing work styles. These word clouds hint at the evolution of the TalkTech project, which began as a way for students to access web-based communication tools at a time when these tools were new and morphed into a global collaborative work environment for investigating technology trends.
4. Discussion and Conclusion
As the TalkTech project requirements became more involved, completing them required using search engines, transferring files from one device to another, interacting with content in multiple file formats, navigating the Web, and learning basic coding concepts such as performing steps “in parallel”, looping, actions, and interacting with objects. Throughout the project years, students had to choose which tools they will use to interact with their partners from synchronous communication by voice and video conferencing to asynchronous chats and email; file sharing, multimedia creation, and project management.
The goal of earlier TalkTech projects was for students to evaluate and use tools for communicating and collaborating online, and the deliverables for the project were recorded snippets of voice or video conversations or screenshots of chat / messaging logs along with some form of digital media content. As students’ familiarity with these tools and apps increased, and as the tools and apps offered additional complex capabilities, the TalkTech project requirements became more challenging. Group messaging mobile apps, Skype, Google Drive, and Facebook pages became the collaboration tools of choice that students used to manage their group’s progress, replacing Yahoo! Messenger, Yahoo! Briefcase, email, and MeBeam, popular in the early years. Many students preferred their discussions using group messaging apps in real time rather than voice or video calls because they find texting more appealing than talking on the phone. Apps and tools for creating interactive annotated infographics, voice comments on slide presentations, videos, augmented and virtual reality artefacts have enabled more recent students to demonstrate their digital skills by creating much more complex digital media content than what their peers created during earlier years of the TalkTech project.
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