Tapped In Member Perspectives: Meet Mary Mindess and Ann A. Adams

Mary teaches at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA and Ann teaches at Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL.

Mary Mindess' and Ann A. Adams' Perspective

We met on the bus going to the airport - two college professors, one headed south to Mobile, Alabama, and the other headed north to Cambridge, Massachusetts. We both were planning social studies methods courses to be offered at our respective institutions the following semester. We shared a common goal: the desire to stimulate collaboration among our preservice teachers and to afford them the opportunity to be a part of a community of learners.

Many of these students had a firmly rooted view of themselves as teachers in a classroom with a group of children. They viewed their principals and supervisors as the assessors of their work and gave very little thought to the potential value of peer review and critiques, particularly from peers they had never met.

For many students their idea of a peer critiquing their work meant that their work was inadequate. Our challenge was to change this perception, We wanted to help these students experience first-hand that effective teaching involved much more than developing individual plans, that teaching could be enriched by inviting colleagues and peers to dialogue and enter into collaboration with each other as a way of strengthening teaching practice.

Our interest focused on exploring the power of collaboration. Could the students in the two classes - one group studying at Spring Hill College in Alabama and the other at Lesley College in Cambridge - benefit from exchanging ideas about their work?

Would this collaboration be sufficiently rewarding to enhance students' appreciation for reflective teaching and their recognition of the value of shared reflection in the ongoing study of effective teaching practices. Would they come to recognize the advantages of participating in a community of learners, so that during their teaching careers they would seek out and develop similar communities to help them grow in their profession?

Tapped In offered the perfect tool. Tapped In is the portal system selected by the Council of Independent Colleges as its vehicle for stimulating collaboration among the 19 colleges and universities that are a part of the Teach 21 project.

With the unbelievable support and guidance of many Tapped In staff members we embarked on our exploration of the power of collaboration among preservice teachers. We set up a room in Tapped In called The Spring Hill-Lesley Collaborative and designed a structure whereby students from the two colleges could share plans and comments.

The Spring Hill students introduced themselves and posted their plans related to their Constitution Day lessons for elementary school children. On the first day of class at Lesley University students introduced themselves to their Spring Hill partners and embarked on the process of reviewing plans about the Constitution. This class was a stimulating one as the students grappled with the idea of identifying criteria for their critiques. They became keenly aware of their need to have an accurate command of information related to the Constitution. The students at the two institutions then exchanged ideas via the Tapped In discussion board. Of particular significance was the fact that the Tapped In structure made it possible for every member of the group to view all the plans and the discussion.

For some students this public viewing seemed to be problematic. They were not comfortable with this degree of visibility. Interesting conversations ensued around this topic.

After sharing ideas with their Lesley colleagues and making revisions in their lesson plans, the Spring Hill students successfully taught their lessons on the U.S. Constitution to classes of children in a public elementary school.

Later in the term the Lesley students were focusing on heroes and heroines. They shared their hero and heroine plans with their Spring Hill partners. In their own time and in their own fashion they entered into collaboration with their Spring Hill partners.

Both the students and the faculty learned a great deal from this project. They learned about the power of collaboration. They learned how much detailed planning goes into the structuring of potentially successful collaborations. They learned a great deal about how collaboration works among the Tapped In staff and volunteers. With these knowledgeable and helpful people as models, the students and the faculty gained an increased understanding of what contributes to the effectiveness of collaborative efforts.