Re-imagining a curriculum guide for teachers in digital format: A collaboration crossing geographical, disciplinary and culture boundaries

The goal of the Electronic Teacher Guide project (NSF # 0918702) was to redesign the print teacher guide for the genetics unit of Foundation Science: Biology (NSF #0439443) as an exemplar of a cybertool that would support the implementation of the curriculum and enhance its educative impact. The completion of this goal required collaborative interactions among curriculum developers, technology designers, software developers, researchers and evaluators. The five year collaboration was characterized by major challenges relating to communication, geographical distance, and culture. Early on in the project it became clear that a productive working relationship required sustained attention to areas where the work intersected and necessitated mutual agreement on project goals. As the project progressed it was necessary to re-define and re-calibrate the tasks and continually clarify the goals.

Actions taken during the first two years to bolster collaboration included: 1) Anchoring the work in Gantt-like task charts 2) Using face-to-face meetings to tackle larger, cross-cutting or strategic issues, 3) Dedicating a staff member to take and post meeting notes and maintain the Sharepoint site, Google docs and Gantt charts; 4) Using the project evaluator to assess the productivity of the collaboration at yearly intervals.

The evaluation of sustaining a collaborative team was drawn from a set of yearly team interviews, reflecting on progress towards project goals. Additional data sources included observations of meetings, personal communications, and project artifacts such as meeting notes and documents. The evaluation of the collaboration utilized a participant observation methodology where the external evaluator attended meetings and participated as a member of the project team, contributing to the discussion while also observing interactions among team members and documenting activities.