As distance education collaborations between high schools
and colleges increase, there is a concern that little has been
done to assess the quality and effectiveness of the resulting
virtual courses (Carr & Young, 1999). Yet it is equally important
to address or consider the many challenges and issues of the
collaboration itself. How these issues are addressed will seriously
impact the success of any college distance education project
in collaboration with other institutions of learning, including
K-12 schools, community centers, and private industry. This article
is about collaboration issues between high schools and colleges.
It focuses on what the developers learned and offers lessons
for what must be considered and planned for prior to the initiation
of a collaboration project.
The Brooklyn College Learning Café project (http://www.sci.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~lori/TLC/),
a collaboration between an urban college and four local high
school partners, was developed through a $650,000 grant from
the U.S. Department of Commerce, Telecommunications and Information
Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIIAP). More than 600 juniors
and seniors participated in the Learning Café project.
This report first describes Brooklyn College’s impetus for
designing the Learning Café project. The next section
provides a description of the curriculum and the software developed.
Collaboration issues are discussed concentrating on all facets
of the Learning Café. Finally, the report offers recommendations
for achieving greater success in partnerships between high schools
and colleges as well as other collaborations.
Motivation for Collaboration
The Learning Café project was a direct result of the
College President’s recent initiative, "The Year 2000 and
Beyond: Shaping the Future," to make Brooklyn College a
model urban liberal arts college of the twenty-first century
(Brooklyn College, Office of the President, 1993). Part of the
initiative was to build bridges to the community, to contribute
to its social and economic well being, and to assume a national
leadership role in revitalizing instruction.
The Learning Café project formed a partnership with
four Brooklyn high schools (Midwood, Edward R. Murrow, Samuel
J. Tilden and the Brooklyn College Academy), Brooklyn College
of The City University of New York (CUNY), and the College Board.
The project had as one of its goals to introduce Internet access
to these high schools. According to the National Center for Education
Statistics 78% of U.S. public schools had Internet access in
1997. The remaining 22%, including the four designated Brooklyn
high schools were schools in danger of remaining excluded from
access to information because they were not connected to the
Internet (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).
The four high schools participating in the Learning Café
project are within five miles of Brooklyn College, but many of
the students participating in the project were socially and economically
distanced from what higher education had to offer. Brooklyn College’s
aim was to break down the economic and geographic barriers to
computer access and Internet skills as well as barriers to considering
college as an option. The high schools represent a mix of sizes,
models, and enrollments. The Brooklyn College Academy is an alternative
high school targeting at-risk students from throughout the borough
who have had difficulty reaching their potential in traditional
settings. A percentage of Midwood students are selectively admitted
with the remainder attending based on residency. Edward R. Murrow
is an Educational Option School, required to maintain both an
ethnic and educational representation of the borough. Samuel
J .Tilden high school serves neighborhood students in an economically
disadvantaged area. The vision of Brooklyn College’s TIIAP
grant proposal was to bring together the expertise of professionals
in the College, high schools, government, and corporations to
develop an effective approach for integrating technology with
secondary education. The College was awarded the TIIAP grant
in October 1997. The project planning process began in November
1997 and the Learning Cafés were put in place in the schools
by September of the following year.
Collaboration between Secondary Schools and Higher Education:
Collaborations between high schools and institutions of higher
learning have been growing for the past two decades, in particular
since the publication A Nation At Risk (National Commission
on Excellence in Education, 1983). Partnerships between schools
and colleges have involved onsite as well as distance education
(Clark, 1988; Wilbur, Lambert, & Young, 1988). Researchers
have also noted that overburdened urban high schools can benefit
from the enrichment that distance education may offer (Carr &
Young, 1999; Williams, Eiserman & Quinn, 1988). Moreover,
distance education provides a unique opportunity for innovative
strategies by colleges and universities to recruit in areas far
beyond their geographic environs.
Learning Café Project: Establishing the Groundwork
The project was designed to expose high school students to
new opportunities by making Internet access and college education
more readily available. To achieve this, the project would:
- Provide Internet access in a computer lab at each school;
- Develop a junior year curriculum with teachers overseeing
- Offer a senior curriculum which would include live instruction
and virtual college courses for credit; and
- Develop software for delivering courses, protecting systems,
and gathering information about student performance.
A team from Brooklyn College and the high schools facilitated
the Learning Café project. Courseware is typically produced
by teams of individuals with a range of areas of expertise (Yang,
Moore, & Burton, 1995). The project team for the Learning
Café consisted of a Project Director, a Project Coordinator,
two Software Technical Advisors, two Curriculum Developers, two
Multimedia Designers, and four High School Coordinators. These
team members brought expertise in high school and college education,
educational technology, programming, art and design, and a variety
of college subjects to the project.
The Café project required purchasing equipment and
furniture for each high school. Brooklyn College built new computer
labs at two of the high schools and augmented equipment in existing
computer labs in the other schools. The College installed T1
lines and servers and networked the computer laboratories at
each high school. Each school also received adaptive equipment
for persons with disabilities.
Learning Café Curriculum
The sequence of virtual study offered in the Learning Café
began with a course for high school juniors in information literacy:
this entailed learning the process of recognizing a need for,
and then gathering and using information (http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/library/virtualcollege/info-literacy/Toc.html).
After taking the information literacy course in the fall, the
junior year students progressed to an online critical thinking
and writing course in the spring semester.
Figure 1: Lesson from the
Information Literacy Curriculum
High school seniors began the fall semester learning the College
Board’s ExPan software, for choosing, applying to, and paying
for college. Seniors also learned to build their own Web pages
as part of their college application process. Teachers were trained
to use Netscape Composer as well as the ExPan software and worked
directly with students using these applications. High school
seniors were then eligible to take for credit one of three online
Brooklyn College courses in English, Biology, or History. These
courses were developed and taught by Brooklyn College professors
who were not part of the project team.
Pedagogy and Technical Issues: The Custom Browser
While developing the curriculum for juniors, the project team
realized a potential problem: students who accessed the lessons
through Windows 95, the standard personal computer operating
system, may be computer novices who would find the many Windows
options confusing and/or distracting. More sophisticated users,
on the other hand, might be tempted to customize the environment
in such a way that the computer could not be used to run the
Learning Café. Moreover, to re-configure the computers
would be time-consuming for the high school teachers and administrators.
To circumvent this potential obstacle, the project team approved
a software interface for the junior level curriculum that simplified
computer use and restricted the types of activities allowed.
This software interface did not apply to the senior course curriculum,
since their access to the college credit courses was entirely
through the Web.
The Learning Café browser was developed by a multimedia
designer with a client application distributed on CD-ROM that
served as the interface for the junior curriculum. It launched
on startup and could be terminated only by an instructor who
knew the password. It provided access only to the intended content
and to other applications needed for the online courses.
Figure 2: Outside the Learning
Upon startup, the browser retrieved the server’s Internet
address, the locations of the shared files, and other customized
information from an initialization file. It checked the Internet
connection, and in the event the lessons and/or database were
inaccessible via the Internet, then the lessons were retrieved
from a local source. Although student performance records could
not be maintained on the local source, it at least permitted
students to continue to work until the server, network, or connection
The browser’s timer tracked how long the computer was
idle. If not used for a given time period (specified in the initialization
file), the browser closed any windows it had generated and returned
to the opening screen, waiting for the next student to sign on.
This ensured that all students entering the Learning Café
could log in without confronting materials opened by a pervious
Although many of the lesson pages listed links to related
Web pages, the project team wanted students, early on in their
lessons, to focus on Learning Café content and avoid the
distractions of surfing. Therefore, in the early sessions (how
many is specified in the initialization file) students were limited
to browsing only those domains referenced by the lesson pages.
Later on, after gaining a clearer understanding of the Internet
through the information literacy exercises the student was free
to roam the Internet without restrictions.
The Learning Café software technical advisor designed
a relational database, tied to the junior curriculum and the
custom browser, to support and supervise students taking online
courses with the Learning Café. Databases are being used
more and more in Web-based instruction to gather information
about student access, progress, and understanding (Arnow &
Barshay, 1999; Wade & Power, 1998). The Filemaker Pro database
system, running locally in each of the high school Learning Cafés,
offered customized Web pages that reminded students of what lesson
they were on and provided links to up-to-date lesson pages. The
database was also used to generate quizzes at the end of each
lesson, automatically grade the multiple-choice portions of those
quizzes, and enable a student to go on to the next lesson.
Figure 3: Welcome Page
in the Lessons
At the same time, this database system gathered information
about who was doing what in the Learning Café. Instructors
and administrators could then use this information to gauge student
progress and assign grades.
Instructors were given a special password for the Learning
Café that allowed them to access and update information
gathered by the database system. Instructors could see every
quiz that their students had taken and assign grades to the short
answer portions. They could then use the quiz grades, exercise
responses, and information about student access to assign grades
to the individual students. Additional administration Web pages
enabled staff to define new classes, add students to those classes,
and track Learning Café usage.
The Learning Café functioned as a testing ground for
collaboration between different institutions of learning. The
success of this project depended on the full cooperation of all
members of an interdisciplinary team from a variety of work environments,
each with its own culture. Cooperation was required for all phases
of the project including technical development, lab installation,
and the delivery of the Learning Café curriculum by the
high school partners.
Many of the strategies employed contributed to the program’s
success. Yet some of the strategies would have benefitted from
changes in implementation and led to greater success in college/high
school collaborations. The following assessment and evaluation
explores what went right — and what went wrong — with the Learning
Café project. Other inter-institutional partnerships could
greatly benefit from the issues identified and the recommended
Technical development — creating the browser, database, and
lesson pages — proved to be the most successful collaboration.
The curriculum developers sketched their ideas of what the lesson
pages should look like and then discussed these ideas with the
The multimedia developer who designed the Learning Café
browser also worked closely with the technical advisor building
the database. Although these collaborators were from a variety
of disciplines, all were affiliated with institutions of higher
education and, therefore, had similar expectations for the project.
Figure 4: Multimedia Enhanced
Key to the success of this endeavor was the development process.
Developing the lessons in the hypertext mark-up language (HTML)
format easily allowed for fluid content, extensive dissemination,
and the migration of the lessons from the browser to a totally
Web-based environment. The collaborators worked on a common document
or program, and communicated frequently.
Nevertheless, the project’s limited time frame and budget
constraints prevented the project team from creating lessons
with true state-of-the-art multimedia effects. Despite innovations
in multimedia production software that cut down on necessary
production time, the number of hours needed to produce multimedia
software will always exceed the number of hours of software produced.
Macromedia, creator of Shockwave and the applications that generate
online multimedia, suggests that 100 hours of development time
should be allowed to create every one hour of multimedia-enhanced
courseware. In addition to requiring extensive production time,
multimedia professionals command high salaries and production
houses are an equally costly alternative. Although some developers
may give educational institutions a break in price, most will
not (Davies and Brailsford, 1994). With limited time and resources,
the Learning Café project media designer could implement
only a small portion of what was desired.
In addition, inadequate monitors and RAM on some of the computers
in the Learning Café labs diminished the quality of the
presentation. Because the funding provided to the project was
insufficient to equip all lab computers with headphones, audio
enhancements could not be applied to either the Learning Café
browser or the lessons.
Coordinating the installation effort proved to be the another
challenging part of this task triggered in large part by a difference
in calendars between college and high school terms. Due to delays
in equipment orders and the phone company’s installation
of the T1 lines, the Café installation occurred during
the summer rather than the spring. Local wiring issues, equipment
delivery delays and difficulty in checking the network complicated
an already complex installation that involved IBM, The City University
of New York Instructional Technology and Information Services
Office, Bell Atlantic, and the Brooklyn College systems staff.
College personnel were working on the project during the summer
months but the high school coordinators were either not available
or could meet only briefly during this time. Most of the communication
was via e-mail but did not have the immediacy that a physical
presence or even cell phones could have provided. Furthermore,
it was often difficult to access the high schools.
Delivering the Learning Café Curriculum: The High School Partners
Development of technology and the lab installation were not
the only phases of the project that were challenging to the collaboration.
The high school coordinators chosen by the high school principals
to work on the Learning Café project were well-qualified
for the job. Three were assistant principals and one an experienced
teacher. Initially, the team met weekly to develop curriculum
content and software; however it soon became apparent that the
high school coordinators could not keep up with a weekly schedule.
In addition, the coordinators were asked to provide administrative
assistance related to the installation of the cafés, solicit
teacher participation, support training and see to the implementation
of the curriculum. The high school administrators were enthusiastic
about receiving computers, furniture and Internet access. Nonetheless,
they found it very difficult to meet the demands of their full-time
jobs, and, in addition, assist with the coordination of the installation
of the cafés and coordinate the project at their individual
The Learning Café project employed an outside evaluator
to review the project upon completion. After interviewing the
high school coordinators, the project evaluator concluded that
integrating the Learning Café program in to the high schools
proved more demanding than the coordinators had expected. One
coordinator commented that he "already had a full-time position
with a heavy workload at the school, and managing the Learning
Café site proved to be too great a challenge" (Martinez-Pons,
The College initiated the Learning Café project with
the intention of forming a collaboration with the high schools,
but the high school coordinators did not view the project as
a partnership and continued to view it as Brooklyn College’s
project. Therefore, the high school coordinators sometimes had
difficulty accepting responsibility at critical periods during
the project. Brooklyn College did not have authority to supervise
high school principals or coordinators to ensure full participation
of the high schools. Cooperation between the institutions was
entirely voluntary. This made it difficult to ensure that problems
or issues were solved in a timely manner. This problem is germane
to many college/high school collaborations (Pratt, 1991).
In addition to the cooperation of the high school coordinators,
delivery of the Learning Café curriculum also required
the cooperation of the high school teachers. Close involvement
of the high school faculty is critical in any high school/university
collaboration (Rakow & Robinson, 1997). The college set up
MCI Internet connections in each high school and at the homes
of each teacher involved in the project so that they could preview
the information literacy, critical thinking, and writing lessons
as they were created and placed on a conference Web site for
review. Although the curriculum developers had ultimate responsibility
for the content of their courses, it was essential that the high
school partners agree with what was planned to present to their
classes. Nonetheless, very few of the high school teachers scheduled
to teach the course monitored the Web site or offered suggestions
about the curriculum.
In addition, miscommunication or misunderstanding regarding
funding for teacher training led to added confusions: high school
coordinators assumed that the college would pay the teachers
for additional time spent in curriculum development and training,
while the college assumed that this would be part of the high
schools grant matching responsibilities. Brooklyn College hosted
two, four- hour training sessions in the fall 1997 semester when
the curriculum and software were complete and the proposed starting
date was at hand. The intensive training period was an opportunity
for hands-on practice and interaction with the developers, but
was not long enough to allow for major revisions the teachers
may have recommended on their first encounter with the lessons
at the training sessions. Consequently, if the teachers were
confused by or disagreed with lesson content or features at the
time the curriculum was delivered, they chose to by-pass portions
of what was offered and students were short-changed. As a result,
some students did not complete exercises requiring participation
in the threaded discussion software incorporated into the exercises
most likely because their teachers were not trained sufficiently
in the tool to pass the skill on to the students.
Furthermore, the teachers, who received initial training in
the automated administrative functions available within the browser
and through the database program, did not use these features
or ask for the follow-up instruction that may have been needed.
Tests were not graded with the automated system; instead, a number
of teachers requested that the multiple choice quizzes following
each information literacy lesson be printed out for the students
and marked by hand.
In addition, because of insufficient training in the custom-built
and commercial software employed in the project, the computer
lab technicians at the high schools found it difficult to troubleshoot
technical problems. Furthermore, the high school teachers and
technicians were not adequately trained to keep the Web server
up and running. The server — the computer holding the database
and the online content — was located in the classroom in each
of the high schools, leaving this vital part of the Learning
Café open to tampering and abuse. When the server shut
down, or the system suffered interference the high schools relied
on Brooklyn College staff to get it up and running again. Accidently
or intentionally, high school students and staff could — and
did — move files around, modify database records, and delete
Software as well as hardware presented coordination issues.
Brooklyn College did not effectively communicate to the high
schools the purpose of the custom built browser to control student
access to the computers in the Learning Café laboratories.
Consequently, because the high schools wanted to use the Learning
Café computer labs for other purposes, the Learning Café
browser did not run as intended. Students launched the browser
from the Windows operating system and systems were left open
to tampering. The browser became just another application that
the students had to learn, instead of the primary application
that introduced students to the other applications.
Seniors enrolled in the Brooklyn College credit courses did
not require special technical applications because the courses
were entirely Web based. The seniors did however did periodically
have questions and needed hands-on assistance with the software.
A high school teacher was not assigned to this role. This oversight
would take its toll on both the virtual students and professors.
College faculty expressed frustration that there was no high
school teacher to contact to determine how students were progressing
or to ascertain why they had not heard from a student in three
weeks. The professors did not know if the student was ill, or
had dropped out, or needed some additional help. One of the Brooklyn
College professors stated ,"a structure of client-side support
needs to be built, involving high school teachers, administrators,
and parents" (Berardi, 2000). Clearly, many high school
students continue to need some guidance and supervision in the
distance learning classroom. (Fyock, 1995).
The limited involvement the high school partners offered to
the Learning Café project underscores a significant cultural
difference between high school and college faculty. Secondary
school teachers are paid to teach a set of classes and prepare
curriculum–both require a great deal of time. For college
faculty, instruction comprises a small part of their performance
evaluations where research and outside projects are equally important.
Outside projects are integral to a college professor’s progress
on a promotion and tenure track. High school teachers are evaluated
solely on their classroom performance. Work on outside projects
uses valuable time they needed for their classes. No release
time was afforded teachers or coordinators for the Learning Café
project. In addition, there was no credit or reward for time
spent on the project.
Although the Learning Café Project team had initially
perceived that the technical issues would be the most challenging
aspect of the project, the greatest challenges proved to be in
the implementation of a collaborative partnership. With relatively
minor changes in budgeting, planning, and understanding, the
dynamics of the collaboration might have changed significantly
for the better.
In a partnership with a high school, a college would do well
to give the high school significant ownership of the project.
The needs of teachers as well as administrators must be considered
in planning the partnership. Teachers are more likely to be enthusiastic
if they contribute to the design of the curriculum and are adequately
trained for online course delivery.
While the following recommendation was intended for faculty
in higher education, the Learning Café experience demonstrates
the same is true for teachers in K-12 schools.
"The integration of distance education into mainstream
higher education compels post-secondary institutions to reduce
existing barriers to faculty participation by compensating, rewarding,
and training faculty at levels commensurate with those of traditional
instructional activities and to provide instructional and administrative
support services designed to ensure student access to high-quality
instructional program." (Olcott and Wright, 1995)
Providing monetary or release-time compensation for program
development assistance is crucial to project success. Literature
on technology implementation in higher education strongly recommends
training and the allocation of funds for training. (Findley and
Findley, 1997, and Low, 1991). In addition, training should occur
in the school where the teacher is based. Because the project
is likely to be above and beyond the regular responsibilities
of those who act as high school coordinators, their funding needs
must be recognized in the project proposal stage. Furthermore,
principals who agree to participate must determine how the high
school administrator assigned will be able to assume the added
The absence of technology skills on the part of the teachers
contributed to their lack of involvement and difficulty with
the browser and database despite the fact that the College offered
training. The level of teacher training built into the Learning
Café project overestimated the degree of teacher technological
expertise. Furthermore, training for using technology in teaching
is so critical that it should be considered regardless of whether
a high school is involved in a distance learning project (Gallo
& Horton, 1994). A recent survey by the National Center for
Education Statistics found that only 20 percent of teachers feel
ready to integrate computers into their classrooms (1999). Institutions
of higher education need to incorporate more technology training
in teacher education courses. This training should continue in
high schools when teachers are in service in fully-equipped teacher
training labs (Guernsey, 2000). In addition, if a high school
partners with a college in a distance learning project, the sponsoring
institution needs to provide school-based technology experts
to train and mentor the high school teachers and assistant principals
in the use of technology with teaching. Moreover, a sponsoring
institution needs to provide adequate technical (hardware, software
and multimedia) support for any computers it installs. Lastly,
a sponsoring institution or the high school itself needs to provide
meaningful and appropriate teacher rewards for those teachers
who participate in the project. With this type of support, a
high school teacher should be assigned to act as a liaison/monitor
between the virtual high school students and the professor teaching
the college Web-based course.
A distance learning project of the scale of the Learning Café
project could benefit from the expertise of a full-time technical
coordinator to oversee technical decisions and assume responsibility
for coordinating the myriad technical issues that arise. Although
a full-time technical coordinator was assigned to the project,
because of his other responsibilities at the College, he did
not have adequate time to devote to Learning Café issues.
A technical coordinator could ease the establishment of new
or updated networked classrooms and troubleshoot all software
problems. Many problems and delays could be eliminated or minimized
if a technical coordinator is present at project meetings where
decisions are made on the purchase and installation of equipment
and software. Distance education courses require many more resources
than a typical on-campus course. As a result more technology
assistance, hardware, software, travel, and other coordination
activities require a great deal of institutional resources. (Gatliff
and Wendel, 1998).
Finally, any successful implementation of educational technology
requires involvement of the multimedia designer in all phases
of the project. This ensures that adequate technology is specified
and adequate time and funds are budgeted. It also helps to keep
expectations realistic, so that all parties might be satisfied
with the outcome.
Even with the presence of a single technical coordinator,
distributed computer servers can lead to a proliferation of problems
that could be avoided if this hardware and software are centralized.
If a network server is physically located at the sponsoring institution
where access is restricted to technically capable staff knowledgeable
about the distance learning partnership, and its workings and
its goals, the server would not be as vulnerable as it would
be if each server is located at a participating high school.
The sponsoring institution could take full responsibility for
administration of the servers used to deliver course content
and perform administrative functions such as student tracking
The grant evaluation showed the effectiveness of the Learning
Café project. First, student attitudes toward computers
were substantially correlated with the usefulness of Web training,
gain in writing skills from critical thinking and writing course
and effectiveness of training in the use of Web tools. Second,
writing skills were substantially correlated with the usefulness
of Web training and effectiveness of training in the use of Web
tools. Lastly, the usefulness of Web training was substantially
correlated with the effectiveness of training in the use of Web
tools (Martinez-Pons, 1999).
The lessons learned in the Learning Café project clarify
what is necessary for successful distance education collaborations
and are confirmed by the broad-based recommendations identified
in the National Network for Collaboration (NNC), Collaboration
Framework (1995). The Collaboration Framework provides
guidelines to assist practitioners in a variety of universities
and community-based collaborative programs, not specifically
involving distance education. Based upon the Learning Café
project findings, the following recommendations, more specific
to a distance education collaboration, should be considered:
- Involve all participants in planning, setting goals and identifying
outcomes for the collaboration process.
- Develop guidelines on how the collaboration will operate
on a day-to-day basis.
- Establish effective leadership.
- Be aware of cultural differences between collaborators.
- Be aware of the politics of each organization.
- Establish and maintain open communication.
- Develop an effective training program for instructors.
- Insure full-time technical support during project implementation
and throughout the collaboration.
- Insure full-time administrative support for instructors,
students and coordinators.
- Provide compensation or release-time for individuals involved
in a project above and beyond their regular responsibilities.
Collaborations can be difficult to establish and challenging
to maintain but the benefits and rewards can be great. Together,
the Learning Café partners developed creative strategies
for overcoming traditional barriers to access. Brooklyn College
has shared its comparative electronic and academic wealth with
students at these four inner-city high schools. Through the Learning
Café collaboration Brooklyn College positioned four public
high schools on the information super highway and gave them the
resources to continue solidly along this path.
Fully-equipped computer laboratories were established in each
of the four schools, high-speed Internet access was introduced,
and software and content allowing for distance learning became
a part of the high school curriculum. As technology continues
to make communication faster, easier, and more convenient, remote
access to education, libraries, and services will only increase.
Sharing of resources, whether they be teachers, technology, information
or students will become even more inviting and cost effective.
Technology has created the means for successful collaborations.
Partners must recognize the complexities of collaboration and
address the multiplicity of issues involved in entering into
a collaboration. The Learning Café recommendations can
help collaborators identify many of the important issues, avoid
potential problems, and achieve greater success.