learn more when they are able to interact with working scientists, authors, and other practicing professionals. An early review of six different electronic communities, which included teacher and student networks and a group of university researchers, looked at how successful these communities were in relation to their size and location, how they organized themselves, what opportunities and obligations for response were built into the network, and how they evaluated their work (Riel and Levin, 1990). Across the six groups, three factors were associated with successful network-based communities: an emphasis on group rather than one-to-one communication; well-articulated goals or tasks; and explicit efforts to facilitate group interaction and establish new social norms.
To make the most of the opportunities for conversation and learning available through these kinds of networks, students, teachers, and mentors must be willing to assume new or untraditional roles. For example, a major purpose of the Kids as Global Scientists (KGS) research project—a worldwide clusters of students, scientist mentors, technology experts, and experts in pedagogy—is to identify key components that make these communities successful (Songer, 1993). In the most effective interactions, a social glue develops between partners over time. Initially, the project builds relationships by engaging people across locations in organized dialogues and multimedia introductions; later, the group establishes guidelines and scaffolds activities to help all participants understand their new responsibilities. Students pose questions about weather and other natural phenomena and refine and respond to questions posed by themselves and others. This dialogue-based approach to learning creates a rich intellectual context, with ample opportunities for participants to improve their understanding and become more personally involved in explaining scientific phenomena.
The introduction of new technologies to classrooms has offered new insights about the roles of teachers in promoting learning (McDonald and Naso, 1986; Watts, 1985). Technology can give teachers license to experiment and tinker (Means and Olson, 1995a; U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1995). It can stimulate teachers to think about the processes of learning, whether through a fresh study of their own subject or a fresh perspective on students’ learning. It softens the barrier between what students do and what teachers do.
When teachers learn to use a new technology in their classrooms, they model the learning process for students; at the same time, they gain new insights on teaching by watching their students learn. Moreover, the transfer of the teaching role from teacher to student often occurs spontaneously during efforts to use computers in classrooms. Some children develop a