In a 1995 article Magenheim and Opitz discuss the pedagogical foundations of computer supported group learning in social studies classes. The authors state that several concepts originally developed for the project method in general can be used also as criteria for CSCL settings [the following are my summarizing translations]:
Although, taking the criteria above, a lot of Internet projects carried out at German schools can actually be called cooperative learning activities, only few of them are explicitly documented online under this label. Some case studies are being reported in educational journals, but I don't know about any comprehensive study of the collaborative aspects and their impact on students' learning.
I took the following approach to search for online resources about collaborative learning at schools:
One early example of a telecommunication in education model project,
conducted 1993-96 mainly in the state of Hesse, was called "KOKOS"
(Cooperative Learning in Networked Systems - Development of Lessons
using Networks for Learning together in Europe). Within this project
several groupware systems and model lessons have been developed, among
them a groupware "Decide" for decisions making, and "Balance" for
political planning. The software is available for download, but actual
experiences are not documented on the project page
One concrete social science project developed under the framework of KOKOS, the "Trasse" project dealing with route planning for streets and railways has been described in print by [Magenheim/Opitz 1995], but this article, too, doesn't report results of the actual project implementation. So without further investigation for me it remains hard to assess, what kind of impact those systems might have had. Maybe the rapid Internet development with its huge amount of interesting new possibilities has prevented such specially developed systems from getting very popular.
Recent big model projects don't focus on the aspect of cooperation alone, but in many ways they indirectly support Internet projects with cooperative elements
Joint database building dates back to the early days of German school
internetworking. It can be conducted on a low tech base,
asynchronously, the participants' number is scalable and the degree of
cooperation very variable. The joint product can be used for further
learning activities in different disciplines. A lot of environmental
projects are suitable for this kind of approach. Cooperation can be
sought with interested parties ranging from local authorities, which
often don't collect the data as detailed as the schools, up to the
Among the educational benefits are the closeness to real problems, awareness for diversity can be risen, factors that influence the quality of our environment are easily detectable and thus responsibility for one's own environment can be recognized. Learning outside of school (nature observation, measuring; cooperation with third parties) can be combined with activities inside of school (data processing, analysis, presentation etc.).
Some more detailed examples, where value is being added to the mere
data collection, are also available.
Activities within Bionet have become more comprehensive throughout the years, e.g. the Environment and Health (E&H) project (http://www.bionet.schule.de/health/) with some of its sub-projets:
The medical plants database (http://www.bionet.schule.de/health/healmed/index.html) does not only compare occurences in different countries and regions, but aims at writing a medical plants guide book and developing an HTML script for scientific classification of medical plants.
The project on environmentally induced risks of health (http://www.bionet.schule.de/health/healrisk/index.html), e.g. distribution of ticks, will probably be extended to a cooperation with forestry offices all over Lower Saxony in order to become the main resource for tick occurence in this state.
Email projects have been very popular since the times of UUCP school networking and teachers working on private accounts only. Features like the low bandwidth needed, asynchronous communication across timezones, flexibility with respect to individual, small group or large mailing list communication and the variety of possible topics and partners still make this genre attractive for schools. Different degrees of controll are possible (collective sending of mail or personal accounts for students). If external parties are involved, mail projects need good preparation and moderation. Special value here come from the fact that students can "meet" real persons as opposed to abstract subject matter. For many of them language learning now makes sense, because they want to communicate with their peers. Friendships can evolve that lead to real life meetings and long term contacts.
Together with e-mail projects this is probably the most common form of
collaborative Internet activities, one reason being that it can be
conducted in the context of different subject lessons as well as
interdisciplinary or club activities, over a short time or as a long
term project, with partners or without. Students help each other with
finding resources and presenting, the teacher can take the role of a
guide or moderator.
Among the activities for such a project are web searching for certain information, selecting, evaluating, synthesizing, presenting. Several small teams can take different tasks, e.g. background research in the library or environment, web search, taking photos, drawing pictures, web layout etc.
Valuable experiences can result from coping with masses of different kinds of information, discussions about suitable material, design decisions, coordination between different tasks, or learning through presentation.
This can be done on a low tech (email) basis with students from the
same class, but also from different countries, from low grades as well
as high. Coordination is important, so that participants keep
interested, communication additional to the special topic of
discussion can be helpful. In contrast to some mere communication
projects the result is a common product.
Some of the special potential of this type of interaction lies in the chance to learn about different ways of thinking on the same topic, development of creativity and language abilities, flexibility and willingness to compromise are being required, learning to keep on schedule is important.
Although whole schools and classes can participate in Internet competitions, it seems like participation of small teams in international competitions like ThinkQuest is especially attractive. Students have a clear aim, prices and public comparison of achievements can foster high motivation, independent concentrated work on a certain topic within a limited time can make this an intensive experience. Sometimes international cooperation is required, and professional presentation is important.
The product probably most popular right now for educational projects
in Germany is BSCW - Basic Support for Cooperative Work
(http://bscw.gmd.de/). Although currently mainly used for teacher to
teacher cooperation (e.g. on the educational server of NRW
"learn-line" http://www.learn-line.nrw.de/) and projects on a
university level, it is being promoted for use by students too and has
the potential of becoming a common tool for upper school grades in the
The workspace can be used with ordinary web browsers and is platform independent. Documents can be uploaded, annotated, altered; social awareness and communication features are also built in. It is free for educational use, and within Germany it is also convenient to use GMD's public server so that no own server is required. Interfaces exist in several languages (Japanese not yet - cooperation would be welcome!). As a general platform it is usable for a variety of tasks for groups from a local to an international distribution.
Examples for school trials with BSCW can be found at Ludger Humbert's talks page http://in.Hagen.de/humbert/vortraege/welcome.html.
It is increasingly recognized that the new media bring about a special chance for a new partnership at school, because in this area students often are more knowledgable than their teachers. A couple of projects try to encourage joint learning and tutoring of teachers by students.Examples:
Opening up the school into the local community is one of the aims many telecommunication projects at schools try to achieve. Not only contacts to people of the students' own age and social context, but to many different groups and institutions are built up. This can be libraries, kindergardens, hospitals, senior citizens, foreigners, adult education centers, companies, environmental groups, citizen initiatives, universities and many others. Recently Connections to Local Agenda offices and initiatives can be observed in many places.
One Example is K.i.d.S. Part, where children participate in planning
of a playground partly via the Internet.
With computers and Internet connections getting cheaper and entering more and more families, students often teach themselves Internet skills, especially in the field of layout and publishing. Some not only publish their schools home page or student newspaper, but start to take on real life jobs under real life conditions - which of course need a lot of cooperation skills. In many cases they manage the online presence of local companies, either on their own, or in groups of fellow students or jobbing regularely in an Internet publishing or web hosting company.
Sometimes schools encourage students to think in terms of real
business contacts by building a practice-company within school or
Sometimes teachers and students actually make money for their school together by teaching Internet classes to the general public (like at Altenforst-Akademie: http://www.altenforst.de/akademie/).
And sometimes students just create their own company like Webfactory (http://webfactory.de), which started as an Internet Club at Clara-Schumann-Gymnasium in Bonn (http://www.clara-online.de/).