In order to discuss the merits and demerits of synchronous media and of asynchronous media for learning, it is essential to know and keep in mind the precise distinction between cooperative learning and collaborative learning. Many lax writers tend to use the term collaborative for fashionable unwarranted claim to authority, since collaborative is more complex and desirable being the mode for non-foundational co-creation of new knowledge. I have previously clarified in detail ad laborium the distinction between group cooperative learning and group collaborative learning (see for instance my Papers, and my Impatica presentation). The Impatica presentation elucidated thus ; “If in a group, there may be someone who knows the content already for example there is a teacher or expert among your group, in which case learning can proceed by repetition, demonstration, translation and sharing cooperatively. If there is no–one among your group who knows the answer, then participants offer up hypotheses in turn to bridge the unknown gap and co-construct new knowledge co-owned by the participants collaboratively. … Learning in a group has two distinct ways depending on whether or not there is a knower in the group.” Please refer to the sources for elaboration.
Here, I want to offer up a critique of the relevant literature, especially of the pre-set readings.
First, Reading 1 says that online synchronous tools include video conferencing, real-time chat or instant messaging, whiteboards, application sharing, survey and polling tools, and moderating tools. Video conferencing can be a most effective synchronous tool, but requires a pre-arranged schedule, agenda, pre-distributed textual materiel, and pre-reading – all of which are asynchronous. Whiteboards are synchronous, and would benefit from adding an E-Beam device for recording, archiving and re-use. See http://www.e-beam.com and in practice Al-Shalabi, H., & Al-Jufout, S. (2005). The electronic classroom through embedded e-learning in Jordan. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 3 (2), 42-47. available online at http://www.AsianJDE.org/2005v3.2.Al-Shalabi.pdf . Application sharing is synchronous and maybe facilitates technology skills training (though not practice by the student and feedback) and trouble-shooting, but hardly constitutes learning in the synchronous mode because the student needs to read, reflect, recall prior knowledge and then get back to the screen – all of which are asynchronous. Students also read for comprehension with assimilation at different rates depending on native language, age and gender – see for instance Kawachi, P. (2002). On-line and off-line reading English rates : Differences according to L1, gender, and age. Proceedings of the XVI Annual Conference of the Asian Association of Open Universities. Seoul, Korea, 5-7 November, available online from http://www.Open-Ed.net/Kawachi-reading.pdf in particular here is a plot from SPSS analysis that gives not-the-50%-average reading rate, but the rate at 98% inclusivity : ie the low curves above which 98% of readers are included, and this circumvents the inherent uselessness of 50%-average rates in which half the students by definition cannot cope.
Application-sharing can be synchronous and has been covered earlier today in my post on Google Talk, with the proviso that word.doc files sent will need reading time asynchronously, but slides.ppt and video.imp can be synchronous. A URL shared file is either synchronous or asynchronous depending on the complexity of the task and density of the content on the web-screen. Survey and polling tools need reflection and are not suited to synchronous use. And finally in that list, moderating controls are asynchronous not synchronous. You can moderate something only after it has been presented, though you could put in place synchronous blocking of foul language – Is this what synchronous moderating is about ?
Now let me move on to a review of Reading 2 ‘Distance Learning and Synchronous Interaction’ by Joel Foreman, available online from clicking here . This article is old, first published in 2003. My critique here is mainly negative. Joel does not comprehend the essence of asynchrony for collaborative learning and writes that asynchronous tools are “primitive and significantly limit interactivity and collaborative learning” (page 1). He is wrong. Moreover findings published in May 2007 by Doshisha University in a well-designed carefully controlled study found better quality learning achieved by students using asynchronous e-learning media compared with synchronous lectures, seminars, and slides.ppt. Doshisha University followed students over one year from April 2006 to March 2007, and attributed the better quality asynchronous learning to the potential for students to re-play any part as much as they wished or needed for comprehension. To my knowledge of the no-significant-difference debate, this is the first clear study to report a valid significant difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning. Joel goes on to say that synchronous chat needs good writing and typing skills “which are not widely available” (page 2) – he may likely be talking about himself here. Continuing on page 2, he goes on to write that synchronous conferencing can enable a group to “collaborative write and edit a document”. I would really like to see two or more persons correcting grammar simultaneously on the same open shared document ! On page 3, he writes that “VoIP is intrusive and clumsy” – his writing is out-dated. On page 4, he reveals his colours by saying he is involved with xxxx (I won’t support his unprofessional example of self-promotion and advertising) calling it a brainchild he ebulliently writes that his synchronous tool can get all members in a group to orient themselves to the mission, analyze and sequence the task and perform metacognitive reflections to arrive at a solution. Apart from most of his mentioned activities being asynchronous, I would like to see his great synchronous tool get Jupiter Team together online and complete a group report :-) He concludes (page 5) by saying all too truly that “Under the best circumstances, the students will divide the work, perform it separately, and then gather online …” In other words asynchronous is better.
Synchronous media introduce severe pacing which reduces learner autonomy. I am not against reducing learner autonomy or pacing, but adult education theory at least is against it.
More tomorrow, after some further reflection asynchronously.
All Best Wishes