26 June 2007

Discussion on Synchronous Media for Learning : Part 2

Hi Folks,
We have had five Readings assigned ;- Reading 1 – a list of media (no hypertext link as this is proprietary to WestGa), Reading 2 – Distance Learning and Synchronous Interaction , Reading 3 – VoIP Has Come of Age , Reading 4 – UNC’s Evaluation of Live Synchronous Tools , and Reading 5 – Google Apps and the New American University . I have looked through the first two and added some comment in a Post here yesterday. Discussion of the last Reading 5 is more appropriate to a separate Post later this week as it involves much more asynchronous study by me. Here I would like to go through briefly Reading 3 and Reading 4. Let’s hope the pigeons don’t kill the cat !
Both Reading 3 and Reading 4 are within the grey literature – meaning they are not published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, though they add to research resources and serve the academic community. ‘VoIP Has Come of Age' by Sandy Berger appears in a magazine LearnTech undated but carrying a copyright 2007 so we can expect this to be up-to-date. However it mentions Windows XP and 2000, but not Vista. And it mentions MacOSX but indicates Google Talk is not for Mac. So this article is dated at least by one more year backwards. Sandy writes that "you need an invitation to open a Gmail account" (page 1). This is no longer true. The overall impression from this article is that "although you can use these [VoIP synchronous tools] over a dial-up connection, a broadband connection like cable or DSL is really necessary for adequate speed for the voice transmissions". The implication is that VoIP may be not useful in the developing world : since it really does benefit from good broadband infrastructure, VoIP does not reduce the digital divide. However in my own experience across Asia, VoIP is being very keenly adopted (in 2007) – as well as gmail accounts – because they are free of recurrent costs. If we were to compare VoIP with WebCT-chat , then cost may likely be a leading concern – particularly if we were to aim for open access and inclusivity. Sandy concludes with two caveats ; - one, that you need to be near your computer to see or hear a call coming in, and two, that there is some echo. We have tested out VoIP Google Talk and Skype, and external speakers compensate for the low-volume of most computer built-in speakers, and echo can be eliminated by using headphones. Both these problems were initially experienced and were both resolved perfectly satisfactorily.
One of the great things about the grey literature is being free of editorial oversight : the author(s) can invent new punctuation and new words without fear of being hammered. In Reading 4 (a 'Final Report') for instance, the authors choose not to use a period full-stop at the end of their Abstract, and not the three dots signifying to be continued; rather, they choose two dots which is cute – somewhere between one dot and three dots. Reading 4 is an in-house report on the four synchronous tools that they use and also reviewed by their staff who use them. No comparison is made to tools they don't use, and there is no outsider review comment. The most detrimental aspect however is that this is written by teachers for teachers with no concern and no mention at all whether or not these tools improve learning. No student comments were included, and no recognized evaluation design on the achieved quality of learning using these tools. So when they say it was easy to use by the teacher familiar with it, there is just total absence as to what the students thought or whatever. (They write "and other information from faculty and other active users" – if they mean students here, surely they should expressly say so.) It is a subjective not objective report – actually a collection of subjective reports. It is true that two subjective perspectives can produce an objective result, but their second subjective perspective was from the vendors. However, I do recommend your reading this article. They clearly state that it is intended for "potential instructional and collaborative use within" their campuses ( I suspect they mean 'cooperative' here), and it fulfills their mandate. How useful is this report to others ? ummm it reviews Centra Symposium 7.5, Elluminate Academic version 6.5, Horizon Wimba Live Classroom 4.2, and Macromedia Breeze Meeting version 5, and concludes of the four that Centra was best, and Elluminate was second. Centra was cited for its conferencing capabilities and advance organizer 'agenda builder' (which I personally think is a necessary tool for any meeting online or offline), and Elluminate was cited for its cross-platform compatibility with Windows and Mac simultaneously. They say Horizon Wimba is cross-platform, but don't mention Mac, only citing its compatibility with Blackboard and WebCT. WestGa use Horizon Wimba, and perhaps others - Is there a review available among the University System of Georgia, and do Georgia find Horizon Wimba to be the best? From these four reviews, I would choose Macromedia because is highly customizable and accessible by most students using basic Macromedia Flash (free reader, and widely available through Macromedia Flash creation tools such as Dreamweaver). Reading 4 does not include any review of any open source free tools. I am curious, but then the authors probably have no idea or experience or care about such free tools. Maybe the TLTC Board that instigated the review wanted to know whether it was or not getting value for the hundreds of thousands of dollars it has spent. Moodle and many other open source teaching / learning tools are taking a greater share of the market day-by-day, and reviewing only those expensive tools that they have already installed leaves room for further review studies. Of their four moreover, which did the students prefer? Which brought about the most stimulating educational experience for the students and achieved the best improvement in quality of learning?
All Best Wishes

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