22 June 2007

On Synchrony

Dear Folks,
I thought a few words here might be appropriate about the use of synchronous (live chat) media compared with asynchronous (email, discussion board) media.
Synchronous media entail the familiarity of facial cues, voice, and even socialization such as chat about one's likes/ dislikes, family and so on. In the virtual classroom or Webinar, the teacher can deliver a lecture with traditional methods such as visuals (powerpoint or e-scans of drawings) and talking, can check the student's attendance, and even ask the students a question ("Raise your hands if you know the answer" which takes me back nostalgically to my infant school days). We certainly don't find today's teenagers using this style with their MySpace chats, which makes me think the designers of WebCT must be fifty years old or more. Is the ultimate goal of high technology just to re-create the Victorian classroom ? There is a case for such re-created familiarity in enabling learning - to extend the student's context into the room, so that the teaching occurs within the student's world. However, that socialization can be described as reducing anxiety and reducing other psychological barriers to learning. Do I myself want to see the faces of other students / teachers / visitors? I recommend your reading the article by Nigel Blake

Blake, N. (2000) 'Tutors and Students without Faces or Places', Special Issue: Enquiries at the Interface: Philosophical Problems of Online Education, Journal of Philosophy of Education, vol. 34, no. 1. pp. 183-197.

Moreover, I would guess that the teacher in the virtual classroom has (or had) technical support to make it all work, but as far as I can determine none of the students did. Though I will go back and go through the 'Help' button on my computer to see what technical support there is for me - ASYNCHRONOUSLY of course.
So now let's examine the asynchronous aspect. How many of the students in that virtual classroom had done the required / suggested reading (Module 8, Readings 1, 2 3, 4, and 5) ?? I wonder. As for me, I read only slowly, dissecting, reflecting, and re-reading many times over. And I still plan to re-read yet more times. So I wouldn't say that I have finished the reading. I think asynchronous media such as reading and writing are much more powerful teaching and learning media than being in the same room at the same time as peers and teachers. I heard somewhere that learning never occurs inside the classroom, but afterwards where the student has some cognitive intellectual space to reflect and put things in order in their mind, putting things together and joining up points with their prior experience and knowledge. The face-to-face episode in the classroom only serves as a stimulus or guideline. I believe learning occurs at one's own time, pace and place - and this not necessarily at 3:00 a.m. in the morning in a live virtual classroom.

Oh I learnt many things today this early morning, through synchronous media. I learnt how practice with the media would be a prerequisite for more effective participation, how useful an 'advance organiser' would be in synchronous virtual lessons (an advance organiser is like an agenda or proposed schedule and topics, distributed or disseminated beforehand). And I learnt how wonderful Google Talk was !! I would really recommend Google Talk to everyone. I have heard that Skype has more functionality (I have reviewed Skype at length earlier), and that Google Talk was plain and simple - but here I would like to say that the quality of the plain-and-simple Google Talk was overwhelming, and to be recommended : so refreshing, even at 3:00 a.m. in the morning.

I would also like to add that Google Talk is free.
Whereas a WebCT licence (for the bells and whistles and virtual classroom) is several thousand dollars per year, plus technical support. The Chronicle of Higher Education puts the cost of WebCT at several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year (see the article here) . More than my week's wages anyway !
I will continue this discussion here asynchronously of course.
My thanks really to Stacey - I really enjoyed our live chat, and to Pam always.
All Best Wishes

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