03 July 2007

Synchronous Media in Education : Summary

Hi Folks,
Synchrony Revisited -

Not to waste such a valuable resource, I want to summarise my learning and my experience from the various group discussions that have occurred synchronously using WebCT Chat, Google Talk (including Google Chat and File Sharing), i-Chat, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, Gmail and other email so fast that they crossover in the post and must be considered synchronous, mobile-phone and landline telephone. Also live Webinar will be included – especially since it is my favourite tool for future adoption.

Google Apps includes a range of applications generally free of cost to universities in the States built around a gmail hub, with G Calendar and G Talk. Some universities have added social software applications such as photo sharing and calendar sharing, and educational resource building software such as file uploading, storage, search and retrieval. If G Library and i-Library are not already out there somewhere, I predict they will be very soon. Can Blackboard and WebCt keep up with these fast innovative newcomers ? I predict WebCT will downsize to modular units to compete perhaps through offering a free basic version, and G Moodle will likely be launched before or after that.

The irony of synchrony is that its key advantage of simultaneous voice-to-voice is also its key disadvantage. Participants must be online at the same time, with compatible hardware and software. Moreover, participants must be well-prepared ; for human-technological interaction, human-human interaction, and human-content interaction. The technological aspect is not easy and requires preparation and pre-testing. The human-human aspect needs social skills especially of a moderator or conversation leader (though I believe we have had successful interactions where this role was distributed and shared). The human-content aspect needs the participants to have exchanged and shared the agenda and text/visual content beforehand, have read these, assimilated these to their prior knowledge, experience and new studies, reflected upon and re-read these, and have their coherent contribution written out ready. In the next ten years I expect most synchronous tools will move over from one-dimensional (talk) and two-dimensional video and file-sharing to three-dimensional virtual learning spaces. I predict that every university will be offering virtual world education within a year. Evidence to support this prediction includes the fact that the leading universities are already out there virtually, and these all becoming four-dimensional (with lesson transcript retrieval and so on). Moreover leading game software edutainment is based on virtual reality – no doubt we may realize this tomorrow …

Finally I would like to look at the potential for synchrony to help in achieving group assignments. I think this is looking in the wrong direction for adult education. Peer-to-peer and studying together are helpful in schools (and pre-school), but is not highly accredited in universities simply because participation and contribution rates vary. Synchronous group activities online may thrive in the distance education network such as that in New Zealand where children stay at home everyday and study online with regular visits by a school tutor. Cram schools or university preparatory schools such as those in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore will also benefit from adopting synchronous group study. In adult education which I believe now includes most tertiary education, synchronous media can only be used to complement asynchronous actual learning. Here, the synchronous media most likely to succeed will be the webinar with a skilled tutor participating, and the free student-to-student applications. Examples of group assignments that might benefit from using synchronous media (with the proviso that asynchronous learning is done) might include initial self-introductions to speak what you expect to get out of the course, and what dreams and apprehensions you have about the course. Brainstorming will be a leading learning exercise using synchronous, and the webinar will suit this, although other conferencing media such as Skype may work satisfactorily. Then the next stages of learning must be asynchronous. Only the final experiential stage may then benefit from synchronous media. The final stage could be interview teacher-to-student about the course, points covered, things learnt, reasons, and so on – in other words a viva voce. Accordingly synchronous media may become more widely adopted as a standard accreditation technique.

I rest. I want to read some more and add to the above if need be later.
All Best Wishes

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