Synchronicity in Online Education

Published: September 21st, 2015

Category: Blog

Having a synchronous discussion in an online course can be challenging, but tools exist to make that possible. Some may work better than others. Some are more appropriate than others for what you want to accomplish. Choose wisely.

Education in the online learning platform runs the risk of losing the benefit of human contact of a face-2-face classroom. Simply being in the same room at the same time with other students and your professor activates learning in a way that say, reading a dusty discussion transcript or being on a good-old fashioned conference call with them just can’t.

Enter synchronous, real-time collaboration tools to enhance the online classroom experience. Unless you are a recently discovered 2-million year-old hominid in a South African cave, you have heard of web conferencing applications like Skype and Zoom, collaborative document creation tools like Google Docs and Office Online using OneDrive, or real-time communication methods of online chatting.

Technology can’t replace the experience of being in a classroom and engaging with peers in a way that humans have evolved to do over so many millennia. Nor should it. But there are ways that technology can replicate parts of this experience (collaboration and discussion) while even providing its own benefits (say, attending class at your kitchen table…in your pajamas…from Spain).

Zoom has been used successfully to videoconference with students for office hours, Instructor and guest lecture Q&A’s, live student presentations or poster sessions, and student-to-student meetings and work groups. Videoconferencing can include audio, video, chat, document, and shared desktop capability for real-time collaboration.

For synchronous text-based communication for groups or individuals without video, try using IM or chat. A great way to engage students that almost everyone is comfortable using (laws have had to be passed to stop people from texting while driving!), instant messaging or chatting is a great way to hold office hours or engage students less inclined to use video conferencing. It is also an option that allows students to answer each other’s questions in real time and to quickly collaborate on ideas.

For UF students and employees, we all have access to Office 365’s OneDrive which allows file authoring and online sharing to collaborate together synchronously. Check out the UFIT’s GatorCloud page here for more information on getting started.

Now before you start chatting and videoconferencing away, some words of caution for best use.

Consider time zones. With the advent of distance learning comes well, distance and time. If possible, schedule flexible meeting times or allow the students to have a say when meetings could be attended. These conferences can be recorded for students who cannot attend.

Computers must have webcams and microphones in working order. In noisy locations, a headset with a microphone is recommended. If there is spotty wireless connection, it is recommended to use a wired connection so signals won’t be dropped in the middle of the meeting.

For chat, be sure that your chat session is open and you are available to chat about non-sensitive or non-personal issues; many chat programs do not allow you to delete conversations or messages.

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