The article on the use of Breeze in synchronous e-learning provides some thoughtful insights into the advantages of merging synchronous and asynchronous learning environments for students.
Speaking personally, having had a dismal attempt with a correspondence course back in the mid seventies where feedback came via snail-mail, I felt the lack of immediate feedback and class interaction – were part of the reason that five fellow part time students’ and I failed to finish the course. There was no ongoing dialogue, you felt like you were in a vacuum and you had to wait a month for a face to face tutorial. The notes were copious but not interactive.
Recently I have tried to set up my computer to participate in an Elluminate (do I mean Illuminate?) conference with interested parties about ESL students. I didn’t get past the downloading of the software as there was no technical support available. The onus was completely on me, the participant to troubleshoot any technical hitches encountered. I have no technical expertise and on encountering an unknown term I could go no further and dismissed the whole idea of participating.
The discussion, the exchange of opinion, the teasing out of ideas, are as much a part of the ‘learning’ for students as is the ‘teaching’ component of the subject. If student feedback and interaction become too disjointed, too much of the students’ interest and the subject’s dynamism is lost. In synchronous situations the discussion relies on the momentum of the academic dialogue to sustain interest and provide a monitor of student understanding and participation. If asynchronous situations are to enhance the student’s learning and participation in a subject, the the use of posts on a blog at least allow the participants to re-visit the comments and so build on the conversations, thereby emulating some of the dynamics of a face to face conversation whilst eliminating some of the problems of finding an opening in a dialogue to contribute to the discussion.
The paragraph that cites the work of Lobel (2002) on ‘parallel communication’ makes a point of noting that parallel communication enhances the worth of the group many times over that of the individual. I think this is because the posts become a reference for the whole group, giving thinking time to respond, and reflect on comments, something that a face to face conversation doesn’t always allow. The posts can be referred back to constantly and can continue to influence the group long after the initial date of posting.
I felt this article picked up some key points about the structure of the support for online collaborations of students and teachers; namely the technical capabilities of the students and the need for adequate technical support with immediate troubleshooting practices and advice in place during sessions and the need for practice sessions beforehand to ensure the competency of the participants.