Spring 2012: Synchronous Technologies in Online Courses


Synchronous Technologies in Online Courses

Technologies and strategies in online education continue to evolve rapidly, making it important for faculty to stay informed and actively engaged with each other regarding the latest advances. Recent College of Education doctoral research by Chris Glass and Rob Hayden found that when it comes to these issues, faculty members highly value open conversations with their colleagues.

One goal of the CEPSE/COE Design Studio is to facilitate these faculty conversations on teaching and technology throughout the College.For our first Round Table, we have invited several faculty members with years of experience in synchronous online technologies (such as Adobe Connect, Skype, Tokbox, Google Hangouts, and more) to describe and to reflect upon their work. Open discussion and inquiry will then follow. Our goal will be to stimulate conversations that foster innovative and effective use of these technologies.

The Design Studio hopes this Round Table will help interested faculty make the connections they need – in both expertise and ideas – to implement these technologies and strategies in their own classes.

April 5, 2012

This Round Table focused on the use of synchronous technologies in online courses. The technologies that people mentioned included live video and audio (using Adobe Connect, TokBox (which is no longer available), and Google Hangouts), presentation of slides and documents (using Adobe Connect), as well as text-based interactions (using the Angel course management system).  Watch the roundtable video below.

Love/hate relationship

For me, and I suspect for many other faculty, I have a love/hate relationship with synchronous technologies. I love them because they give the possibility of giving me back what I have missed from face-to-face courses: the direct, immediate, relatively unmediated collegial interaction with people about rich ideas. Online courses can feel a bit like trying to start a fire when the logs are all a several feet away from each other: the mutual reinforcing energy of the interactions so often are lacking. Synchronous technologies give me the hope that I might experience that energy in an online course.

Yet I hate synchronous technologies because failure is very public (everyone in the class sees me struggle when it fails), renders the course session relatively useless for at least some participants (they can’t see or hear or both), and relatively frequent (we struggled with audio feedback even in our Round Table session!).

Invited Participants

To help us found our way through this promising yet challenging domain, we invited several faculty to share their experiences and perspectives:

Tanya Wright, Assistant Professor, TE
Tanya reported on her experiences in teaching a course of 17 students using Adobe Connect for live video, chat, and broadcast. She reported on student responses to a survey in which they were generally very enthusiastic about the benefits of this approach.
Cary Roseth, Assistant Professor, CEPSE
Cary reported on his research and teaching experience related to both large and small group interactions in which some participants are in person and some are online. A key finding he reported is that synchronicity provides greater benefit than whether or not the interaction is via text, audio, or video. Cary reported the importance of pursuing ‘task technology fit.’
Patrick Dickson, Professor, CEPSE
Patrick reported on the simultaneous use of threaded discussions as a part of students reviewing each others’ web-based portfolios. He emphasized how critical these issues are for our college because of the rapid growth of online teaching and learning, because of the changes in what a “real classroom” is for today’s learners, and because of the recognition (through the FAC) of the need to foster greater collegial interaction of this sort among our own faculty.
Kim Maier, Assistant Prof, CEPSE
Kim reported on her experiences over the years in teaching online, including a recent course in which students presented papers online in small groups much the way they might have in person were the class in a traditional format. She emphasized the importance of matching the technology to the content, of preparing for failure, and of giving detail instructions and support to students.
Robin Dickson, Associate Professor, CEPSE
Robin reported on a course that was taught almost entirely synchronously online using various video technologies. She emphasized the importance of not merely trying to simulate a face-to-face classroom or to transfer materials from a face-to-face course to an online course. It is far better to create something new that is designed specifically for the new context.

Big idea

From this session, big idea stands out the most. That is, we will do best when we match technology to the content, pedagogy, infrastructure, and constraints of our particular teaching setting. There is no single solution that fits all situations best. And the technologies are constantly changing, so we are not in position to adopt an approach with which we can settle. As such, it is essential that we are actively engaged with each other in learning and innovating to find the best ways to bring about learning in online and hybrid settings.

Next steps

Given the rich interaction in this session, we plan to host additional Round Table sessions in the fall. If you have suggestions for topics, please let us know.

Also, if you want to implement or innovate with synchronous technologies in online courses, there are resources in the College of Education to help. In particular, please contact us in the CEPSE/COE Design Studio and we can either directly help or help you get connected with other resources that may meet your needs more effectively and efficiently.