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Monday, April 11, 2005
 
Instant Messaging and the Distant Student ::

A number of recent events have caused me to think about the potential for “chat” or “Instant Messaging” services in teaching a distance class. At Carey as well as on-site classes we also teach “by distance”. Students get a package of notes and readings to work through, and do tests and send in assignments just like students in a classroom do. We try to compensate for the lack of community in a classroom and the missing opportunity to ask the teacher questions through the use of online materials. The discussion forum software (for the last few years Discusware, now built in to Moodle our great Open Source LMS) has been quite useful in this respect, though often email or phone have been the students’ favoured ways to ask questions!

One of the biggest advantages of discussion forum software - for teacher and student - is that it is asynchronous (it allows both students and teachers to access it at different times, yet still communicate). Yet precisely this advantage is also a problem, you do not get the quick back and forth that allows correction and adaptation that promotes understanding through the exploration of differences and different views. Indeed, in my experience discussion forums – like email listserves – often risk seeming competitive. The medium encourages the robust exchange of views, but risks becoming an “event” with winners and losers. Not a good look in a substitute classroom!

To this end a few weeks ago, stimulated by an interesting discussion via Yahoo Messenger with someone else’s student (who had found me via an entry on “maximalists” in this blog and on Ralph), I set up a chat session for my distance class. Not a great success from my perspective, too flippant, too little that went beyond the purely social. This impression was reinforced by a session with Mark (NT Gateway) Goodacre, pleasant but not as useful as exchanges on our blogs have been…

So, do I write off the chat/IM route to more contact with distant students?

(Incidentally why does no one use Skype, is it because the sound is too poor over dialup? I’d have thought freedom from typing and from tpyign errors would have been worth some poor quality sound and a few bits that “drop out”…)

Well no, after a particularly difficult and at first unproductive exchange on the discussion forum (all my fault, the student was great, but I misread their tone) I am going to try chat or audio chat again during the second half of the semester… I’ll be keen to see how it works.

In the meanwhile I still have 20 assignments to mark, before I can get some more work done on finishing the Amos commentary, which together with an excess of meetings are the reasons this blog has been somewhat silent since Easter!


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