Video Conferencing

Video is used for content that must be presented utilizing visuals such as video tape, slides, charts, graphs, drawings and demonstrations. Since video is a more expensive medium to use because of the cost of wideband transmission, it should be used selectively when the content requires it. All content does not need to be presented over video. After primary information has been presented on video, some interaction may take place if there is time left in the class period and if the instructor has planned for interaction.

Video technology provides numerous advantages. It increases instructor productivity, encourages participative teaching styles, and promotes and optimizes the highest ideals in advancing education. Coupled with audio conferencing and computer conferencing technologies, an entirely new group of resources becomes available. Interaction can be carried on through more cost efficient audio and computer technologies which can be available to students in synchronous or asynchronous modes as the content or the instructor requires. Classes should be taped and made available to students.

If class room space is at a premium, video conferences can be switched to the campus closed circuit network so that students can view the class in their dormitory room. They can interact by calling into the origination site on campus or at a distant campus.

Audio Conferencing

To continue the discussion during the next regular class period, the class can meet via audio conference bridge. The equipment required for this is an audio conference bridge with enough ports on it to accommodate the size of the class. During the audio conference the instructor can present new material that does not require video for presentation, answer questions, and set up and interaction between students so that they are able to share information and experiences. Audio conferencing should be used when synchronous (real time) discussion is required. During the early part of the course, audio conferencing can be used more to dispel the student's sense of isolation from instructor and peers. Formal audio conferences should be scheduled well in advance, an agenda should be set by the instructor, and students should have hard copies in their study guide or text of visuals that were used in the video class. To bring a different element into the course, guest experts in the content field can be asked to present lectures or participate in question and answer periods through the audio conference. Additional visual materials can be mailed, faxed to students. Text can be sent via computer. Attendance should be taken during the audio conference and the instructor should require students to interact as part of their grade. Classes should be taped and made available to students.

As with video conferencing, audio conferencing is approached differently than a traditional class; there is a big difference in presentation. Use an agenda with paragraphs explaining discussion points. Handouts are important for visual learners. Throughout the class, use visuals. Involve students early in the audio conference to make them comfortable with the medium. Get participants talking within the first few minutes by asking for names and locations. To create pace, alternate short presentations with discussion, visuals, or a work sheet. Keep segments shorter than ten minutes. Use more visuals late in the program to provide focus and relieve boredom. Combine male and female teams as the change is pleasant to the ear and provides variety. Use people with accents who are immediately identifiable. Plan the presentation order to vary the voices. Plan the wrap-up. The worst thing one can ask in a 20-site audio conference is, "Are there any questions?" Instead, ask if there are "Any questions in Dallas?" Everyone in Dallas will look at each other and silently nominate someone to ask a question.

Audio conferencing can be used for group work when a small group of students is assigned a team project. They would meet via the audio conference bridge at scheduled times to complete their work. The project work can be presented by video, audio, and computer conference depending upon the content.

Transmission costs for audio conferencing can be transferred to students as they dial the audio conference bridge. Toll free numbers are provided for instructors.

Voice Mail: Voice mail for faculty and students will extend the bounds of instructor accessibility for students. Voice mail can be provided to students as a component of their dormitory telephone service or as a dial in voice mail box for students living off-campus. With voice mail, complete interactions can take place asynchronously. The student has a question that needs to be answered outside of regular class hours. The instructor can a dial the student's voice mailbox and leave a complete answer when it is convenient. Because this can be done from any phone in the world, instructor's can be accessible to students at all times. This service will reduce the student's sense of isolation.

Touch Tone Interaction: More sophisticated touch tone telephone programs can provide lectures and drill for students. Students access the computer based system by regular telephone. A menu is presented and students select the option they want by touching a number on the telephone pad. The system branches to that content and can present information. A second menu provides a branch to a self-test. The system asks and questions and provides a menu of answer options which correspond to the telephone keypad. Students touch the number that they think is right. The system responds by telling the student if they are right or wrong and if wrong, the system provides the right answer.

Computer Conferencing

Computer conferencing is used to continue the discussion when real time interaction is not required. For some courses, computer conferencing may be sufficient. Because the classroom is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, students have the flexibility to schedule their learning time around their other personal and professional commitments. Computer conferencing represents a new domain for educational interaction and it is essentially collaborative and team based.

Student and faculty equipment needs include a computer, telecommunications software, conferencing software, modem and a regular telephone line. The host site must have a computer capable of handling and storing thousands of messages, telecommunications software, conferencing software, a bank of modems and telephone lines. Computer conferencing programs enable the student and instructor to dial into the academic computer when it is convenient. Each student is issued a private electronic mailbox on the system and share access to a group mailbox which is the focal point for instructor communication to the class as well as the vehicle for group discussion. Software is menu-driven, and supports simple commands for uploading, downloading, capturing, and storing files.

Students receive course materials by mail. Students follow a study guide prepared for the course by a design team as well as a traditional textbook, case studies and other materials. Instructors can add or delete assignments. Some institutions are creating interactive computer aided components which can be sent to students on computer disk, CD-ROM or accessed through the campus computer network. Each week, instructors provide a lecture focusing on the week's important content which students download. Group and individual assignments are customary. Students send homework assignments to class mailboxes. Instructors grade the homework and can send back a marked assignment or a grade with notes. Students file a weekly summary to focus on what they have learned that is particularly relevant to them.

Interaction by students may account for up to 40 percent of the grade. With the requirement for meaningful interaction, students seldom fail to participate. Once they begin to interact, it becomes a pattern for them. The benefits to the student are significant. The nature of the system enables students to prepare very thoughtful responses, and therefore the quality of information is very high. Decision making can take longer and sometimes students will conference on the telephone to work out logistical issues in completing group projects if time becomes an issue. Their writing and critical thinking ability increases. They cannot hide in the back of the room behind one or two class stars who answer all of the question. If students don't speak up, everyone notices. Quality of content overrides personality or charisma. A text-based system has an equalizing affect. Since students cannot see one another, they're less inclined to typecast them. The only thing that counts is the quality of the student's ideas. Faculty are able to provide significant one-to-one instruction to students when they need it - or within a few hours of when a question is asked. The amount of time available to each student is increased because it is not confined to the traditional class hours. Most schools require that students and faculty log on five days each week. When real time interaction is necessary, students and faculty use the telephone or audio conferencing.

In this mode a number of smaller assignments is due each week. All assignments are posted to mailboxes which are open to the class. Students react to one another's assignments by critiquing the assignment, making additional suggestions, providing other information, or asking for additional information. This process contributes to higher developmental levels of understanding and their collaborative work skills are honed by the requirements of the course. The act of formulating and verbalizing one's own ideas as well as responding to ideas by others are important cognitive skills. Collaboration contributes to higher order learning through cognitive restructuring or conflict resolution. Whereas in the face-to-face classroom environment up to 60-80 percent of the verbal exchange during class time comes from the teacher (Dunkin & Biddle, 1974; McDonald & Elias, 1976), this pattern is the opposite in computer and audio conferencing (Lane, 1990). Analyses of various online courses indicates that the instructor contributes 10-15 percent of the message volume and of the number of conference messages (Harasim, 1987; Winkelmans, 1988). This is not a correspondence course by modem; interaction in this medium is significantly higher than in traditional classes. The availability of an archived transcript of the class facilitates reflective review of previous comments and discussion prior to providing an answer. As a medium, it is particularly conducive to brainstorming, networking, group synergy, and sharing information. It is an information rich environment. Final examinations are usually open book and are sent to the instructor's mail box which cannot be accessed by students.

An example of a group assignment might be a consensus ranking exercise. Students are given seven points to rank individually and required to provide statements about why they ranked items as they did. The group will continue the exercise for several days and are required to come to a class consensus. Active learning in the computer conferencing environment can be measured by the level of participation. The computer medium lends itself well to a variety of courses and is particularly useful in management, writing, education and other theory intense courses. Courses involving the use of spread sheets are also taught over computer. While it can be an aid in decision making, the asynchronous nature of the medium tends to lengthen the time frame before the decision is made.

Transmission costs for computer conferencing can be transferred to students as they dial into the computer. Toll free numbers are usually provided for instructors. Students pay for their own modem connect time which amounts to about 1.5 to 2 hours per week. Since they are not working in real time, their connect time is limited to logging onto the system to capture material to their own computer disk. Once they capture the material, they log off the system and prepare their homework and discussion comments at their leisure to send later.

from "The Distance Learning Technology Resource Guide," by Carla Lane