Teaching & Learning

Synchronous Communication

Men using cans and string to communicate

Synchronous Communications

Using a combination of voice-over-IP (e.g. Skype), chat and whiteboard tools, you can facilitate multiple types of meetings and interactions.

Chat rooms

Chat is similar to a conference call in which participants communicate by typing. It is usually informal in nature. Chat can be used by instructors to hold office hours, as a location for guest speakers to present and interact with students, student group collaboration, online focus group discussions, and as a place for casual student-student conversation when students happen to be online at the same time.

Pros

  • real time communication (decisions can be made on the spot)
  • works well for holding online office hours (instantaneous feedback, easy access)

Cons

  • participants all have to be at their computers at the same time to participate
  • scheduling may be difficult across time zones or with large groups
  • conversations become very hard to keep track of if there are multiple conversations at one time
  • conversations have a tendency to take more time than in-person conversations

Notes

Be aware of individual writing conventions in chat rooms, e.g., using multiple short statements to convey ideas quickly, use of punctuation to indicate continuance. Consider setting up rules and establishing etiquette for student participation, e.g., how students indicate when they have a question, how to interrupt a conversation, refrain from private or side conversations.

It is possible to archive a live chat. Conversations can be viewed at a later time and students who were not able to attend can review the discussion. Archiving group collaboration can be useful for group members and for grading purposes.

MSU Example:

Telecommunication Professor Carrie Heeter's TC841 course used a chat tool to hold focus groups. The chats were archived. Students who did not participate in the focus group later analyzed the results.

Instant messaging

Instant Messaging (IM) tools are applications that allow you to check who is online and enable you to chat with them in real time. While typically IM is one-to-one, some IM applications allow you to speak with multiple participants, similar to a chat room.

Pros

  • allows you to see who is online
  • more private than chat rooms
  • real time communication (decisions can be made on the spot)
  • the program runs in the background while you are online doing other things
  • interactions can occur spontaneously

Cons

  • participants have to be at their computers at the same time to participate.
  • impossible to grade participation unless students archive their communications somewhere
  • users must be using the same IM service
  • users must add each other to their access lists

Notes

There are multiple IM services and they do not talk to each other. Some IM tools allow audio and video and application sharing.

MSU Example:

HED490 Professor Jon Vredevoogd uses MSN Messenger to provide live help with CAD to online students. Through application sharing, he can view and control their desktop, helping to solve problems and answer questions.

Voice over IP

Voice over IP, or VoIP, is the transmission of voice traffic over an IP data network. Think phone service over the internet. A popular tool for VoIP is Skype, which also allows for video conferencing using web cameras.

Pros

  • Many VoIP services, such as Skype, are free. This can be especially helpful for long distance calls.
  • Many VoIP services also facilitate text chat, video conferencing, and file sharing
  • Can conference call with multiple people

Cons

  • participants have to be at their computers at the same time to participate.
  • impossible to grade participation unless students archive their communications somewhere

Notes

Many VoIP clients can call regular telephones and cell phones for a small fee.

Whiteboards

A whiteboard, usually tied to a chat room, provides tools for drawing and diagramming that are editable by multiple participants.

Pros

  • drawing features can aid in communicating abstract ideas and relationships
  • multiple participants can edit shared drawings

Cons

  • participants all have to be at their computers at the same time to participate
  • scheduling may be difficult
  • participants can overwrite each other's drawings

Notes

Consider establishing rules and regulations, e.g., use different colors for each participant. Whiteboards enable instructors and students to look at, annotate, and alter a common visual source. When the course involves use of software new to the students, such as AutoCAD, SAS, Scientific Notebook, or a Web Editor, it is helpful to be able to exchange files and screen shots with students.

Telephone -- remember telephones?

Pros

  • familiar form of communication, facilitates verbal cues
  • useful for solving conflicts

Cons

  • difficult to organize and hold a conversation with more than two people at a time.
  • multiple distant callers lack visual cues from other speakers

Notes

Technologies exist that allow speaker phones and conference calls. If you are a distance caller to a group meeting, be mindful to not interrupt the meeting repeatedly requesting clarification.