Editor’s Note: The proof of the pudding, as always, is in the eating. These techniques may have a sequential impact that will provide sustenance for Distance Learning environments.
Eric J. Schmieder
This paper discusses ways to ensure that students have regular contact with their instructor and with other students in the class to foster collaborative learning environments that keep students engaged and learning. A brief literature review illustrates the effectiveness of collaboration tools in online education environments and their impact on fostering an atmosphere where students are engaged in the learning process. Experience and research has shown that while these tools are effective in theory, actual online classroom environments often fall short in implementation. This paper will present ways in which you can use these tools more effectively to control the classroom environment and encourage interaction among your students.
Keywords: Chat sessions, discussion forums, web-based meetings, online learning, distance education, teaching methods, collaboration, virtual teams, course development, virtual classrooms, web-based instruction, teaching online, online courses, student interaction, online education, course management, teaching styles.
Have you ever attended or hosted a chat session online that seemed to get out of hand quickly and where the students seemed to ramble on about their personal lives rather than the class subject? Are your discussion forums populated with bare minimum requirements or true discussion among the students? Research shows that “learning is more effective when interaction occurs between learners” (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003).
“An estimated 1.2 million students in the United States – seven percent of all post-secondary students - enrolled in wholly online degree programs in 2005” (Kamberg, 2007), programs which “often comes under criticism for being an industrial production process that lacks the human dimension of group interaction” (Natale II, 2002). In order to foster an environment conducive to online learning, effective communication methods are key (Sheard, 2004).
The nature of class interaction in online learning environments is identified as a controversial pedagogic issue (Picciano, 2006). Research claims that social interaction and group process learning, present in face-to-face teaching is non-existent in an online classroom (Natale II, 2002). Additionally, the spontaneity associated with lecture situations and the related student questions and responses common to a traditional classroom are also lost in the online format (Hirschheim, 2005). Communication influences student satisfaction ratings as indicated by high satisfaction ratings for frequent and productive instructor interaction, constructive and dynamic discussion components (Abromitis, 2002), and collaborative and peer-oriented elements of course design in recent studies (Gill, 2005).
It is the role of the teaching staff to establish, maintain and manage online learning communities (Sheard, 2004). While it is suggested that “more synchronous activities should be part of the overall learning experience” (Saldivar, 2005), the broader subject of establishing communication channels with and among students is the key to fostering an effective online classroom environment.
Purpose of Study
E-learning communities are created to fulfill the human need for social interaction with peers and instructors in an online class (Osberg, 2002). Interaction through effective e-learning communities is “necessary for some kinds of learning, such as social, behavioral, and physical skills development” (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). It is therefore important to the learning process that educators provide facilities to enable interaction among online students and with the educators in online learning environments (Sheard, 2004).
A recent study illustrated student opinion that learning was enhanced by a variety of web-based communication tools, namely “private email (92.3%), calendaring (88.5%), course notes (88.5%), discussion forums (84.5%), online grades (84.5%), assignment descriptions (80.8%), and online quizzes (80.8%)” (Green, van Gyn, Moehr, Lau, & Coward, 2004). In end-of-semester surveys discussed in other research, the highest rated aspects of the online course design were collaborative and peer-oriented elements (Gill, 2005). Beyond student opinion and satisfaction, computer-mediated, collaborative tool usage in online classes has shown significant performance enhancement in student as compared to non-collaborative online methods of instruction (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003) and collaborative environments have shown a higher completion rate among students than self-paced e-learning course offerings (Osberg, 2002).
Learning is enhanced in collaborative environments by providing participants access to the work of others for comparison as the sharing of ideas fosters more advanced ideas than the student may have thought of on their own (Saldivar, 2005). It is the teacher’s role to establish and manage these online learning communities (Sheard, 2004). While feedback can be received in a variety of ways in a traditional, face-to-face classroom, through both verbal and non-verbal student communication, feedback must come in different form online, however it is important that this feedback still be both valid and timely (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003).
Another aspect of online classrooms is that no student is able to “sit in the back of the room and hide” (Kamberg, 2007). Interactivity is most effective through bidirectional teacher-to-student interaction via synchronous communication activities (Saldivar, 2005). Two benefits of instructor-to-student and student-to-student communication in online courses are an increased potential for student completion of the course and increased likelihood that knowledge will be retained (Osberg, 2002). By establishing and maintaining tools to foster interaction among students in the design of online courses, distance educators are able to effectively “reduce the barriers of time and space, and therefore foster community” (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003).
Due to the increased availability of broadband Internet, online education programs are able to capitalize on the impact that enhanced multimedia communication tools such as online video, live chat sessions and live audio can have on the quality of the learning environment (Kamberg, 2007). According to research regarding attrition rates of online students “it is critical that educators put together a framework for engaging the distance learner” (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007).
Assuming the following statement to be true: “Learning is more effective when interaction occurs between learners” (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003), this paper seeks to explore the various tools available for fostering online communication among and with students through a brief literature review, and to propose a method for effectively using the tools in the online classroom.
Background and Literature Review
Asynchronous Communication Tools
Asynchronous communication tools are tools in which communication occurs in delayed format across longer periods of time. A common form of asynchronous communication in online classrooms is the discussion forum. Discussion forums can be very effective in the creation and sharing of knowledge among students when students are engaged in the dialogue process (Dennen & Paulus, 2005). “A class discussion, for example, can go on for days without being constrained by a bell schedule” (Picciano, 2006). Although it is imperative that for a discussion to take place, participation is necessary, there may be levels of participation that do not result in learning or the development of knowledge (Dennen & Paulus, 2005). Appropriate participation by students in a discussion forum, however, can greatly enhance the learning process through the sharing of work and ideas with one another (Picciano, 2006).
A second form of asynchronous communication common to course management systems that often goes overlooked in its potential effectiveness for enhancing the learning process is the chat log or transcript. In his research regarding the effective use of chat logs for improving and reinforcing the communication process established in a chat session, Saldivar defined five components to providing asynchronous feedback relative to the chat session. Those components are: “planning the discussion session; having the discussion; analyzing the chat log/transcript, with the instructor adding feedback; posting the chat log/transcript with instructions for students to revisit; [and] having a follow-up session” (Saldivar, 2005).
In either form, asynchronous communication allows students time to reflect, review, and commit additional thought to ideas presented before responding and in threaded form also provides a clear illustration of the development of ideas over time. Other forms of asynchronous communication that may be used in online learning environments include email, voice mail, fax, cell phone, and text messages (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003).
Synchronous Communications Tools
Synchronous communication tools are tools that enable real-time communication among students and/or instructors in the online classroom environment. Simulating a face-to-face dialog process and promoting a sense of connection and community, “synchronous communication (real-time) allows participants to communicate via video/computer conferencing, audio-graphic conferencing, picture phones, chat sessions, [and] instant messaging” (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). Synchronous communication, often in the form of chat sessions in online classrooms, is an opportunity for instructors to fulfill the student expectation that the instructor be present in class (Saldivar, 2005) and consequently encourages active student participation in the learning process (Saldivar, 2005).
Although little to no student-to-student interaction occurs in online chat sessions (Mock, 2001), interaction between students and the teacher in a direct and active manner often is present (Saldivar, 2005). Synchronous communication tools also provide timely responses to student questions and concerns and can often supplement asynchronous forums for final decision making processes or to resolve heated conflicts on the discussion boards (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998).
Challenges of Online Learning Environments
Online learning environments present key challenges for online learners which can be overcome through active communication. In particular, due to the physical separation inherent to the online classroom environment distance learners often feel isolated, unsupported, and disconnected (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007). When communication among students is not encouraged nor actively conducted, online learners can be left feeling unnoticed and “lost in cyberspace” (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998). It is the responsibility of the instructor to establish and maintain a collaborative classroom environment capable of overcoming these challenges.
A Collaborative Classroom Environment
“Interactivity is sometimes uncritically promoted as the key to active learning in the online environment” (Wong, Greenhalgh, Russell, Boynton, & Toon, 2003). Due to the time and space differences among many online learners and the flexibility that the online learning environment provides, much of the collaboration and communication fostered in online classes is in the form of asynchronous communication methods. These methods rely heavily on the ability of students to express themselves clearly and effectively in written form, a skill not fully developed by most online students (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998). This issue is further complicated by the time delays associated with asynchronous communication tools (Holmberg, 1989). As a result, “usually students have little or no means of communicating with each other; even those who have the means of communicating with others in their class via online chats or email may not receive any encouragement to do so” (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003).
Face-to-face classroom environments encourage and foster social interactions and group processes that are often difficult to establish in online learning communities (Natale II, 2002), however, when discussion forums and chat sessions are effectively implemented and students actively participate, some really intense and productive discussions can result (Saldivar, 2005). In order to maintain interest in online learning as an alternative to traditional classroom environments, the social aspects of a learning community should be integrated into the course development plan. This is most effectively accomplished through the integration of communication tools into the course environment (Osberg, 2002).
Integration of communication tools not only fosters social interaction and a sense of community and belonging, but also enhances the learning process. Research shows that “students agreed that seven of the nine functions provided by the web-based online course management system enhanced their learning: private email (92.3%), calendaring (88.5%), course notes (88.5%), discussion forums (84.5%), online grades (84.5%), assignment descriptions (80.8%), and online quizzes (80.8%)” (Green, van Gyn, Moehr, Lau, & Coward, 2004). Each communication tool has a prescribed use and purpose within the online learning environment and not all students will actively use the tools simply because they are made available. Rather, the choice to participate in communication established through certain media “is driven by his/her perceptions of how well communication task requirements and media characteristics fit each other” (Hirt & Limayem, 2000).
Student motivation and success in distance-study courses has been shown to correlate with the level of communication established as part of the course character (Holmberg, 1989). Students are more frequently satisfied with courses that establish opportunities for frequent and productive instructor interaction as well as constructive and dynamic discussion with their peers (Abromitis, 2002). “Various studies have shown the importance of providing facilities to enable learners working online to interact with other learners and with their educators” (Sheard, 2004). While face-to-face interaction in a traditional class holds benefits such as spontaneity, humor, and physical interaction, online, and in particular, asynchronous, communication can produce potentially longer and more significant interaction among students through comments about and references to each other’s work and ideas (Picciano, 2006).
When using synchronous forms of communication that do not provide such opportunity for reflection and often more closely resemble the traditional nature of classroom interaction, it may be beneficial to enhance the communication process by holding a follow-up discussion where students can ask questions and provide constructive criticism (Saldivar, 2005). Students ask questions more frequently when the lecture leads them to think of questions and when they feel as though they can receive an immediate response (Hirschheim, 2005). Synchronous communication tools provide greater opportunity for these criteria to be met.
Proposed Method for Successful Online Communication
Fostering a Collaborative Environment
Engaging students in the learning process through the use of communication tools that foster a collaborative environment is shown to reduce attrition and to keep e-learners online (Osberg, 2002). “Interactivity is sometimes uncritically promoted as the key to active learning in the online environment” (Wong, Greenhalgh, Russell, Boynton, & Toon, 2003). Therefore, it is important to ensure that every student is actively engaged in the learning process. Unlike traditional classrooms, online learners are not able to simply show up, “sit in the back of the room and hide” (Kamberg, 2007). In order to encourage and foster student participation, the educator must also maintain an online presence (Sheard, 2004). By maintaining an online presence and through the use of technology as a tool to facilitate interaction among students, the educator is able to reduce the barriers of time and space and foster an online community which promotes active learning (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). Although “online students, in general, prefer independent learning situations; they are willing and able to participate in collaborative work if they have structure from the teacher to initiate it” (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007).
In an effort to understand the habits of his own students in an online learning environment, Mock “asked several students why they did not use the bulletin board. The overwhelming response was that nobody else was posting, so why should they?” (Mock, 2001). In order to encourage participation, students must feel secure in their participation. Lecturers are responsible for building and maintaining a trusting environment where this is possible (Sheard, 2004). One way that this can be accomplished is through the use of group projects and assignments that encourage students to develop relationships with other students through online communication (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007). Mock also noted in his self-study that “despite some surveys that indicated students might resent mandatory assignments using such tools, most of my students gave positive feedback” (Mock, 2001).
Students require encouragement to take advantage of the communication tools available to them in the online learning environment (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). For online learning to be successful, classroom communities must be formed through interactive communication (Abromitis, 2002). This interaction can be fostered through the use of discussion forums, chat sessions and virtual classes (Osberg, 2002). Discussion forums can be very rich environments for knowledge creation if students are engaged in the dialogue (Dennen & Paulus, 2005). “It is therefore imperative that the educators provide appropriate guidance and monitoring to ensure that the interactions within an online discussion forum foster and support effective communication and collaboration” (Sheard, 2004). To ensure participation by all students, it is often effective to require interaction among students with both their peers and you as the instructor (Hardin, 2004).
When really intense and productive discussions take place, as they sometimes do (Saldivar, 2005), it may be beneficial to allow additional time for analyzing, critiquing, problem solving and additional inspiration by the students (Picciano, 2006). To encourage the exchange of ideas, planned and coordinated chat sessions may also be effective (Saldivar, 2005). The instructor should create a sense of community through enhanced communications and encouragement of information sharing in the online classroom (Osberg, 2002). The use of feedback further enhances the development of a collaborative environment by providing a personalized interaction with students (Saldivar, 2005).
The Instructor’s Role in a Discussion Forum
In online learning environments, the use of asynchronous communication tools such as discussion forums is predominantly student-driven communication with little to no instructor participation. “Research shows that instructors talk 90 percent or more of the time in the classroom, whereas online instructors post fewer than 10 percent of the comments” (Hardin, 2004). This dramatic shift in participation by the instructor significantly reduces the impact that the instructor can have on the learning process. Discussion forums, when used effectively, can be the foundation for an electronic learning community providing students with assistance, support, and social structures usually associated with face-to-face traditional classroom environments (Sheard, 2004). Further, discussion forums provide an opportunity for an instructor to interact with every student rather than the select few questions time constraints allow for in traditional environments (Hardin, 2004). Without the restrictions of time and space, discussion forums provide considerable opportunity for active learning and the sharing of multiple perspectives with and among student participants (Sheard, 2004).
The instructor should guide, but not dominate the discussion in an asynchronous forum while maintaining an active presence when student-to-teacher conversation is necessary or warranted. “Give students opportunities to respond to each other, rather than immediately answering all questions” (Hardin, 2004). By allowing more time for students to reflect on the questions posed in a discussion forum, greater opportunities for inspired and engaged learning occur in the online classroom (Picciano, 2006). Research also shows that students are more responsive to questions posed by other students, than to those posed by instructors (Sheard, 2004). As a result, instructors should participate more in an encouraging role by posting affirmations and reinforcing summaries of student contributions, participating only when necessary (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998).
Instructors should provide a model through their postings that students can follow and actively monitor student posts for appropriateness, addressing issues when necessary (Sheard, 2004). In times of critical decision making and other times of intense discussion, the presence and participation of a neutral facilitator is appreciated. Instructors should assume this role in the online classroom (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998). If conflict escalates to an unproductive or personal level, the instructor should intervene, and if necessary, establish a synchronous discussion opportunity for faster resolution potential (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998). Instructor feedback and participation provides a personalized interaction with students (Saldivar, 2005) and serves to control the online environment maintaining order and appropriateness of postings (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998).
Online discussions are often noted by students as significantly contributing to the active learning process (Wong, Greenhalgh, Russell, Boynton, & Toon, 2003), however, some students are reluctant to contribute to online discussions (Sheard, 2004). Instructors should encourage, and if necessary, require participation by all students so that everyone can benefit from the active learning process.
The Instructor’s Role in a Chat Session
Chat sessions are commonly used synchronous communication tools in online learning environments simulating face-to-face dialog through the use of video, audio, or instant messaging communication systems (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). In these synchronous environments, studies show that there is “little to no student-to-student interaction” (Mock, 2001). As in a traditional classroom environment, these tools are commonly viewed by students as a method for instructors to convey information in real-time with an opportunity for feedback, rather than as a tool for students to share ideas with other students.
While it is true that instructors should provide a structure and focus for the chat session and keep the discussion on track (Saldivar, 2005), student participation should be encouraged at a level beyond answering questions asked by the instructor. By structuring chat sessions in a way that questions provide opportunity for discussion among students rather than simply re-statement of textbook content, the chat session can foster the exchange of interesting ideas in a way that immediate feedback is available to the student (Saldivar, 2005). The instructor should establish guidelines and etiquette prior to the discussion and establish the topic to be discussed so that off-topic conversation can be addressed (Saldivar, 2005).
Once the topic is established and the discussion commences, the instructor should encourage student discussion and thought beyond textbook regurgitation through the use of inquiry-based questions (Saldivar, 2005). Once the question is posed, instructors should allow students the opportunity to respond both to the initial question and to other student responses, providing reinforcement and encouragement as appropriate. Especially in cases where time is limited, as often the case in synchronous chat sessions, the instructor should control the direction of the discussion by maintaining a flow and timing to the asking of subsequent questions (Saldivar, 2005). If discussion begins to get off topic or out of control, the instructor should regain control of the chat session with posts that encourage focus and discourage inappropriate conversation among students.
It has become common practice for instructors to record chat sessions and post logs for review, especially by those students who were unable to participate in the live session, however many instructors do not understand the value of chat logs as supplemental instructional material (Saldivar, 2005). Chat logs can be used “to guide, to teach, to elaborate, and to make students realize that what they say can be important and can lend to the overall learning process” (Saldivar, 2005). Unedited logs are unfortunately less useful to students because it is often difficult, if not impossible, to see which responses and discussions were relevant and important. By editing the chat log before posting, an instructor can highlight key points and topics, diminish off-topic or unimportant comments, and can provide additional information where the discussion was cut short or responses were unclear (Saldivar, 2005).
Effective Management of the Virtual Classroom
To effectively manage a virtual classroom, the instructor must be present and provide individual feedback to the students. Clear and personal feedback from the instructor can reduce the feelings of isolation, confusion, anxiety, and frustration often reported by students in online courses (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007). The majority of students in a recent study reported anxiety due to unclear course requirements resulting in negative feedback and a preference for traditional lecture-based face-to-face classroom environments (Green, van Gyn, Moehr, Lau, & Coward, 2004). The virtual classroom must therefore be designed in similar fashion to the traditional classroom with targeted skills and clearly stated objectives (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998).
In addition to having a clear understanding of what is expected of them, students need a clear understanding of what they should expect from the course. “The reason most often reported by high school counselors to virtual high school teachers for students dropping a course and becoming non-completers has been that the course was not what students had expected” (Crawford, 2006). Communication between instructors and students, frequently and in real-time, is essential to this process (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). A critical need of adult learners is the knowledge that they have properly understood and mastered the material presented; this knowledge can only be gained through feedback received from the instructor (Osberg, 2002). Students who receive feedback faster have higher course completion rates and overall students expect to receive comprehensive feedback in as few days as possible (Holmberg, 1989). Delayed feedback diminishes the value of the feedback (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003).
Students should be required to stay engaged in the class through interaction with the instructor and their classmates (Hardin, 2004). Online students expect and desire this interaction with the instructor through active correspondence and frequent virtual office hours (Osberg, 2002) or via email 24 hours a day (Hirschheim, 2005). While these expectations of the instructor’s availability are unreasonable, the instructor does need to be available and it is good practice to establish guidelines and realistic expectations that the students can count on, such as a response to student emails within 24 hours, or virtual office hours at a regularly scheduled time each week. Without clear establishment of boundaries and expectations the student’s can count on, students may become frustrated or the instructor may become overwhelmed with the volume of student-to-professor interaction that may occur (Hirschheim, 2005).
Communication tools as discussed in this paper, both asynchronous and synchronous, provide opportunities for students to develop an online learning community which often allows them to collaborate and find their own answers to questions without relying solely on direct communication with the instructor for learning to take place. The instructor can then serve as a neutral facilitator in times of critical decision making (Bailey & Luetkehans, 1998) or to provide focus and leadership in the discussions to keep them on track (Saldivar, 2005), but does not have to be overwhelmed with a high-volume of individual correspondence with students.
Communication establishes clear expectations, guidelines for acceptable behavior, and overall structure and control mechanisms for a virtual classroom, but must be done early, preferably the first session (Saldivar, 2005). After establishing the learning environment structure, communication allows a professor the opportunity “to adapt content and pace to the rate at which the students understand the material” (Hirschheim, 2005). As discussion continues and learning takes place, communication tools allow students the opportunity to ask questions and for students and instructors to provide constructive criticism relative to the learning process (Saldivar, 2005).
Learning is a social process for most people (Osberg, 2002), therefore to promote active learning in an online environment, interactivity is key (Wong, Greenhalgh, Russell, Boynton, & Toon, 2003). While feedback is received differently in online environments than in traditional face-to-face classrooms, the ability to send and receive this feedback in a valid and timely fashion is very important to the learning process (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). In order to provide opportunity for student interaction and feedback, communication tools should be incorporated into the online learning environment (Sheard, 2004).
Student success and motivation is shown to be greater in distance-study courses that incorporate communication tools and provide opportunity for dialogue and conversation rather than those that possess “an impersonal textbook character” (Holmberg, 1989). Peer-to-peer dialogue in distance learning provides “a rich opportunity for collaborative knowledge building” (Dennen & Paulus, 2005). Using communication tools to foster this dialogue among students and encouraging collaboration and peer relationships through group projects and assignments, students more effectively explore existing knowledge and expand the knowledge base of the entire learning community (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007). Although physical interaction, spontaneity, and humor factors of traditional classroom environments are lacking online, peer-to-peer interaction can be richer and lengthier in an online classroom (Picciano, 2006). Successful online learning is driven by such interaction and the creation of online learning communities (Abromitis, 2002).
Educators must therefore develop a course framework that engages the distant learner and persists the involvement of the learner in the learning process (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007).The number one issue preventing student success in online learning identified by recent studies is a lack of time management skills possessed by the students (Angelino, Williams, & Natvig, 2007). Through the provision of appropriate guidance and monitoring by the instructor, thereby ensuring interaction, communication, and collaboration (Sheard, 2004), students are more likely to overcome such issues. To ensure effectiveness of the feedback provided by instructors to students on assignments and tests, communication must be timely (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003).
It is further reported that the presence of the educator online through postings and participation in the communication process encourages learner participation (Sheard, 2004). Additionally, studies show that students who participate in “computer-mediated, collaborative, Web-based learning perform significantly better than the students using only Web-based learning methods” (Hentea, Shea, & Pennington, 2003). It can therefore be concluded that greater online presence by the instructor, thereby encouraging learner participation in collaborative learning processes, leads to greater success of the online student. This conclusion is supported by research indicating that greater numbers of students complete courses that require communication than the 25 percent who finish strictly self-paced online courses (Osberg, 2002).
In general students expect the instructor to lead the course and to establish the requirements for student success. As a result, it is not surprising that in his 2001 self-study, Mock found that “despite some surveys that indicated students might resent mandatory assignments using [communication] tools, most of [his] students gave positive feedback” (Mock, 2001). To be most effective, the instructor must establish the guidelines associated with the use of the tools. These guidelines may include general rules of etiquette, models for student postings, or specific topic and schedule information (Saldivar, 2005). By engaging students in the subject through the use of communication tools, course dropout rates are shown to decrease (Osberg, 2002).
In describing limitations of online learning environments, Hirschheim claimed that “students miss the lectures, discussion, questions, assignments, group work, and the professor’s views and perspectives—all part of traditional classes” and that “spontaneity is also an element of a lecture situation that is lost in the online format” (Hirschheim, 2005). Effective use of communication tools in the online learning environment can prevent such losses and in some cases may not only serve to add these components back into the online learning environment, but to do so in a greater capacity by requiring ”every student to actively participate in the discussion” (Hardin, 2004). It remains the responsibility of the instructor to maintain control of the conversation online, just as they would in a traditional classroom, and instructors must “direct students to refrain from chatting about irrelevant or non-topic-related issues” (Saldivar, 2005). Instructors can benefit from the asynchronous nature of online discussions as they are provided opportunity to look up facts and information not immediately recalled during a discussion, whereas, in a traditional format, the instructor must have full command of the facts associated with the discussion due to time constraints which prevent the luxury of looking up information (Gill, 2005).
Online communication tools provide opportunities for students to engage in the learning process, thus promoting higher levels of success. They also allow the instructor ways to interact more personally with every student in the class and to gain better control of the discussions occurring in their online classrooms. Active participation, effective management, and increased presence all promote an active learning environment which can improve retention, reduce attrition rates, and provide greater opportunity for student success in online learning. Implementing such communication practices into development of your online classroom benefits everyone involved.
Future Opportunities for Research
The growing availability of broadband Internet services and the higher level of interaction provided by social networking websites, video conferencing technologies and other online communication tools provide many opportunities for research regarding the impact that these technological advancements and trends have on the online classroom. Exploration of the effectiveness of adopting these additional communication tools in the learning environment is worthy of study.
Abromitis, J. (2002). Trends in Instructional Technology and Distance Education.
Angelino, L. M., Williams, F. K., & Natvig, D. (2007). Strategies to Engage Online Students and Reduce Attrition Rates. The Journal of Educators Online , 1-14.
Bailey, M. L., & Luetkehans, L. (1998). Ten Great Tips for Facilitating Virtual Learning Teams. Distance Learning '98. Proceedings of the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning, (pp. 19-25). Madison, WI.
Crawford, D. L. (2006). Characteristics Leading to Student Success: A Study of Online Learning Environments. Texas A&M University - Commerce, United States -- Texas: Ed.D. dissertation.
Dennen, V. P., & Paulus, T. M. (2005). Researching "Collaborative Knowledge Building" in Formal Distance Learning Environments . Proceedings of th 2005 conference on Computer support for collaborative learning: learning 2005: the next 10 years! (pp. 96-104). Taipei, Taiwan: International Society of the Learning Sciences.
Gill, T. G. (2005, March). In-depth tutorials: Distance Learning Strategies that Make Sense, Part 1. eLearn , p. 1.
Green, C. J., van Gyn, G. H., Moehr, J. R., Lau, F. Y., & Coward, P. M. (2004). Introducing a Technology-Enabled Problem-Based Learning Approach into a Health Informatics Curriculum. International Journal of Medical Informatics , 173-179.
Hardin, K. (2004). Teach them to Fly: Strategies for Encouraging Active Online Learning. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education-TOJDE , 10-14.
Hentea, M., Shea, M. J., & Pennington, L. (2003). A Perspective on Fulfilling the Expectations of Distance Education. Proceedings of the 4th conference on Information technology curriculum (pp. 160-167). Lafayette, Indiana, USA: ACM.
Hirschheim, R. (2005). The Internet-Based Education Bandwagon: Look Before You Leap. Communications of the ACM , 97-101.
Hirt, S. G., & Limayem, M. (2000). Integrating Three Theoretical Perspectives to Explain Internet-Based Technology Usage by University Students: A Qualitative Study. Proceedings of the twenty first international conference on Information systems (pp. 473-478). Brisbane, Queensland, Australia: Association for Information Systems.
Holmberg, B. (1989). Key Issues in Distance Education: An Academic Viewpoint. European Journal of Education , 11-23.
Kamberg, M.-L. (2007, Mar/Apr). The Evolution of Continuing Education. Women in Business , pp. 22-26.
Mock, K. (2001). The use of internet tools to supplement communication in the classroom. Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges , 14-21.
Natale II, R. D. (2002, January 21). Ensuring Quality from a Distance. Community College Week , pp. 4-5.
Osberg, C. (2002, October). How to Keep E-Learners Online. T + D , pp. 45-46.
Picciano, A. G. (2006). Online Learning: Implications for Higher Education Pedagogy and Policy. Journal of Thought , 75-94.
Saldivar, J. A. (2005). Chat Transcripts: Once the Chat is Over, is it Really Over? Distance Learning , pp. 13-16.
Sheard, J. (2004). Electronic Learning Communities: Strategies for Establishment and Management. Proceedings of the 9th annual SIGCSE conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education (pp. 37-41). Leeds, United Kingdom: ACM.
Wong, G., Greenhalgh, T., Russell, J., Boynton, P., & Toon, P. (2003). Putting your course on the Web: lessons from a case study and systematic literature review. Medical Education , 1020-1023.
About the Author