Communication Tools to Enhance Distance Learning

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As the Internet has grown in size and adoption across the world, distance learning has mirrored this rapid growth.  Communication is critical in academics, and a more connected world means that many more people have the opportunity to participate in education that previously would have required them to all be in a single location. The maturity of different types of web collaboration tools has led to their adoption into various studying programs, and have served to really enhance how information is communicated and retained.

I’d like to review several different communication mediums and what they mean to the virtual classroom.  These innovative technologies include live lectures, classroom forums, and online assignment submissions.  These are all unique touch points between students and instructors, and their use in distance education has shown true value.

Live Lectures:  Just Like Being There

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The first instance you participate in a real time digital environment is usually an awe-inspiring event.  You can think of it as something like Skype on steroids.  With digital video interactivity, the professor is sharing their information and participants can view it live via special software on their computers.

Good software will allow the students to interact directly with the professor. ‘Raising your hand’ mimics the real life action; when a student clicks the ‘raise hand’ button, they are requesting that the camera/audio be switched to them, usually so they can share a question or comment.  There are also features to submit a question or comment to the teacher, pause and rewind the video. While there are many merits to in-person lectures, many of the features of ‘Live Lectures’ are simply impossible with them.  The end result is constant web connectivity, strong participation from the students, and a re-playable asset that they can refer back to.

Classroom forums:  Constant Dialogue With Others

Forums have been around almost as long as the Internet.  People coming together and sharing comments on different topics in an orderly and time-sorted manner is very helpful in a learning environment.  Online discussions mimic study groups in that participants learn from each other and everyone has a right to share.

When questions are asked in a forum, the discussion and answers provided are visible to all of the other students, and serve as valuable reference points that they can return to again and again. Additionally, moderators generally monitor their participation and chime in with information to enhance the discussion.  The discourse that takes place within a forum adds a human element to  e-learning where people contribute ideas and debate on topics.

Assignment Submissions:  Digital is Better

In distance learning, turning in your assignment before due date is a must.  In the early days, this meant emailing an attachment to the instructor or assistant.  These days’ submissions can take on many more interesting forms.

A presentation can be ‘submitted’ by being posted to a site like Slidedoc or Scribd.  An essay can be published on a blog or website.  A creative visual project can be added to YouTube or Vimeo.  Each of these new media platforms means that the deliverable doesn’t die at submission.  Instead, it can live on and be shared with other classmates, and, in fact, anyone on the net.  This means that the pieces of work that student’s spend so much time to create are added to the Internet collective wisdom.

It Will Continue to Evolve

Online colleges have become a game changer when it comes to education.  Taking location out of the equation opens up various doors to learn and instructors to share knowledge.  As the popularity of social networking, media sharing, and new technologies are adapted and created, you can be sure that educators will be investigating how to integrate these tools into their programs.

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