As chair of the Synchronous Learning & Collaboration Administrators Group (SLCAG) at UF, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about where synchronous communication is going on the web. In academic settings, web or video conferencing often seeks to re-create the classroom experience in a mediated context. Obviously, this subverts McLuhan’s “medium is the message” aphorism, but it also draws attention to the need for connection in human-to-human-to-computer interaction.
It wasn’t long after the first phone calls were made that people wanted to add video to make us seem closer. Bell labs debuted the first videophones at the 1964 World’s Fair, yet the technology never really took hold until the past 10 years. Now there’s an expectation that what you hear WILL ALSO BE what you see.
So, pragmatically speaking, what does this mean for education? Is it really worth trying to re-create a classroom in a synchronous digital environment?
We’ve all sat passively through online webinars, relishing in the fact the presenter has no idea whether we are playing Angry Birds or wearing pants. I’ve even heard instructional technologists suggest that the only viable web conferencing utilities are those that completely take over a user’s desktop, locking out any other application functionality. When I hear such a suggestion I immediately wonder whether that person could possibly have anything interesting enough to say to warrant such overt narcissism. ~Doubtful.
Many of us have also taken part in computer-mediated realtime communication that was both intimate and productive. In those cases, was it the technology that effected the productivity? Or was it merely the semblance of intimacy and mutual accountability that allowed the time to be “productive?”