Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experiences of Advanced High School Students in Synchronous Online Recitations

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Experiences of Advanced High School Students in Synchronous Online Recitations

Article excerpt

Web conferencing, Synchronous learning, High school


Distance learning can take many formats, ranging from live but non-interactive radio broadcasts, to highly facilitated and interactive web-based courses, to completely asynchronous large scale Massive Open Online Courses. Each affords different benefits and is appropriate for different audiences, and the challenge for course designers and instructors is to best utilize the different platforms to maximize participant learning.

This study is part of the evaluation of the Georgia Tech Distance Calculus Program (DCP), which is an Advanced Calculus and Linear Algebra course sequence offered to a live audience of traditional on-campus college students and simultaneously to approximately 450 high school students via synchronous video teleconferencing (VTC). In an effort to increase a sense of community among those high school students that have exceptionally strong math skills but, who attend schools without a solid peer group of like-minded students, Georgia Tech initiated an experimental DCP recitation section that used computer-mediated communication (CMC) in a synchronous online learning environment, mediated using web conferencing (WC) software. The goal was to promote student-centered learning and encourage active student involvement and cohesion.

It is widely accepted in the distance education literature that WC software can be used to immediately provide feedback in real time and build a sense of social cohesion among students (Hrastinski, 2008; Oztok, Zingaro, Brett, & Hewitt, 2013). Unlike older forms of synchronous communication in distance education, including VTC, WC technologies can support simultaneous communication over several different channels, or media. These media include instant messaging (IM), polls, audio and video, as well as a shared whiteboard that participants may contribute to anonymously and that enables students to import, collaboratively share, and annotate various types of documents. Some WC tools allow breakout rooms where students can engage in synchronous group work. The benefits and challenges of facilitating group work in synchronous online environments has not yet been extensively studied, but in asynchronous environments recent case studies have found that small group work activities can develop teamwork skills, trust, and cognitive processes among learners (Biasutti, 2011; Tseng & Yeh, 2013).

Students and instructors communicating over multiple channels creates unique challenges in facilitating learning in ways that promote student-centered learning and social cohesion without unnecessarily introducing cognitive overload, technical issues, and off-topic conversation (Cornelius, 2014; Cornelius & Gordon, 2013; Kear, Chetwynd, Williams, & Donelan, 2012; Martin, Parker, & Deale, 2012; Olson & McCracken, 2015). The process of managing multiple channels has been described as overwhelming and stressful to facilitators of WC learning environments (Cornelius, 2014; Kear et al., 2012; Peacock et al., 2012).

To address these challenges, it has been recommended that communication be limited to only those media that are needed (Cornelius & Gordon, 2013; Martin et al., 2012). Martin et al. (2012) list teaching strategies for instructors who are new to the WC environment. They suggest that the instructor "do not give eboard access unless they need it" and that the "private chat option can be disabled if you do not see the need for it ... students prefer to use the private chat option to talk to their classmates/teammates" (p. 249).

It is not yet clear which communication channels are best suited for a given learning activity in the WC environment. Some argue that audio and video channels are particularly helpful for fostering social presence (Kear et al., 2012, p. 962; Peacock et al., 2012) and social bonding (Cornelius, 2014, p. 268). On the other hand, one study found that high school students prefer to use IM over other communication channels in the WC environment (Murphy, Rodriguez-Manzanares, & Barbour, 2011), and another argued that the WC facilitator "consider whether video or audio is really necessary", and to "choose how to use the media at your disposal to suit the situation" (Cornelius & Gordon, 2013, p. …

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