Supporting Informal Interaction in Online Courses
Juan Contreras-Castillo (Univesity of Colima and CICESE, Mexico), Jesús Favela (CICESE, Mexico) and Carmen Perez-Fragoso (Universidad Autonoma de Baja California, Mexico)
Copyright: © 2004
Informal interaction has proven to be useful in supporting collaboration in office and educational environments. Online courses, however, provide limited opportunities for informal interaction, which might put them at a disadvantage when compared with traditional courses. This lack of opportunities could obstruct collaboration among students, a key aspect for successful instruction. To provide students with opportunities for informal interaction, we designed and developed a system named CENTERS. It is an instant messaging and presence awareness system that supports lightweight communications within the group. CENTERS provides awareness of the presence of members of the distributed community and allows them to interact easily and navigate together through the course’s materials, share insights, resolve doubts, and collaborate in course related activities. To evaluate the use of CENTERS in an online learning environment, a study was designed to assess interaction from a socio-academic perspective. Results showed that CENTERS helped reduce the students’ feelings of isolation and facilitated a greater degree of interpersonal interaction within the course participants.