Some of the very first Internet technologies to be used for learning or distance education and training were the World Wide Web and e-mail. The World Wide Web allowed multimedia or hypermedia-based instructional content to be loaded on a Web server and browsed using HTML-based browsers, and Internet-based e-mail systems allowed learners and facilitators to correspond asynchronously—anytime, anyplace. However, one of the most significant contributions of Internet-based technologies toward training and collaboration in the last few years has been the introduction of synchronous collaboration technologies. Synchronous collaboration technologies truly create a new medium that brings facilitators and participants together in a dynamic and live environment through which highly interactive communication can occur—closing down the barriers for communication and learning.
Key Terms in this Chapter
MUDs and MOOs: MUDs (Multiple User Dimension, Multiple User Dungeon, or Multiple User Dialogue (MUDs) and MUD Object-Oriented (MOOs) are real-time computer environments, similar to chat, where groups come together at the same time to discuss common issues. MUDS are more sophisticated than textual chat as a MUD facilitates exploration of a virtual environment. Each user takes control of a computerized persona or avatar. The environment allows a user to walk around, chat with other characters, explore the virtual areas, solve puzzles, and sometimes even create their own space, descriptions and items. A MOO is a kind of MUD that utilizes an object-oriented programming language. Many consider MOOs to be the most advanced MUDs because of the kind of software development a user can accomplish. A large body of research has been conducted on synchronous chat, MUDs and MOOs and their uses in distance education and training over the years.
Synchronous Learning: Synchronous Learning is often referred to as ‘live’ learning and is used in conjunction with online learning. It means that the communications occur at the same time between individuals and information is accessed instantly. People can communicate in ‘real time’ using their computers to both talk to each other as well as text chat. Presentations can be made using electronic whiteboards and electronic slides. This type of interaction is referred to as a ‘virtual classroom’. Presentations, conversations and text can be stored (archived) and made available online as a resource.
Interactive Instructional Television: Interactive Instructional Television (ITV) is often placed in a different category from video conferencing. Most interactive instructional television (ITV) systems are locally-controlled cooperatives made up of three to six locations linked together electronically in which, the instructor is in one location (usually a classroom or studio) and learners are at distant sites. Learners from each site and the instructor can see and hear each other during the scheduled time by using the technologies included in the ITV system. This allows learners to interact with their instructor as well as see, hear and communicate freely with their classmates at different sites. These technologies include low power television, microwave signal, fiber optics, coaxial cable and digital compression.
Audio Conferencing: Audio conferencing is a voice only communication medium using the regular telephone. This technology has been used quite extensively in distance education, mostly in conjunction with other technologies. Most recently, it is used with streaming video on the Web and audio conferencing for two way interactions. Audio conferencing can accommodate a large number of locations or individuals for a conference using an audiobridge. The audiobridge connects individuals or sites by allowing them to dial into the conference using a regular telephone. Audio conferences are relatively inexpensive and can be set up on short notice. Although additional equipment can be added to the audio system for graphics and video, the audio channel is the primary mode of communication.
Video Conferencing Systems: Video conferencing systems transmit voice, graphics and images, usually of people. This ability to show images of people allows video conferencing to create more of a “social presence” approximating face-to-face interaction. Video conferencing can utilize fully interactive systems that allow for two-way video and audio or one-way video and two-way audio. During video conferences, audio, video, and data signals are transmitted to distance sites using a single combined channel such as a fiber optic line. Two-way audio is most often transmitted over a regular telephone line using audio conferencing technologies. Currently, both analog and digital transmissions are still in use. These transmission signals can be sent via satellite, microwave, fiber optics, coaxial cable or a combination of these technologies.
Integrated Desktop Video Teleconferencing: Integrated desktop video teleconferencing, combining audio, video and data, is becoming increasingly popular. This technology allows users to see each other, speak to each other, transfer application files and work together on such files at a distance using their computer and an Internet connection. An instructor could conceivably present material to the entire class “live”. In some instances, video is streamed to the desktop and audio is still handled through the telephone, but this requires that learners have two phone lines or another form of Internet connection to participate. Video over the Internet also requires more bandwidth than other technologies and fast connections are usually required. This technology continues to expand and improve and we will soon see extensions that will incorporate laptops and cellular phones.
Textual Chat: Textual Chat is a form of online instant communication where users log on to a common server and post short messages to a common viewing area by typing messages that appear on each users screen. The screens usually refresh automatically allowing for simulated real-time conversation. The effect is that of a conversation, with the group watching the stream of messages pass by and occasionally making a comment or posting some longer text. Some systems use digitized audio or video, but most use text only communication.