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What is Communication Tools

Encyclopedia of Information Technology Curriculum Integration
Communication tools refer to three forms of electronic communication in distance education courses—e-mail, discussion groups, and chat rooms.
Published in Chapter:
Discussion Groups
Viktor Wang (California State University - Long Beach, USA)
Copyright: © 2008 |Pages: 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-881-9.ch039
Quality in distance education has been researchers’and critics’ major concern. The increase in access to digital and online technologies represents not only convenience, opportunities, and flexibility, but also a new challenge for educational institutions. To ensure quality in distance education, a plethora of buzz words have appeared in the realm of distance education: course design, support services, and interaction, as well as administrative practices that can encourage students to fulfill their educational goals. Among the many factors that contribute to the quality of distance education, researchers have suggested that the importance of communication tools stands out from other aspects of the distance learning experience (Diebal, McInnis, & Edge, 1998; Ferrari, 2002; Gibson, 1998; Rangecroft, Gilroy, Tricker, & Long, 2002; Steffensen, 2003; Zhao, 2003). Nowadays, due to the nature of innovative technology, a distance education course without communication tools such as discussion groups will be considered incomplete. Students will miss the “live” human interaction that can enhance the quality of distance education. Moore (2002, p. 69) argues that quality is accomplished in part by promoting interaction “with instructors, classmates, the interface, and through vicarious interaction.” Further, Moore (1989) identified three kinds of interaction in distance education and provided detailed explanations: learner-content, learner-instructor, and learner-learner. Learner-content interaction indicates that construction of knowledge occurs when the learner interacts with the course content and changes in one’s understanding occur when the new knowledge is integrated with preexisting knowledge. Learner-instructor interaction reinforces the learner-content interaction using engagement and dialogue exchange to promote the teaching/learning process with examples, discussion, and so forth. Learner-learner interaction is vital in distance education if participation in class discussions is to take place (as cited in Wickersham & Dooley, 2006, p. 186). Among communication tools such as e-mail and chat rooms, discussion groups are considered an effective tool that allow students to interact with other students and with the instructor. There is no doubt that discussion groups will enhance quality in distance education. Why are researchers interested in the relationship between discussion groups and quality in distance education? This is because they wish to measure learners’ critical thinking skills. It is commonly argued that relevant/robust discussion among discussion groups can lead to learners’ critical reflection. It is Westerners’ belief that it is in relationship with others that we learn. How has this belief been deeply rooted in people’s minds? Some background information will help explain this.
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