Use of Video Conferencing Technology in Synchronous Online Courses
With the growth of online education, many studies have focused on asynchronous delivery to determine if this method of delivery is as effective as traditional face-to-face instruction. Asynchronous delivery is popular because of its flexibility in terms student ability to participate on their own schedules, and lack of geographical or physical boundaries, which opens educational opportunities to anyone with an internet connection. Another facet of distance delivery is the use of synchronous sessions that mimics a traditional classroom, where the instructor and students are together and interacting online in real time, but separated by physical location.
The question is whether synchronous online learning is as effective as traditional face-to-face instruction in teacher-student and student-student interactions, student engagement and knowledge construction. The Community of Inquiry is a design framework, applicable to both traditional and online education, based on three spheres of presence–social, cognitive and teaching–that intersect to create a meaningful learning experience (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).
In a typical face-to-face learning setting, the instructor and students are in the same physical classroom. The instructor may lecture, lead discussion or work through an assignment. Students can ask questions of the instructor, participate in discussion or work together on a task. These actions meet all three presence elements of COI by the instructor setting the climate, selecting content and encouraging discourse. In a synchronous environment, such as a video conference or web meeting, these same interactions occur although there may be thousands of miles between the instructor and students. “Web-conferencing tools can be used for a variety of applications including office hours, group projects, student presentations, interactive instruction, and hosting guest speakers” (Hale, 2019, p. 80). This also fulfils the COI elements of belonging to a community of learners and developing interpersonal relationships; designing, facilitating, and directing cognitive and social processes; and constructing and meaning making through reflection and discourse. One study of graduate students found participants understood the course content better after using of synchronous collaboration and synchronous learning facilitated their learning (Akarasriworn and Heng-Yu Ku, 2013). Another study indicated synchronous video conferencing built rapport between students and instructors and connected instructors and students who were otherwise disconnected by geography (Wagner, Enders, Pirie and Thomas, 2016). In their study, Nicklen, et al. (2016) found comparable outcomes between remote online and traditional case based learning. Dutton, Ryzner and Long (2019) compared online and traditional courses in a law school setting. While they concluded both online and tradition learning were similar in terms of student outcomes, student engagement increased with online delivery. Their study suggests the “components of a quality online course included (1) organization, (2) engaging presentation of course content, and (3) opportunities for assessment and professor feed-back” (p. 525). In a synchronous course, student engagement, assessment and feedback are easily provided through the video conferencing tool’s features.
When an instructor or designer wants to use synchronous learning, they should select the best video conferencing tool for the purpose. Such considerations are:
- the ease of use by the student (and instructor)
- the cost
- the existing skill set of students (and instructor)
- how much preliminary training is needed to use the tool
- if the student has adequate access to use the tool (local infrastructure, bandwidth, etc.)
The instructor or designer should also consider the timing of the session, especially if students are located across several time zones. Because students enroll in online courses for convenience, some may object to a set time for synchronous sessions. The synchronous requirement should be included in any registration information (Hale, 2019) and prominently displayed in the LMS.
LMS platforms have video conferencing or collaboration tools built in, such as Blackboard’s Collaborate and Collaborate Ultra. Other tools may be integrated into the LMS, while most are usually accessible via a link to the tool itself. Most popular video conferencing tools are free or have a low cost and can usually be used across a variety of devices. Synchronous conferencing tools should also have a dial in number for participants who may experience less than reliable or interrupted internet services. Some functionality may be limited on mobile devices. Conferencing tools should have a recording feature so students can review the material.
Zoom is a popular conferencing and collaboration tool. It provides audio and video content to users. Conferences can be recorded and transcribed for later viewing. Zoom has collaboration tools such as screen sharing, white boards and break out rooms. Users can interact by using a hand raise button or live chat, and Zoom features polling to measure user engagement and understand.
Webex is another conferencing tool. It is free, but with time limitations (40 minutes per meeting), which may make it less than ideal for a full class meeting. It may be useful, though for small group collaboration. Like Zoom, Webex features collaboration tools, polling, hand raising and break out rooms.
Google Hangouts is included in the Google Apps suite. Like other conferencing tools, it also has collaboration features and a toll free dial in telephone number. The paid plans have live streaming in addition to the other features. Google Hangouts is usable across any device, but works best with the Chrome browser.
Regardless of the conferencing tool, instructors and designers should have a plan to deal with technical issues that may arise during a session. Having a backup plan to teach the lesson, such as a dial in telephone number, is a possible solution. Training on how to use the tool prior the session should alleviate most technical issues. Technical support before and during a synchronous session is critical (Hale, 2019), or the student’s learning may be negatively affected (Nicklen, et al., 2016).
In several classes I teach, I have used synchronous real time video meetings. The challenges are real, especially in coordinating mutually convenient time for the instructor in Alaska and students in North Carolina, Texas and California. Despite scheduling challenges, I think students greatly benefit from synchronous learning. They see and hear me in weekly video lectures, but in a synchronous session, they get to see and hear each other, further strengthening the social connection between students. They get immediate answers to questions and can better collaborate in small groups. In conclusion, synchronous video conferencing provides similar interactions between students and the instructor as a traditional class. Synchronous delivery enhances student learning and engagement, provided the tool is easy to use, students are trained to use the tool before the session and technical difficulties are quickly addressed.
Akarasriworn, C., & Heng-Yu Ku. (2013). Graduate students’ knowledge construction and attitudes toward online synchronous videoconferencing collaborative learning environments. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 14(1), 35–48. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=94070777&site=ehost-live
Dutton, Y. M., Ryznar, M., & Long, K. (2019). Assessing online learning in law schools: Students say online classes deliver. Denver Law Review, 96(3), 493–534. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=138333484&site=ehost-live
Eady, M., Woodcock, S., & Sisco, A. (2017). Employing the EPEC hierarchy of conditions (Version II) to evaluate the effectiveness of using synchronous technologies with multi-location student cohorts in the tertiary education setting. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(3), 1-24. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1934149757/A906DD9704814806PQ/8?accountid=14470
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.
Hale, Jessica A. (2019). Technology in Practice: Using web-conferencing software for synchronous class meetings. Community College Enterprise 25(1), 80-85. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=7cb0145f-f4e9-4940-ac77-6d3ac4b18727%40sdc-v-sessmgr01&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=137803753&db=eft
Maher, D., & Prescott, A. (2017). Professional development for rural and remote teachers using video conferencing. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 45(5), 520–538. https://doi.org/10.1080/1359866X.2017.1296930
Nicklen, P., Keating, J. L., Paynter, S., Storr, M., & Maloney, S. (2016). Remote-online case-based learning: A comparison of remote-online and face-to-face, case-based learning – a randomized controlled trial. Education for Health: Change in Learning & Practice, 29(3), 195–202. https://doi.org/10.4103/1357-6283.204213
Wagner, E., Enders, J., Pirie, M., & Thomas, D. (2016) Supporting academic integrity in a fully-online degree completion through use of synchronous video conferences. Journal of Information Systems Education, 27(3), 159-174. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1928986196?accountid=14470