A synchronous communication experiment within an online distance learning program: a case study.Telemed J E Health. 2005 Oct; 11(5):583-93.TJ
Student-teacher and student-student interactions in purely asynchronous distance learning courses are much lacking compared to similar interactions found in face-to-face teaching, causing learners to experience feelings of isolation, thus reducing motivation and increasing dropout rates. We used PalTalk, an Internet text and audio chat client from AVM Software, Inc. (New York, NY), to offer our students live virtual classroom sessions within a unit of our online distance learning M.Sc. program in Healthcare Informatics. On-demand replays of audio excerpts from the sessions were also provided to accommodate absenteeism and for student review. Five students completed an evaluation questionnaire. Our results highlighted the potential merits of using synchronous conferencing to assist in fostering a sense of belonging to one supportive learning community among distance learners and improve educational outcomes. Students were very positive toward the real-time human interaction and voted for a 95/5 (asynchronous/synchronous percentages) blended delivery approach for a typical unit in our program. They also praised PalTalk's voice quality and ease of use. This paper presents educational and technological perspectives about this experiment in the form of a state-of the- art review, without intending to be statistically rigorous. However, robust research evidence is still required to convince educators fully about the benefits of synchronous communication tools and help them decide on the most suitable solutions for their particular circumstances.