As most people reading this will know, the group work project began nearly two weeks ago now and the learning contracts were due in at the end of last week. Well, ours has only just been finished and hard work it was too! Not hard work in the academic sense, but hard work in terms of simply being able to discuss the contents and decide on an approach!
One of the greatest advantages of online collaboration, you would imagine, is the flexibility it affords. People being able to collaborate from remote locations – any time, any place. But we’ve discovered that it’s just as difficult, perhaps even more so, to arrange meetings between geographically remote participants. And then, tie in the difficulties of unreliable connections, broken microphones and unwieldy software and the difficulties only multiply.
I’m beginning to feel that synchronous collaboration is perhaps the weaker sibling to its asynchronous brother. Asynchronous collaboration allows the true flexibility that I mentioned above, allowing remote participants to communicate truly any time, any place. Obviously we pay for that flexibility in the form of a far higher time lag but I’ve found that due to the evolving nature of our work the lag is getting shorter and shorter. Most academics and students these days will spend a large part of their day on or near a computer, giving us the constant ability to check bulletin boards, email, wikis and blogs. Therefore, asynchronous communication can and sometimes does proceed at a reasonably fast pace. There will always be some that spend less time on and are less enthused towards their computer but that’s certainly becoming rarer.
You would imagine that synchronous communication would always have it’s place though. In a seminar for example, how would you offer a presentation from a speaker and after-discussion in an asynchronous form? Well, JISC have done just that (JISC, 2007a), running not just a seminar but a fully online conference for the last two years on the subject of Innovating Online Learning. Keynote presentations are delivered via the web including written speeches, powerpoint slides and more, and attendees can view the presentations over the period of a couple of days and discuss the ideas via discussion boards. Evaluations run after both events showed that they were very well received with 87% voting the presentations and papers as very good or excellent and 81% voting the discussions as very good or excellent (JISC, 2007b).
Reflecting on how the group work has gone so far, and how we’ve generally communicated on the MSc as a whole, I have to admit I’ve always preferred asynchronous. I’m on the computer for the majority of every working day and I’ve got used to checking the boards a few times a day, so I can generally respond quickly. It also means that on the occasions when I’m out doing workshops and attending meetings I’m never missing vital synchronous meetings. I do admit synchronous communication has some advantages, but the extra stress and hassle of arranging and running meetings does, to me, negate these advantages.
JISC (2007a) Innovating Elearning Online Conference 2007. Available from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning_pedagogy/elp_conference07.aspx [Accessed: 07/03/08]JISC (2007b) Evaluation Report Highlights, Innovating e-Learning 2007 Online Conference. Available from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/programmes/elearningpedagogy/evaljisc2007highlights.doc [Accessed: 07/03/08]