|Title||Asynchronous Communication in Projects|
Mr Adam Stepinski/Teacher of English and History at Copernicus Upper-Secondary School
Although research so far has clearly described the independent advantages and disadvantages of using synchronous and asynchronous tools, there are almost no studies investigating the pedagogical outcomes when they are converged. When such research does exist, it tends to focus on solving problems with the media itself, rather than its pedagogical role. It is not enough to assume that the combination of synchronous and asynchronous tools carries the benefits of each type of media in isolation. In particular, it is important to understand how individuals’ synchronous communication affects their asynchronous threaded discussions if we are to identify the pedagogical benefits and pitfalls of using a synchronous tool within an asynchronous online learning and cooperation environment.
If we base our considerations on social constructivism, then from such a standpoint, we will come to the conclusion that learning is shaped by context, conversation and collaboration. Summarising the importance of social constructivism for online learning practises and communication many academics suggest that learning is essentially a social activity and that meaning is constructed through communication, collaborative activity and interactions with others. It highlights the role of social interactions in meaning-making and knowledge construction. That is why discussions are crucial as they connect individuals in an online learning environment and motivate them to take an active role in knowledge construction and meaning-making process. Other researchers claim that online projects should support threaded discussions (both synchronous and asynchronous), through which participants interact and observe the results of their interactions while responding to and engaging with others.
Asynchronous communication seems to be dominant as far as school projects are concerned. This type of communication occurs in delayed time. There are several time-based advantages of threaded discussions, including increased time-on-task, extra time for reflection (especially when we need to reflect on complex issues) and sufficient opportunities for everyone to contribute to the discussion. Some researchers argue that asynchronous communication affords in-depth and thoughtful discussions. However, when characterising levels of cognitive presence, there is some evidence that the vast majority of students’ postings fall in the lowest levels of cognition. On the other hand, while using asynchronous tools students can assume a more central teaching presence, especially if they are assigned to moderate discussions. Student moderation sets up a context within which students and teachers can complement one another’s strengths.
Once I read about an interesting experiment carried out in Great Britain. Two students each week signed up for the role of topic leader (submitting the initial contribution) and topic reviewer (submitting a final, synthesis posting); it was found that such student involvement promoted increased cohesion and structure in the discussions. Additionally, interaction and participation was increased by having students publicly commit to their moderator roles. Finally, asynchronous tools can be used to communicate when synchronous meetings cannot be scheduled because of work, family or other commitments.
Blogs, wikis and emails are the three most frequently used kinds of asynchronous communication in project work. If you would like to learn more about different aspects of collaborating asynchronously with these tools, have a look at the materials below:
– Edublogs – an article on history, uses of edublogs, teacher blogs, student blogging and pedagogical use of edublogs
To learn how to create and work on a blog and wiki, follow the links below:
– PB Works (a wiki) – a video tutorial