Computer Mediated Instruction
Tim Daniels and Melinda Pethel
The University of Georgia
Click Here to play a narrated PowerPoint presentation that summarizes the content in this page. If you would like to see a transcript of the audio, click here. This summary was created by Aaron Lines, Leigh Martin, Kim Ramsey, and Roxy Warren (2005).
Click Here to Play Lecture - A narrated PowerPoint presentation that describes how CML can be applied in the K-12 classroom. This summary was created by Jessica Taylor and Lisa Coburn (2010).
Today, in this “Digital Age,” time seems to go by faster and distances appear to have become shorter. Communication is almost instantaneous from virtually anywhere, anytime. Furtive notes in class are giving way to cryptic messages delivered instantly to screens in the palms of our hands. Students’ hovering over books in the library has given way to reading e-texts on a tablet PC or listening to them on an MP3 player.
The effect of this evolving technology on our society and our educational processes has yet to be determined, but there are several questions we need to ask:
- How are our relationships with instructors and classmates influenced by technology?
- In what way does technology affect the educational experience and to learning outcomes?
- How do we effectively integrate technology into our learning systems?
Technology-enhanced higher education in the United States is not a new phenomenon. In the late 1950's, college telecourses initially began broadcasting lectures via network television. Later they migrated to cable channels. PBS's Adult Learning Service telecourses based on traditional college courses boasted enrollment of over 432,000 in 2000. Today we have a myriad of technologies at our disposal for integration into our educational systems.
Computer Mediated Communication
Wikipedia.org defines Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) as:
- Any form of communication between two or more individual people who interact and/or influence each other via separate computers. Notice that this does not include the methods by which two computers communicate, but rather how people communicate using computers.
- CMC most commonly refers to the collection of email, video, audio or text conferencing, bulletin boards, list-servers, instant messaging, and multi-player video games.
- The consequences of switching communication to a more computer mediated form include altered impression formation, deception and lying behavior, group dynamics, disinhibition, and especially relationship formation.
Computer mediated communication has created a major shift in how educators and students think about teaching and learning. By allowing students to learn in more convenient locations and often at more convenient times, distance education opens educational opportunities to previously unreached populations. It also enables more people to extend the period of their education into a lifelong learning process (Kassop, 2003).
In addition, it changes power and authority relationships between teachers and learners. The traditional hierarchy is flattened and power and control are redistributed often encouraging more equal and open communication than occurs in conventional educational settings (Schrum & Hong, 2002). Because CMC enables institutions to reach students all over the world, learners may gain increased opportunities to experience other cultures and their educational experiences may be enriched.
Implementation of computer mediated communication in an educational setting can take on several forms, each with its strengths and weaknesses. We can get a clearer picture of these technologies if we think in terms of a time-place model.
Asynchronous communication allows participants to post whenever they want to and saves the postings so that the individual participants can view them later, at his or her own convenience. Asynchronous communication tools have been in use for two decades and usually include email, newsgroups, BBS (electronic bulletin board systems), surveys and assessments. More modern asynchronous technologies include blogs (or web logs – a web application containing time-stamped posts on a common webpage) and wikis (an interactive website with authoring capabilities for users).
The primary benefit of asynchronous communication is its flexibility and ability to fit into everyone's schedule. Individuals can access the system at their own convenience, and many kinds of information including documents and file attachments can be shared, not just text discussions.
It is an ideal delivery mode for individuals in different geographical locations and time zones, or even those whose work schedules or other obligations have kept them from furthering their education. It is also more of a leveler than either face-to-face or synchronous communication because all participants have an equal opportunity to contribute, and those who have trouble speaking up in traditional face-to-face classes because of language differences or other reasons can take time drafting a thoughtful written reply (Mitchell, 2002).
This mode of communication allows time to think about a given subject and formulate thoughts. Another advantage of the asynchronous environment is that the learning does not have to be geared to the average student. Those who want to research a subject in more depth can do so, and those who are slower learners can review material as many times as needed. Technically, asynchronous environments often do not require a high bandwidth connection and can often be accessed with lower hardware requirements.
One of the drawbacks of an asynchronous environment is that group activities and decisions take longer and timely feedback on ideas is difficult. It also allows for a greater degree of procrastination. According to Hiltz and Wellman (1997), 52% of the asynchronous classroom students reported that they were more likely to stop "attending class" when they were busy. The lack of scheduled classes made it easier for the students to postpone attendance (logging in) and therefore much easier to fall behind in their studies. Without strict deadlines in the asynchronous environment, and with no teacher watching over them, many students fail to contribute to the deliverables. Hiltz (1997) concluded that careful coaching in self-directed learning and online collaboration is essential for the success of these learners.
In addition, as with most computer mediated communication, the student who is new to this form of communication may find that much more information is carried in body language or tone of voice than he or she had realized. Extra care has to be taken to convey priorities and relative importance of statements explicitly through the text or other shorthand such as emoticons. Group dynamics may be radically transformed as a result.
Synchronous interaction requires the learner and instructor being online at the same time and communicating in real-time. Efficient synchronous communication tools are a more recent development and include: shared whiteboards and live presentation tools, learner control tools including hand raising, approval feedback and audio/video control, live assessment testing and voting, breakout rooms for smaller groups, real-time chat, instant messaging technology, voice streaming, video conferencing and webcasting. Systems such as HorizonLive/Wimba and Centra include many of these tools (see illustration below).
Synchronous classroom interaction allows students to obtain real-time, interactive feedback on their ideas and clarification of facts as well as opportunities for collaboration with their classmates using small group discussion rooms. It allows guest speakers to address the class remotely from their own computers. Classes taught using synchronous technologies also have a higher motivation and completion rate than asynchronous ones (Hiltz, 2002).
The disadvantages of synchronous learning are logistics and the limitation of time. All parties must be online at the same time, which may be difficult for those in widely-dispersed time zones. Also, synchronous communication works well for short sessions, but can be problematic for longer periods, with individual attention and learning decreasing rapidly. In a classroom setting, the degree of interactivity within an actual live session is controlled by the instructor and as the number of students increases, the interaction process becomes harder to manage; so that fewer students can be effectively managed in a synchronous course than in an asynchronous course (Easton, 2003).
In comparison to asynchronous communication, synchronous communication frequently requires a higher level of technology such as a faster computer or more bandwidth. For the newcomer, the “learning curve” may be much steeper and the student may require more time to become comfortable.
CMC and Education
What does this mean for education? What impact does CMC have? How is it being used in today's classrooms? How will future developments in CMC be integrated?
These questions suggest several areas of discussion:
- What are the social implications of CMC? Does communication via a network impact how people interact with each other?
- How does the combination of technology and communications impact education?
- Some technologies allow for synchronous and asynchronous communications, others simulate classroom learning environments, while still others can be targeted to specific educational theories and learning styles. Which technologies best support my own teaching/learning needs?
Implementing Computer Mediated Communications in the Classroom
Computer Mediated Communications offers a rich set of tools that can be used to support a variety of learning experiences. The instructor is not limited to one set of services or tools but can use several to create a learning environment which will best suit his or her students’ learning needs.
As illustrated in the tables below each tool offers its own strengths and weaknesses.
Blog or Weblog
A blog is an asynchronous communication tool that acts as an online space for journaling and gathering links related to topics of interest. In general blogs are maintained by one person (although some blogs may be set up to allow multiple authors) and entries are loaded in a chronological manner with the newest post located at the top. Blogs allow readers to comment on posts and those comments are attached to the related post. Most blogs have searchable archives. Updated blogs can be "pushed" to users via RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) into a blog reader (a tool that allows users to track all of the blogs they are interested in one location). One of the great strengths of web logs is the ease of linking. If you comment on an article on the web, it is easy to link directly to it. This makes it much easier for the reader to follow up references and research matters in greater depth. It also allows you to comment on items you disagree with and link to the original so that the reader may make up his or her mind. This allows the reader to interact with the bibliography, rather than the bibliography merely being something at the end of the article.
- Students have a chance to reflect as individuals.
- Students can collect their research links in one spot.
- Students can receive contextual feedback from their peers and instructor in one space (via the comment function.)
- RSS allow new posts to be 'pushed' to requesting parties.
What Does Not Work
- Many students do not feel comfortable journaling in an open forum.
- Maintaining a blog takes time and commitment.
- Students can be asked to blog (or reflect) about their learning experiences.
- Students can be asked to blog about their portion of a group project (and post links to collected research materials.).
- Students can be asked to blog writing samples (for creative writing classes.)
- Students can be asked to comment on blog entries made by other classmates.
- Via RSS the instructor can have new posts and comments pushed to a central reader.
Bulletin Board Systems (BBS)
Bulletin Boards are an asynchronous communication tool that allows users to post messages, files, and information in a central area. These posts can then be replied to (or downloaded in the case of a file) by members of the bulletin board system. Posts can be tracked by their subject heading (or thread) allowing users to read all of the entries related to a topic in a linear fashion.
- Great place to park information
- Following a thread can help a user track a conversation that has taken place over time
What Does Not Work
- Users are not aware a new post has been made unless they check the site on a regular basis
- To track a thread the subject line of the original post must remain intact
- Students can be asked to post messages for other class or group members to respond to.
- Students can be asked to post files for other class or group members to view and respond to.
- Students can share information that may be of help to the whole class or group.
- Students can be asked to discuss a topic and the thread can be followed by the instructor or other class members.
Chat (Online Chat or Instant Relay Chat)
Chat is a synchronous communication tool allowing multiple users to have a (typed text) conversation in a central environment. Most chat session are viewed as an informal conversation with multiple participants.
- Good environment for informal real time information sharing with a group of users
- Sessions can be saved and reviewed
- The whole class or team can participate in the conversation during real time
What Does Not Work
- Many users find chat sessions hard to follow as posts may seem to be illogical or disjointed
- Side conservations distract other students
- Individual threads are not traceable
- Saved or logged sessions are not easy to read
- It is difficult to make lengthy or thoughtful posts
- Chat can be used as a tool for side comments and questions during a real time lecture.
- Chat can be used to have discussions with teams or groups.
- Teams or groups can share ideas and brainstorm
Email is an asynchronous communication tool that allows users to send messages, letters, and files to each other. Email is more formal than a BBS, chat or IM.
- All students have email accounts
- Most students know how email works
What Does Not Work
- Not all students check their email on a regular basis
- Many students (and instructors) receive so much email that messages can get lost or overlooked
- Students can be asked to email the instructor assignments or responses to questions.
- Instructors can use email to communicate with the class when the material is not extremely time sensitive.
- Students can use email to schedule meetings or work with others.
Instant Messenger (or IM)
IM is a form of chat that is a synchronous communication tool mainly used for discussions between individuals. Many IM clients are expanding beyond simple text exchanges to include video and voice exchanges.
- Real time exchanges
- Users can share files and links
- Some IM programs allow program sharing
What Does Not Work
- Not all IM systems work with each other (there are aggregators but you still need an account with individual types of IM)
- Individual conferences
- Virtual office hours
- Oral discussions (using voice chat)
An asynchronous email based communication tool that allows a community to form around a topic or shared interest. Messages that are sent can be requests for help, answers to questions, or general information. Messages submitted to the listserv are distributed to the entire membership of the list.
- All students have email accounts where posts to the list can be received
- All messages are handled via a single server
- Most listservs maintain an archive that can be searched
What Does Not Work
- Not all students check their email on a regular basis
- Many students (and instructors) receive so much email that messages can get lost or overlooked
- If not monitored listservs can become places where basic questions are not welcomed
- Care must be taken that the listserv’s purpose is carefully defined or the “noise to signal ratio” may become too high
- An instructor can set up a listserv where students can share information as a group and information can be pushed to students.
Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), Course Management System (CMS), or Learning Support System (LSS)
Click Here to play a video that portrays how VLEs can be used in education. VLEs are being used more and more by universities, and even businesses, to provide simulated synchronous and asynchronous instruction for their students and staff. Click on the QuickTime movie above to view three friends discussing what a VLE is, and then visit three learning environments: 1) a job-interview workshop, 2) an ESOL class, and 3) a performance of Hamlet at the Globe Theater. By Peggy Britt, Lisa Freeman, and Roman Gaddis (2007).
Pierre Dillenbourg (2000) explains that Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) have the following characteristics:
The information space has been designed, educational interactions occur in the environment, turning spaces into places, the information/social space is explicitly represented, the representation varies from text to 3D immersive worlds, students are not only active, but also actors, students co-construct the virtual space, virtual learning environments are not restricted to distance education, they also enrich classroom activities, virtual learning environments integrate heterogeneous technologies and multiple pedagogical approaches, most virtual environments overlap with physical environments (page 2).
- VLEs are great for creating a sense of place
- Many of the needed tools are housed in a central environment
- VLEs provide tools that are designed to work together
What Does Not Work
- Some of the technologies are not fully developed
- It may take some time for users to learn the environment and the tools – learning curve
- If the network is down all of the tool are inaccessible
- VLEs can be used to enhance or replace a regular classroom.
- By taking advantage of a VLE, the instructor can create a sense of place for students giving them computer based tools that simulate real world experiences.
Wikis are asynchronous web based forums that allow user groups to post and collectively edit documents. They often take the form of a collaborative online encyclopedia.
- Versioning (so changes can be tracked and removed if need be)
- Allows a group to work on a document stored in a central place
- Most wikis are searchable
What Does Not Work
- Since anyone in the group can edit the document some changes can be made that do not reflect the views of the whole group (wikis can, and should, have central editors who can resolve disputes between contributors)
- The process of documents created by a group can be tracked in a wiki.
- Groups can be asked to post links to research in the wiki.
The College of Education at Southern University has decided to offer several of its master's degrees completely online. Over the past two years, enrollment in face-to-face programs has steadily declined while enrollment has increased in university online degree programs. The faculty is concerned that if this trend continues they will not be able to compete in the global education market. In order to best serve students, the college has selected a versatile electronic course management system (CMS) and a virtual classroom space where real time classes can be held. Each instructor will receive training in developing a class for these electronic environments.
Dr. Jones has begun to explore the CMS for his Educational Psychology class. The CMS includes an internal mail system, a chat client, a discussion board, a place where students can take quizzes and areas where students can retrieve and post assignments. The virtual classroom space allows for two-way synchronous communications via a voice-over IP connection (VOIP) and an interactive white board space where students and the instructor can write, draw, and post slides. The virtual classroom also includes a chat client that allows students to transmit and receive real time messages via the network.
Dr. Jones has also decided to use other supporting technologies such as blogs and wikis that exist outside the CMS (but can be linked inside the CMS) and the virtual classroom to provide what he hopes is a successful learning experience for the students in his class.
Dr. Jones' class will meet once a week in the virtual classroom where he will present his material to the class, give the students a chance to communicate vocally, create team rooms where students can have peer team discussions, and where each team will give a presentation at the end of the semester.
Dr. Jones will use the CMS to post assignments and grades, create asynchronous discussion spaces via the discussion boards, and give the students a place to turn in their assignments and conduct general class business. There will also be links to outside resources including subject- and topic-focused library guides, and a link to virtual real-time reference with a librarian.
The class will be divided into teams and each team will pick a subtopic for its end-of-the-semester presentation. Each student will be asked to set up a blog where they will journal about their learning experience, discuss the subtopic they have picked, and post critical reviews of other blogs related to the class focus and their subtopic. The group will be asked to maintain a wiki for its collaborative work.
At the end of the semester, each student will deposit their final work into the college's repository and their materials will be available to anyone on the internet. The repository will also be used to allow the student to create an e-portfolio. Each e-portfolio will have a persistent URL that will allow students to direct potential employers to examples of their work.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication Technologies in the Learning Environment
For computer mediated communication tools to support and enhance the learning experience, robust ubiquitous computer networks must be developed to make scenarios like the Dr. Jones model not only possible but actual. In order for communication tools such as blogs, wikis, instant messaging, chat and virtual classrooms to be used effectively, experienced instructional designers need to work with instructors to ensure that scaleable learning environments are developed. The technology that Dr. Jones uses to teach his or her classes needs to be complex enough to support their needs, but not so complicated that the students spend all their time learning how to use the technology and not learning the subject.
Dr. Jones is providing students with the tools they need to have a complete group learning experience even though they are physically removed from each other. Using both the CMS and the Virtual Classroom software as a superstructure around which to develop his assignments and class time, Dr. Jones is creating gathering places for online learning communities to form and develop. By requiring students to meet in these places, he is developing a group of users who are comfortable with these technologies. As they progress through the program, these users should become comfortable and adept in this environment.
By employing technologies such as chat and the bulletin board system (via the CMS), Dr. Jones is encouraging the students to use both synchronous and asynchronous technologies to interact with one another. Unfortunately, some users find group chat sessions hard to follow and others use the technology to hold side conservations which may or may not be relevant to the discussion at hand. Students frequently find ways to talk to each other about subjects other than what the teacher is saying. In CMC, though, the teacher doesn't have to shout over the students' conversations.
In developing assignments that encourage students to blog, he is providing students an opportunity to journal about their learning experiences and to read and remark on the experiences of others. A collaborative wiki space gives the students a chance to work together in an asynchronous environment that provides a strong framework designed to support project development by groups of dispersed users.
Overall, Dr. Jones has created a space that takes advantage of current CMC technology to simulate a traditional, physical, face-to-face learning environment. Learning in this environment is obviously a two-way, online process. Dr. Jones is learning from his students' experiences and his responses to questions become more reflective and deliberate. In this setting, instructors must engage in a deeper level of mental processing as they formulate their questions and respond to those of students (Coppola, Hiltz & Rotter, 2002).
Computer Mediated Social Communication
What are the social implications of CMC? Does communication via a network impact how people interact with each other? Does the quality of that interaction change whether we are at home, at work or at school? The answer is a resounding maybe.
Computer mediated communication for social purposes has developed along with the growth of technologies. One major question is whether true social communication is possible over networks (e.g., in email or bulletin boards). Does communicating through text make CMC low in "social presence" without necessary social contextual cues like eye contact? Social presence theory contends that CMC is incomplete compared to face-to-face communication in social context cues like facial expressions, posture, dress, social status indicators, and vocal cues (Sproull & Kiesler, 1991). However, some researchers (Hiltz, 1978) found that CMC was primarily honest, creative, and positive.
If one defines a face-to-face class as the norm, then one must view a virtual class as “incomplete.” It is certainly different, lacking some of the nuances possible in face-to-face meetings, yet also permitting a degree of thoughtfulness in one’s comments not possible in face-to-face classes. Some of those visual cues encourage communication, others inhibit it.
Despite the claim that true emotional expression is not possible in CMC, computer networks used for social purposes have become more active than non-social networks (Rice & Love, 1987). In contrast to what would be expected from social presence theories (e.g., communication on the computer is impersonal and cold), friendly and relaxed communication styles have been associated with increased use of CMC (Rice, Chang, & Torobin, 1992). Even when the intent was work-related, CMC appears to smooth the progress of social interaction (Murray & Bevan, 1982).
Another issue in computer mediated social communication involves computer communication within the home. Some researchers have cited the negative effects of the internet on traditional social interactions (e.g., Kraut et al., 1998; Nie & Erbring, 2000). Kraut et al. (1998) found that over a one or two-year period, first-time internet users noticeably decreased their traditional social networks and social support. Similar results were obtained by Nie and Erbring (2000).
Other researchers have claimed that the internet enhances traditional relationships and family ties (e.g., Katz & Aspden, 1997; Robinson et al., 2000). Katz and Aspden (1997) found that when the internet was placed in the home it did not result in people "dropping out of real life" and in fact, it augmented involvement in traditional family based activities. Robinson's research suggests that frequent internet users might actually have more active social lives than non-users. A majority of Americans surveyed perceived that communication over the internet has improved their connections to family and friends (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2000).
Alavi and Leidner (2001) conclude that the internet will probably never replace face-to-face meetings for cultivation of primary group relationships, but it is possible that communities can be created that provide emotional support and companionship to support our traditional exchanges. These online relationships are real and not second rate. They will continue to be used in the same way letters and phone calls were in previous times to sustain these traditional interactions.
Summary - Computer Mediated Education
So, how does this combination of technology and communications effect education?
Research seems to support computer mediated communications as a valid educational tool. Hiltz (1997) summarizes that:
- Mastery of course material in the virtual classroom is equal to or superior to the traditional classroom.
- Virtual classroom students report higher subjective satisfaction than with the traditional classroom on a number of dimensions, including access to professors and overall quality of educational experience.
- Students perceive their learning experience to be group learning rather than individual learning and that the more they judge the experience to be collaborative, the more likely they are to judge the outcomes as superior to the traditional classroom (page 47).
Instructional technologists, educational psychologists, and educators have spent much time developing strategies to use computer mediated communication as a way to enrich and empower student learning. By continuing to explore uses for older technologies and by developing plans to employ new technologies, education professionals are creating an environment where CMC tools are now simply a part of the learning space. They are tools to be used at the point of need and technologies to support multiple learning theories and styles.
Glossary of Common CMC Terms
BBS – A Bulletin Board System is a computer system that allows users to perform activities such as downloading software and data, uploading data, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users. BBSs were the precursors to the modern World Wide Web.
Blog – Is a weblog or a web application which contains periodic time-stamped posts on a common webpage. These posts are usually shown in reverse chronological order and are typically accessible on the Internet. Blogs can be many different types including: personal, topical, news related, political, collaborative, corporate or legal (blawgs) and can contain text, pictures, video and sound.
Email – Electronic Mail is a method of composing, sending, and receiving messages over electronic communication systems.
IM – Instant Messaging is a conversation that happens in real-time. Most services offer a "presence awareness," that can indicate whether people on a list of contacts are currently online and available to chat. Both parties in the conversation see each line of text right after it is typed (line-by-line), thus making it more like a telephone conversation than exchanging letters (like email).
IRC – Internet Relay Chat is a form of instant communication over the Internet. It is mainly designed for group communication in discussion forums called channels, but also allows one-to-one communication.
Listserv – is a mailing list or a collection of names and addresses used by an individual or an organization to send material via electronic mail to multiple recipients.
LMS – or Learning Management Systems (or CMSs – Course Management Systems) are software systems designed to facilitate management of online educational courses. LMSs usually offer access control, provision of e-learning content, communication tools, and administration of user groups.
SMS – Short Message Service is the text-only messaging system for mobile networks. More recent in this mobile evolution is MMS or multimedia-message service that allows subscribers to compose and send messages with multimedia (digital photos, audio, video) parts.
Wiki – is a web application that allows users to add content, as on an internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content. "Wiki" also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website. The name was based on the Hawaiian term wiki wiki, meaning "quick" or "super-fast."
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APA Citation: Daniels, T. & Pethel, M.. (2005). Computer Mediated Communications.. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/