Communication and Distance Learning

Audio conferencing provides a forum supporting communication between the instructor and the students in the class. It allows for verbal dialog to occur in real time. Lacking visual interactions, the instructor and students can only hear interactions. Any supplemental material that is required must be sent electronically or on a printed handout. On the other hand, the students and instructor may be connected verbally by way of audio conferencing. The hardware required for this is typically audio conferencing or by standard telephone, often on speaker phone.

Audio conferencing is just that: audio; there is no face to face interaction between the participants. Although this type of communication is very productive for general discussions, delivering lectures or brainstorming, after a while students tend to have wandering minds and their interest wavers due to lack of visual stimulation. The end result is that the students rarely absorb all of the lesson’s content.

What is the solution? The most common avenue is to produce and distribute printed handouts for the students to follow the lesson and keep their interest level up. This leads us to the happy marriage of these two modes of distance learning instruction in the form of the video conference. Using this technique, both the instructor and the members of the class can freely communicate, bringing them one step closer to the classroom environment.

The equipment used for videoconferencing is not overly complex. The typical set up will be composed of a web cam on both ends, which is connected the user’s computers, along with microphones and speakers. The computers are linked to a network to carry the audio and visual data. The cameras are used for face to face communication and to show any relevant instructional material.

Both the students and their instructor use their microphones to speak verbally. Those at the other end hear the conversation via external speakers or the ones built into their computers. An alternate method is to use a television rather than a computer screen and a LAN (Local Area Network) or telephone to transfer the verbal portion.

The preferred method is full-blown video conferencing -- it is much more dynamic. At times, however, getting all the equipment set up just right and in sync can be problematic. There is one more problem with video conferencing that has nothing to do with the equipment. At times, even the most outgoing individual can get a case of stage fright when the camera begins rolling. This is usually a short term condition until everyone gets comfortable and engaged with the study material.

A combination of audio and video conferencing is the superior method to use when the learning is to be communicated in a symmetrical, real-time fashion. This proves to be the best method for fostering the interactivity necessary for a successful education experience. Another benefit from this technology is that it becomes a simple affair to schedule and include guest speakers from virtually anywhere. If the video portion is not practical, another way to achieve it is utilize ITV or satellite learning.

Using any one of these methods to facilitate distance learning is becoming increasingly prevalent. In many cases the only stumbling block is procuring the proper equipment.

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