Friday, March 20, 2009

Asynchronous Conversations

The paper I'm doing at the moment is called 'E-Learning Pedagogy'. I'm doing this as a distance student and the participants are spread across the country, one even as far away as Kuwait.

There was a time when I considered it a disadvantage to be studying online and not face-to-face in a classroom, which was a luxury afforded by those not needing to earn money at the same time! Well, I think those days are over, and I'm a true believer in the asynchronous conversation.

In many ways, the conversation in a classroom, although dynamic and often very interesting, happens too quickly for real thought/learning to be taking place. Often it's after the class when you replay the conversation that you have your best thoughts and realise what you could have said in reply to a particular point.  Unless you are an extroverted person, there's a good chance that you end up being (largely) an observer of a conversation between those with the classroom confidence to state their opinion, challenge others' ideas and engage in debate.

Online learning avoids these pitfalls. In a discussion forum you can read someone's ideas and chew on them for as long as you like before responding. You can go and check out a few facts or do some reading before responding, and you can even get eight hours sleep before answering the question (which might be considered somewhat rude in a face-to-face!).

What I'm interested in at the moment is creating space for asynchronous discussion in a face-to-face class. I've set my class a homework task this week, which is to respond in the comments section of our class blog to a thought-provoking question I have posted there.  As the comments come in for moderation I usually give a brief reply. Over the course of the week there's been this other extended conversation happening, over and above the cut and thrust (and noise) of daily classroom life. I've really enjoyed it and have seen a different side of my students, especially those who do not often put their hands up or participate in discussions. The Internet is the new Equaliser!

So I'm thinking of ways to build more of this into the classroom.  Twitter could be worth experimenting with in this respect. Hmmm. Still thinking about that one.

One side effect of online learning (and blogging) is that everything I read now (even a magazine) I expect there to be somewhere to post a comment! Even watching TV or listening to a professional development seminar.  I think the whole process enables a higher level of metacognition and reflection, and that could be the real benefit of integrating this into my class.

Voxopop (formally Chinswing) is a Web 2.0 tool that enables asynchronous conversations. I haven't used this yet, but at a glance I can see  a lot of potential for its use. Here is a post about using this in language learning, where students often need more time to formulate responses.
Voxopop enables you to start your own 'talkgroup', which could be open or closed, and you actually record your own voice, rather than typing. This would be great for junior students who are still getting used to a keyboard.  

Voicethread is another application which is essentially asynchronous, enabling comment around an image, video or topic.

Hmmm.... Lots of possibilities! I think I'll think about this a bit more and come back to it at a later post. Please share your experiences below if you've used these tools or have other thoughts on the matter. Let's have our own asynchronous conversation!

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