A distinction has traditionally been made between asynchronous online communication, which is typical of discussion boards and email, and synchronous online communication, which is typical of chat (in chatrooms) and instant messaging (or IM), and of course nowadays mobile messaging. Synchronous communication aligns with web 2.0 in that it involves user interactions and exchanges, and with mobile learning in that it now mostly occurs through mobile apps.
Of course, while chat, IM and mobile messaging were designed as synchronous tools, it is possible to use them asynchronously, with users returning to a conversation when convenient, a common trend seen in mobile messaging. It should be noted that there is a grey area between messaging services and traditional VoIP services like Skype, with many companies nowadays providing both messaging and audio/video call options.
The educational advantages of synchronous communication include the following:
- backchannel conversation: facilitating background discussion while the main educational delivery or interaction occurs on a different platform or in a face-to-face setting (which has become a common practice at conferences)
- collaborative conversation: allowing students to work collaboratively outside class on group projects
- organisational conversation: allowing students to pose questions to teachers and peers, and teachers to send notifications or reminders to students
- multimodal interaction: exchanging text, images, videos and animations, and engaging in text-based, audio or video discussions (which is useful for language learners, who can draw on visual support for their interactions)
- permanent logs: allowing conversation transcripts to be preserved and revisited (which is again useful for language learners, but also for students conducting research interviews)
In synchronous communication, students may produce a large amount of language at a relatively high speed, which means that the focus tends to be on communication of key ideas rather than accuracy of expression or complexity of arguments. Some teachers find that synchronous communication is better suited to social interaction or organisational and administrative matters, while asynchronous discussion is generally more appropriate for topic- and task-focused interaction. Many blended and online courses make use of both, treating them as complementary modes of interaction; in these cases, asynchronous discussion is usually the main educational channel, while synchronous communication acts as a supporting background channel.
Chat & IM
Traditionally, an IM channel is opened for the duration of a conversation, usually between two users, and then closed, while chat often takes place in a permanent or semi-permanent chatroom accessible to a number of users. As group discussion spaces, chatrooms have generally been more popular than IM in education. It is possible to use chatrooms within LMSs, or to set up new multi-user chats through text-based services like Chatzy or video-oriented services like ICQ and TinyChat and, of course, through the major services Skype and Google Hangouts, as well as the recently popular Discord and the work-oriented Slack.
Chatrooms with additional functionality include Groupboard, where there is a collaborative whiteboard space alongside the chatroom, with similar functionality available on eduPad and PrimaryPad. Sophisticated collaborative spaces which lend themselves to synchronous or asynchronous interaction around documents can be found on services like Google Docs, Google’s Jamboard, Miro (formerly Realtime Board), and Microsoft’s OneNote. At the time of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when many educational institutions shifted their teaching online, we saw the rise in popularity of synchronous video platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, which offer a range of interaction and sharing functionality beyond video chat itself – including text-based chat windows – and which allow interactions to be recorded, archived and shared.
To a large extent both chat and IM, as we have traditionally known them, have been superseded by messaging apps, which are chiefly (though not exclusively) used on mobile devices, and are part of the new generation of OTT, or over-the-top, services which bypass traditional telecommunications, cable and satellite companies to provide free access over the internet. This means that mobile users with 3G, 4G or 5G connections can typically use these messaging apps at no cost to exchange text, audio and video messages, and to make audio and video calls. Unsurprisingly, such messaging apps have been increasing in popularity relative to SMS messaging. The best-known of today’s apps, some of which started out as laptop/desktop services, include Discord, Kik, Line, Messenger, Skype, Slack, Telegram, Viber, WeChat (微信), and WhatsApp (see these and other icons in the image at the top of the page).
It is not uncommon for students to set up collaborative group chatrooms using such apps, for example WeChat or WhatsApp. In some parts of the world, notably in Asia, it is common for teachers to set up class chatrooms on these apps so that they can easily send group messages to students, and students can contact them with questions or problems.
LATEST ON INSTAGRAM
LATEST ON TWITTERMy Tweets
- FINDING OUR (ONLINE) FEET January 17, 20222021 Wrap-up Perth, Australia 17 January 2022 As we all know by now, 2021 turned out to be yet another year of global challenges and widespread suffering due to the evolving situation with COVID-19. Nevertheless, we were able to build on a number of the lessons learned in 2020, engaging in some creative forms of […]