Blended Learning in K-12/Types of Blended Learning/Synchronous Asychronous Discussions
As indicated in Chapter 1, Blended learning combines technology with face to face instruction. Synchronous and asynchronous discussions are both types of internet communication that can be utilized in blended learning to fulfill the technology requirement. Both synchronous and asynchronous discussions utilize the internet to provide forums for use by the classroom teacher to either give instructions, facilitate office hours or conversation among students that would normally take place in a classroom setting. Asynchronous and synchronous discussions can be teacher or student led and can be guided by a pre-set format or take place in a more open setting, just like a classroom discussion. Both synchronous and asynchronous discussions have advantages and disadvantages. Asynchronous discussions allow time for reflection by the learner. In addition the asynchronous format allows for the diversity of the learner. It provides some flexibility for the learner to respond at his individual 'peak time', when he/she is at his best. The asynchronous model also enables each learner time to adequately respond. There is no need to 'grab the mic.' Each student is provided the opportunity to reflect and post a reply as deemed appropriate. The opportunity for reflection before response and flexibility of communication can produce greater depth of learning than the synchronous environment alone.(Donaldson & Conrad,2002) Certain situations best lend themselves to synchronous communications.Such activities include group meetings or activities requiring group consensus or simultaneous response. Synchronous discussions are especially useful for brainstorming or replicating the face to face situation. Synchronous discussions tend to be more successful when utilized by small groups. While both synchronous and asynchronous discussions have advantages and disadvantages, their use together in a blended learning situation is critical to the development of the online learning community.The types of asynchronous and synchronous discussions evaluated in this section include the use of Yahoo Groups, TappedIn, Blogs, and Elluminate.
The Yahoo website provides free access to  Yahoo Groups. In Yahoo Groups, anyone can originate a group of friends, family or others with similar interests. In a blended learning situation, the teacher can create a group or assign groups within the class to utilize Yahoo as their 'meeting place'. Within the group, there are options for message posting, synchronous chats, links to other sites as well as a place to post photos, make a calendar and poll the group members. As a group, Yahoo provides great flexibility for sharing opinions and discussion both asynchronously and synchronously. The asynchronous format functions much like a message board with members of the group posting and responding to other posts. Messages are listed chronologically and easy to follow. Only members of the group are allowed to post and members are identified by their sign in name. The originator of the group becomes the moderator and as such can use different options to insure the continuity of messages and the appearance of the asynchronous site. Messages posted on the site can also be emailed to members of the group. The Yahoo site makes it easy to communicate with members of a specific group. It is basically like using email. You simply click on post and type your message. It appears on the message site for members of the group to see.The subject of the message appears at the top of the message in a larger font and different color. The sender's name and other information appears to the right of the message body. It is a very easy format to follow for asynchronous discussions. The synchronous function of Yahoo Groups is found in the Chat section. It is similarly easy to access by clicking on Chat in the menu after signing in to your group. Once at the chat site, you can type your message into the dialogue box, hit send and it is immediately posted. Others can then respond to the dialogue. This format is a more expedient way to carry on a discussion although it can seem disjointed and does not always flow smoothly. One needs to establish a topic and some ground rules so everyone is not talking at once. It works very much like instant messaging except everyone is messaging simultaneously.There are a few options for the participants to choose if they are away from the computer.
TappedIn is a web-based learning environment created by SRI International to transform teacher professional development. Tapped In enables teachers to implement effective, classroom centered learning activities through the use of online tools, resources, member colleagues, scheduled class events, and technical support. Tapped In provides teachers with online learning strategies, collaborative member support, and online continued professional development courses.
Tapped In went online in 1997 and has continued to grow and expand it's teacher network. Tapped In currently has ongoing funding from the National Science Foundation and from Sun Microsystems. Tapped In is currently a free service to teacher members.
Teachers can use Tapped In to manage online courses, create teacher chat rooms, and conduct office hours. Organizations registered with Tapped In receives a Tapped In virtual building with three floors. The ground floor contains member logins, help desk, and public rooms. The second floor contains group rooms deemed as public, moderated, or private. The third floor is reserved for personal member offices.
Tapped In offers after school teacher collaboration sessions called the After School Online (ASO) in various subject matters. A monthly schedule of ASO topics is contained on Tapped In's homepage and is emailed to every Tapped In member. A sample of monthly activities and discussions can be viewed on this monthly calendar.
Tapped In can be used both synchronously and asynchronously. Teachers can create and manage class groups with student accounts, set up course calendars, allow guest logons, send mailings, conduct online chats and private messaging, create discussion boards, and store files and URLs. Courses can utilize synchronous chats through office hours and class chat sessions; and asynchronous discussions through message boards. Tapped In automatically logs discussion transcripts and emails the transcript to group participants. Students who are not present for a chat can later view the discussion text through Tapped In.
Blog is a term coined for the combination of two words, web and log. As part of a blended learning project,it is an asynchronous form of online discussion. A blog is a publicly accessible website which contains a journal or diary of sorts. Anyone can initiate a blog either as a part of another website or personal web page or a blog can stand alone. The author of the blog can choose to write in this journal as she pleases with no filters or censorship. Blogs span a wide variety of topics. Some blogs are followed by a huge readership where others may suffice only for a family or small close knit group. According to Michael Berkman in his Blog Guide Book (Sept.2005)there are reportedly over 11 million blogs on the web. Blogs offer a forum for many people to state their opinions or comment on other's opinions. Blogs seem to offer a more fluid discussion than other group chats or asynchronous types of forums. Because blogs are in the public domain, a topic of intense interest or current event may be accessed continually with one or more threads flowing throughout the blog. This is different than an asynchronous discussion in which the reader is directed to comment on a specific topic or question. It is similar to a face to face discussion in the rapidity in which responses can appear and the opinionated nature of the comments and responses. In a blended learning situation, blogs can be used as a discussion forum for students or as a reference source for parents. Blogs can also be used as a publishing site for student work, with appropriate security and permission issues addressed, of course. Teachers need to proceed with caution when using blogs as students may tend to read blogs as resource sites and not properly evaluate the information gained from the blog sites. Blogs could provide a great medium to enhance student writing through the use of technology. Elementary grade students are frequently encouraged to use journal writing as story starters so it would be a logical jump to move that journal writing to a blog site. Additionally blogs could be used toward improving literacy skills as students read and peer edit other student's blogs. The Daily Oral Language activity is another possible blog use. Blogs offer the most flexibility for use as an asynchronous forum. There are numerous free guides and sites to set up blogs.
Eluminate is a synchronous forum used for online discussions. It is widely used in both the academic arena as well as the corporate world. As a teaching tool, it provides an online source similar to a chat room for invited guests to meet and replicate a face to face classroom situation.At the Eluminate site, a moderator can conduct the discussions by stating a specific topic or listing it on the accompanying whiteboard. The moderator has several options to allow varying degrees of participation by the students. Eluminate provides moderators with the ability to use online quizzes and polls. A whiteboard is also available to repeat or illustrate with text or graphics. Whiteboard access for students is controlled by the moderator. In addition the moderator can present websites or related information on the whiteboard. The whiteboard can also serve to demonstrate power point presentations. Participants may discuss either by using a microphone for live voice or typing responses in the text box. Eluminate provides options for participants to raise their hand before speaking, to applaud and includes a system of tallies for polling. Although conversations seem to flow rapidly in the text box, there is often incontinuity as participants post comments frequently changing the subject. It can also be distracting as the text conversation continues while someone is talking. This actually seems to be somewhat rude. One of the advantages of using Eluminate is the fact that it is extremely user friendly. It is relatively simple to acknowledge the invitation, access the site and join the discussion. Although a tutorial is available students can learn to navigate the site quite easily as a part of the first lesson. Sound quality is quite good and accessing the audio component is not difficult. One of the disadvantages of the Eluminate program is the cost factor. The academic version of Eluminate ranges in price from $2400 for a one year three seat team edition to $7000. for a 10 seat team edition. This cost is no doubt prohibitive for some schools especially elementary districts. Currently Eluminate is used most often by higher education institutions. Although it has some valid use for elementary level districts, the cost is no doubt prohibitive. As a teaching tool, Eluminate serves to replicate the face to face discussion one might have in a classroom. It lends itself most easily to the higher grade levels for a few reasons. Although Eluminate is easy to use, it requires higher level typing skills to keep up with the conversation. It is also necessary to access the talk button to use the audio portion of the forum and to adjust the volume of speaker and mic as necessary. This would be a difficult skill for an elementary aged student although I think it would be possible to involve junior high aged students. Eluminate could certainly be a resource for secondary schools and something students would enjoy using. Utilizing the synchronous discussion strictly for lecturing becomes stale. To fully realize the potential, the instructor should access the whiteboard either for illustrations or for a power point presentation. Eluminate offers many options for the instructor to integrate technology into the classroom in a meaningful way.
After using Tapped In, Blogs, and Elluminate I would have to say that Elluminate is by far the best product. I love the aspect you can present PowerPoint’s, chat by typing, watch streaming videos and communicate to others in the class. Before reading this article, I was wondering why Elluminate was not used more. I did not realize the cost was so high! I can’t help but wonder if the price came down if more people would use this product. - Dale Donner