Meeting online holds great promise for those who need to collaborate but are geographically separate. Fast connection speeds now mean that it’s relatively easy to communicate synchronously, and there are whole host of different ways of doing this. One-to-one communication gets ever more sophisticated. Skype still leads the way in this respect. But when we scale-up and want any kind of sophisticated group communication (as opposed to presentation or formalised debate), things can get tricky. I’ve been working with various web-conferencing tools such as Elluminate and more recently Connect that provide a range of tools that could make educational interactions possible. Organising a fully-participative discussion is hard work. The problems are legion. There are problems of time lag, echo and sound balance (simply technical, but still important) and then there are problems of convention (signalling tentativeness, establishing turn-taking and conversational repair). I much prefer meeting in Second Life, it feels more like a real space in which you can see the room rather than imagine it, move and gesture in ways that just look daft on a webcam. But in many ways there are the same limitations. And I’m left wondering whether all this is because these media inevitably reduce communication or whether it is because we haven’t yet developed the basic conventions to make it work.
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