It is only recently that technology has reached a level of stability, usability and affordability which permits its use in real teaching scenarios rather than research projects. Exploring the technology in a real setting highlights any problems of use, however it fails to provide enlightment as to the underlying reasons for the success or failure of any project. On the other hand, carefully controlled psychological experiments which manipulate individual variables create an artificial environment and the results may not be generalisable to real settings. It is therefore extremely difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of technology-mediated communications for learning. This report is intended to make the readers aware of the relevant problems by separating technological, psychological, pedagogical and sociological issues.
The experiences which have led to this report are mainly the use of compressed video conferencing delivered via ISDN, using both Rollabout Systems and Desk-Top Systems. Rollabout Systems are designed to be used by small groups of people located at remote sites and Desk-Top Systems are designed to be used on a person-to-person basis, with individuals located at remote sites. Links can be made to any site, regardless of geographical location, provided it has access to ISDN and the same equipment and software at both ends.
The aim of this report is to put Video Conferencing into a Learning Framework and to take a learner-centred rather than technology-centred view of the problem. This requires understanding the problem from a number of perspectives:
Video conferencing has great potential for learning in Higher Education. The potential lies in creating greater opportunity for dialogue which facilitates more effective learning than working in isolation. Dialogue may be between tutors and learners or amongst learners. However, the success of video conferencing may well be dependent on factors other than the technology. These factors range from Institutional issues, to cost, to student and tutors attitude to the technology. It is also highly dependent on the teaching methods adopted. There are many unanswered questions from an educational and psychological perspective. The technology is in a transitional state and many may feel it is currently unsuitable for education. This makes video conferencing highly challenging and exciting to some and a nightmare to others. Like the telephone in the past, we as users must learn how to make best use of video conferencing. It may well be the next mode of communication to be universally accepted.
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