Suitability Review of Common Synchronous, Live Online-Classroom Tools
In Proceedings of the NAIRTL/ LIN Conference on Flexible Learning at the Royal College of Surgeons. Dublin, Ireland. October 2010.
While virtual learning environments (VLEs) such as Moodle and WebCT are now ubiquitous in most higher education institutes, live synchronous virtual classroom software is merely gaining in popularity. The first online meeting tools were tailored towards business requirements for remotely held meetings rather than educational purposes. The recent expansion of virtual classroom tools specific to education has changed this. Such software offers the standard features of streamed voice and video, yet purposely provides an array of additional features specifically designed to conduct classes online. While VLEs work optimally as a compliment to standard courses, Virtual-classrooms such as Adobe Connect Pro and Elluminate have the potential to transform distance education beyond previous limitations.
Since these tools are being used more and more within higher education, questions must be asked about how effective they ultimately can be in meeting learning requirements. More importantly, what are the best teaching and learning practices employed when conducting classes online in this way? This paper makes a comparative review of some of the most popular virtual-classroom tools in terms of what features they offer to educators and students in higher education.
A list of criteria crucial to each of these tools is compiled and a selection of the most popular are reviewed according to how well they meet these requirements. Certain obstacles and restrictions that arise are discussed with a view to identify and overcome them. Furthermore, opportunities are explored as to how virtual-classrooms might actively enhance teaching and learning rather than merely simulating it on the web. Along with a specific review of technical features, some observations are made as to how general features of these tools, such as instant messaging, might be enhanced to suit proven pedagogies, such as problem based and collaborative learning.