Monday we participated in a synchronous discussion from remote locations. A week earlier, we had tested several discussion formats, while all in the same room, with a computer on our laps. But Monday was our true first test at communicating as a large group from our own locations.
Trouble entering the common room
I had all kinds of trouble joining the common room. I finally logged off and logged back in as my husband, since we have different logins on our home computer and different settings. Because I routinely work from home one day a week, my settings are for connecting to my office network. Even though I did not connect the VPN or try in anyway to connect to the network, I still believe there is something about my settings that gets in the way of many things. So, after logging in as my husband, I was able to join the common room with no difficulty.
Large group synchronous discussion
Once I finally made it into the common room, there was some small chit chat about going to a small group - one of us had been assigned moderator. We were supposed to discuss our topic and check back with the large group in I think 20 minutes.
Well, because I entered the room late, I was sort of confused and anxious to jump right in, so I figured out that I was in group 2 and that I was the moderator. Sadly, I did not scroll down on the class schedule page, so did not realize that there were a list of questions we were supposed to answer. So, we ended up answering the questions in reverse order...
Small group synchronous discussion
The small group synchronous discussion started off very slowly. What is difficult about using WebCT for synchronous discussion is that you cannot tell if someone is typing a response. So, I would pose a question and sit there - wondering if my teammates were responding, if it was taking them a long time to type or if we were all just sitting there waiting for someone else to respond. I found this to be very frustrating.
Once we were talking, there appeared to be a lag to the responses being posted, so the discussion, even with just a few people, ended up being very disjointed and ineffective at times. Not always, though, because I do feel our group was able to collaborate on the discussion topic, but there were awkward, ineffective moments, too.
What is synchronous discussion best used for?
From my limited experience with synchronous discussion, I believe they are best used for planning action or simple communications - not in depth discussions. When my exemplar group met late in the class, we were able to quickly and efficiently plan our strategy for our group project. I do use IM with MSN, and again, it's nice to have this option for quick, simple discussions, but less helpful for debates. I think conference calls or polycom are much better way to meet to discuss larger issues.
Compared to asynchronous discussions
If I compare my experience in 5323 to my experience in 5101, I have to say that so far the discussions have been more successful with the asynchronous format. Asynchronous has it's problems, too, but it discussions in the asynchronous format seem more organized and thoughtful. I may change my mind as the semester goes on...