Contributed by Guan Chong, School of Business, SIM University
In recent years, institutions around the world have observed rapid growth in the use of computer-assisted learning materials, communications technology and enhanced delivery systems (Sun et al., 2008). In January 2013, School of Business, SIM University, conducted an E-learning Pilot Test to assess the various instructional/delivery methods employed by faculty members within some of its courses. One of the delivery methods under evaluation was videoconferencing.
Videoconferencing is a synchronous audio and video telecommunications technology in which users are able to see and communicate with others from two or more remote locations. It can also support the sharing of files, applications, and electronic workspaces among the users (Gowan & Downs, 1994). Therefore, videoconferencing allows interactive linking of distant instructors and students. This tool may be utilized simply to deliver teaching sessions to a wide audience based on geographically dispersed sites, but it could also facilitate synchronous interaction between instructors and students to enable flexible learning. The number of users allowed in a session depends on the platform used. When delivered effectively, videoconferenced courses can be engaging and enjoyable.
As the instructor of MKT201f Marketing and a participant of ECO203f International Economics in the e-learning pilot test, I would like to share a number of reflections of my experience of using a videoconference platform in the two courses. These experiences may be of use to those who are already using videoconference platforms for teaching or those who are considering exploring this teaching medium.
From the instructor’s perspective, the decision to adopt videoconferencing in teaching could be influenced by a variety of factors: the number of students enrolled in the course, the physical location of the students, the content of the course, the teaching methods, the availability, willingness and expertise of instructors, and resources such as the technical and administrative support.
Based on the experience from the pilot study, if the course delivery requires frequent instructor-student interaction or interaction among the students, the class size should be limited to less than 20 students per class. This finding is consistent with prior research on videoconferencing, which suggests that users tend to feel more disconnected in videoconferencing as the number of users involved increases (Gowan & Downs, 1994).
When using videoconferencing to deliver a teaching session, instructors and students may feel a lack of control due to the complexity of the delivery platform as well as the lack of direct interaction. Instructors who use videoconferencing will need some guidance from technical staff to feel comfortable using the hardware. An appropriate teaching style is needed to suit the medium; instructors may need to adjust their teaching style, provide explicit opportunities for discussion, and try to address questions from all students. Lastly, “house rules” governing interaction should be established before a session starts. For example, only one student at a time should be allowed to speak to avoid confusion.
Although videoconference teaching sessions can be stimulating and enjoyable, setting them up may require additional preparation. Running a videoconferenced course successfully involves well trained students and adequate on-site technical support, as well as extensive planning. Reliable equipment, which provides good sound quality and is supported by a fast connection, needs to be available for both the instructor and the students.
From the students’ perspective, preparation before class is essential for learning effectively during the session. Good preparation could enhance the probability that students react positively to videoconferencing.
In sum, videoconferencing can facilitate discussion, collaboration and problem solving for users at remote sites. Because of the possibility for multiple-way interaction, videoconferencing is considered the distance training method closest to classroom instruction by researchers (Moore & Kearsley, 1996).
Gowan Jr, J. A., & Downs, J. M. (1994). Video conferencing human-machine interface: A field study. Information & Management, 27(6), 341-356.
Moore, M. G., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Sun, P. C., Tsai, R. J., Finger, G., Chen, Y. Y., & Yeh, D. (2008). What drives a successful e-Learning? An empirical investigation of the critical factors influencing learner satisfaction. Computers & Education, 50(4), 1183-1202.