McCrea, B. (2010) Getting face-to-face with distance education Campus Technology, February 17.

Another really interesting article. If online teaching has a ‘birth’, it was at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the late 1970s, when Murray Turoff and Roxanne Hiltz started experimenting with collaborative learning for classroom based students but using the Internet (see Hiltz, 1990, for an account of these early experiments).

This article discusses how Stan Silverman, director of technology-based learning systems for the New York Institute of Technology, has moved its distance education programs away from computer-mediated communication to a web-based video-conferencing system based on Elluminate:

“Our online course delivery system was launched 25 years ago and was primarily text-based,” recalled Silverman. The system worked for a few years until graphics and moving pictures made their way onto the Web. “As technological expectations rose, it became obvious that we needed to introduce a robust, synchronous component to our online education system.”

This provides an answer to a question I’m often asked: ‘Which is best, asynchronous or synchronous learning?’ The answer is ‘Both’. Each has its value. However, I do believe you can get much further with asynchronous alone than with synchronous alone, but nowadays we can use both with little or no extra cost to students, so long as they already have high speed Internet access.

Nevertheless, there are still bandwidth considerations if more than four or five students all want to use video as well as audio, and with real-time web conferencing systems such as Elluminate, there is the tendency for all communications to go via the instructor, rather than between students as in computer-mediated textual communication using discussion forums, so careful design is still important. The article also emphasises once again the importance of faculty training if the change is to be made successfully.

My main concern is that the move to synchronous teaching through web conferencing merely reinforces the tendency to go back to lecturing, rather than facilitating constructivist, collaborative learning, but this is not inevitable with good course design, and the provision of asynchronous tools as well. But the risk is there.


Hiltz, S. (1990) ‘Evaluating the Virtual Classroom’, in Harasim, L. (ed.) Online Education: Perspectives on a New Environment New York: Praeger, pp. 133-169


  1. Understand your concern about how the virtual classroom can be instructor-centric tool. However, today’s live eLearning technology provides may tools that support student-centric learning. Among them: breakout rooms, which enable students to work together in small groups and return to the main room to report to entire class. Here’s a story about use of breakout rooms in K12 environment. The same application would work in HE.

    – Beth, Elluminate Goddess of Communication (AKA Sr. Manager Corp. Communications)


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