real time online education and writing pedagogy

I'm wondering if there is anyone out there doing real-time, online FYC courses. The nearest I've come to this is using Second Life, and yes that is real time, but it wasn't a sustained part of the course. Primarily I couldn't make a real time course work because the online courses were asynchronous, so I had no way of requiring students to appear at a given time.

As bandwidth continues to improve, real time online education seems an increasing possibility from SL to Adobe Connect and beyond. Certainly one of the often-stated appeals of online courses is their asychronous character. At the same time, online courses suffer from high drop-out rates and I think seem a little, well, distant to many students. So while we could probably keep some fully asynchronous courses, it seems likely to me that there will be some move toward offering courses with real-time components.

There are a couple ways to do this that I can think of off the top of my head.

  1. There's the mentor/tutor model, which is probably the most common. This is basically an asynchronous course that makes real-time support available. This makes sense if one is delivering a large number of commonly-designed courses. While I certainly don't think there's anything wrong with having online tutors available, this is clearly not the same as having a real-time classroom community with a professor and fellow students.
  2. There are real-time virtual office hours, which I have often done in the past. But that's not also not the same as a real-time online classroom.
  3. The "avatar" model, which would be a course in a virtual world like SL.
  4. The video/chatroom model. Here I think the video component is essential.

The avatar and video approaches both incorporate a strong visual element and sense of place. I think these are essential. I don't really think that a text-based chatroom or even audio-only exchange will be effective enough in engaging students in a real-time distance setting.

The question to consider is what we might do as writing faculty in such an environment. First, there are the things that we wouldn't do, or better put, the things that are better accomplished asynchronously.

  • lectures whether written, audio with slides, or video
  • course readings (obviously)
  • threaded discussions
  • most of the writing students would do, whether individual assignments or collaborative wikis or multimedia compositions

However students might benefit from real-time discussion of course readings or lectures. They might also get useful results from real-time workshopping. It's hard to tell. Fundamentally I think the value would lie in the relationships and community that can be built through real-time exchange. In truth, there's very little that is done synchronously that can't be done asynchronously, but it is also likely that the former will benefit some students' learning styles in a way the latter does not.

In any case, I'd be interested to know who is out there doing this.

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