A recent study suggested that one of the pitfalls of online degree programs is the perceived lack of communication students have with instructors, staff and peers. However, interactive tools and virtual classroom software can bridge communication gaps and facilitate an engaging learning environment for students. This guide provides details about online communication tools for online students.
Students most often use forums, also known as bulletin boards or threaded discussions, for digital communication. In most cases, courses host a forum website for group discussions where instructors post questions on a specific topic and students reply to the original message or thread. Students can also create their own subject-related threads. Forums facilitate a flexible learning environment because they are asynchronous, which means students do not have to be in the same place at the same time to participate in the conversation.
Chat rooms offer another way for students to interact through real-time discussion. Online classroom chat is synchronous, which means students must log on at the same time to participate in group discussions. Students who enter the chat room late often cannot see previously posted comments. Instructors may choose to record public chats so students can refer to the discussion later; private chats remain confidential.
Video conferencing allows two or more people in separate locations to see video and hear audio in a synchronous learning environment, generally through the use of webcams and microphones.
Audio conferencing allows multiple people to communicate synchronously by talking over a standard telephone line or through Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).
A live virtual classroom provides a synchronous method for demonstrating software, conducting polls and sharing presentations. Instructors and students can use screen sharing to show other people in the virtual classroom the same videos, documents and images that are currently appearing on their computer screens. Live virtual classrooms may also include features such as chat and VoIP.
Instant messaging (IM) offers a real-time way to connect with peers and instructors by sending text-based messages through chat software. Not all virtual classroom software includes IM programs, but students may use IM to facilitate informal discussions with peers and instructors.