20 TechTrends • January/February 2013 Volume 57, Number 1
Using Synchronous Technology to Enrich Student Learning
By Charles Xiaoxue Wang, David Jaeger, Florida Gulf Coast University and
Jinxia Liu, Xiaoning Guo, Nan Xie, Linyi University, Shandong, P.R. China
To explore the potential applications of synchronous technology to enrich student learning, faculty members from an American regional state university and a Chinese regional university collaborated to find appropriate ways to integrate synchronous technology (e.g., Adobe Connect) into an educational technology program in the
American university and in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program in China. The paper reports the collaborative efforts in a project (from
Fall 2010 to Spring 2012) using Adobe
Connect to enrich student learning at both sites. The report includes the project overview, project implementation and its evaluation framework.
Finally, the paper offers practical suggestions for using synchronous technologies such as Adobe Connect for instruction when implementing such an international project in two different countries.
Keywords: Synchronous Technology, Web-conferencing, EFL Learning and Instruction, International
Research Collaboration, Designbased Research
Introduction ithin the field of computer-mediated communication (CMC) sits the web-conferencing platform, providing educators with synchronous, multimodal communication opportunities through products such as Adobe Connect, Blackboard
Collaborate, and Big Blue Button. As an e-learning tool, where e-learning is defined very generally as any learning supported by electronic tools and media in a synchronous or asynchronous situation, web-conferencing platforms have gained popularity among educators during the past decade due to greater flexibility as a result of web technology and broadband connectivity improvements (Falloon, 2011;
Dammers, 2009; Skylar, 2009). Sometimes they are used interchangeably with asynchronous technology because of their affordance of providing synchronous communications and interactions. Outside of academia, in government and corporate environments, these web-conferencing platforms are commonly referred to as webinar (web-based seminar) technology and have been adopted primarily as a productivity tool to bring together individuals separated by distance into synchronous meetings, but also as an event delivery tool (Wang & Hsu, 2008).
Technology such as Adobe Connect (Adobe Systems Inc., 2012) offers desktop or wireless device users this instructor-student and student-student synchronous communication through audio, video, text chat, presentation display, breakout rooms, white board collaboration, polling, and desktop/ application sharing. Implementing a web-conferencing platform in an online course may improve students’ perceptions of the course and could increase participation and motivation (Hudson, Knight, & Collins, 2012).
Synchronous communication can also have a positive impact on forming relationships within the course, adding to asynchronous discussions, dissolving barriers in online learning that tend to foster student isolation, and constructing a sense of community as a result of identity-building opportunities (Falloon, 2011).
Inherent to learning English as a
Foreign Language (EFL) is the challenge of identifying opportunities to interact with native speakers and become immersed in the native-speaking culture (Wu & Marek, 2009).
Chen (2005) suggests that through the use of synchronous CMC tools, EFL learners can receive an increase in the exposure to, and in the use of, the target language. Considering the ease at which web-conferencing technology can bridge distant countries, it is surprising that very few studies were found to focus on the use of web-conferencing to complete synchronous communication learning tasks involving students residing in different countries (Cunningham, Fägersten &
Holmsten, 2010), or students attending different universities in different
Volume 57, Number 1 TechTrends • January/February 2013 21 countries participating in the same learning activity (Jauregi & Banados, 2008). This paper reports a curriculum and research collaboration between an educational technology program in an American university with an English program in a Chinese university to explore the potential applications of synchronous technology to enrich student learning with suggestions for how to use synchronous technology such as Adobe Connect for instruction.
Three major aims facilitated this collaborative project for both instructional and research purposes. First, there was the strong need for EFL programs in China to find appropriate ways to integrate new technologies to enrich students’ EFL learning and to increase the exposure of the students to English speaking cultures. Second, there have been emerging discussions about the use of synchronous technologies to enrich EFL learning and instruction. Yet, little is known about how synchronous technologies such as Adobe Connect impact the ways in which language learners improve their language proficiency, specifically in contexts of those countries and areas where English is not spoken in everyday life, but is often limited to the classroom (e.g., learning English in
China). Third, there is a strong need to enrich the learning of synchronous technologies for educational technology students by engaging them in analyzing, designing, developing, implementing and evaluating real-life, synchronous instruction using technologies like Adobe Connect.
The American university is a regional comprehensive state university that has six colleges offering 52 undergraduate degrees, 30 graduate degrees, one specialist program and three doctorate programs to over 12,000 undergraduate students and 1,500 graduate students in the southeast USA. The