By: Robyn Pepin
More and more students are obtaining post-secondary education using different online platforms (Harish, 2013). In addition to Moodle and Big Blue Button platforms already used on some university campuses, learning can also be facilitated by instructors and teaching assistants through platforms such as Google Hangout and Skype. These other methods of communication can assist with students’ learning experiences. These platforms, for instance, allow users to have a ‘face-to-face’ approach without being in the same location. Although there are downfalls to using technology, such as low sound quality and poor Internet connections, in this paper, I want to highlight their many advantages. I also argue that online learning is convenient for both instructors and students and has pedagogical benefits.
Google Hangout is a videoconferencing platform that “allows users to simultaneously collaborate on documents, view YouTube videos and use screen sharing and other apps” (Haebig & Lawrence, 2013-2014, p. 27). Skype is a videoconferencing tool similar to Google Hangout (Skype, 2016). Skype allows for file and screen sharing, but does not allow simultaneous collaboration (Deyermenjian, 2013). Both Google Hangout and Skype also have the benefit of using Google Drive, a “suite of programs available online” (n.a., 2013) that can be accessed by everyone who has permission to collaborate on a specific document. Google Drive can be used with an existing or new G-mail account (Google, 2016).
These technologies have systems that allow meetings/classes to take place with more than one user/student. Such students also have the ability to exchange documents. As a graduate student who does not live in Ottawa, I utilize Google Hangout, Skype, and Google-Drive. I am employed in various roles, such as a teaching assistant and editorial assistant. The ability to be enrolled in a technologically advanced university, along with having employers who understand that tasks can be performed at a distance, has allowed me to continue with graduate studies. Haskins (2014) found that employees are gratified in their work environment when they control their workspace. Also, work productivity increases when people are given the choice to decide when and where they will complete their work (Haskins, 2014). This flexibility relates to student success with learning via distance education. When students are given the option to do work at a distance, but are still able to collaborate within the school environment, students learn and appreciate having their needs accommodated (Brindley, Walti & Blaschke, 2009).
Using Google Hangout or Skype is effective for fostering learning because they can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection on a computer, tablet, or cell phone (Haebig & Lawrence, 2013-2014; n.a., 2013). Other advantages are that they are easy to use, free (unless you go over the 15 GB limit and/or want to do more than videoconferencing over the web) (Poure, 2013; Elaine, 2013), great for collaboration and easily integrate with other programs (n.a., 2013). When programs such as Google Hangout or Skype are utilized with Google Drive, not only does the interaction take place in real time, but also everyone can review and edit documents together.
For fellow TAs and instructors, Google Hangout and Skype could also be beneficial for the purposes of meetings, or keeping track of grades, especially if they do not live in Ottawa. I have used Skype for contacting the instructor I work under for my TAship. There have also been TAship meetings where we were able to ‘meet’ to discuss sample assignments. These face-to-face interactions were beneficial to ensure our TA team maintained consistency with marking. And while I haven’t personally tried it yet, using Skype can also be used to meet with students. Additionally, the use of Google Drive for TAs and instructors could be beneficial. For example, collaboration on a Google Excel document could allow grades to be monitored and edited as necessary. Each change made on a Google Drive document is archived with the user’s information, allowing any errors to be rectified (Google, 2014).
There are also pedagogical benefits to online learning that cannot be overlooked. Stone and Perumean-Chaney (2011) conducted a study on how to improve course instruction, focusing on online modules. Transferring a face-to-face course to online was a difficult task because lectures could not ‘ramble on’ among students. Rather, material taught needed to be concise. In the study, weekly modules were re-assessed for the most important concepts and applications (Stone & Perumean-Chaney, 2011). By conducting these re-assessments for the purposes of online pedagogy, students had the advantage of knowing exactly what they were required to learn (Stone & Perumean-Chaney, 2011). Online students also had the benefit of listening to recorded lectures multiple times.
Stone and Perumean-Chaney (2011) also found that successful online learning depends on “the care with which the course is designed and delivered” (p. 394). There are also more people involved with the creation and implementation of an online course: “online pedagogy frequently involves consultation and collaboration with […] instructional designers […], e-producers […] and librarians, many of whom provide design and implementation assistance to instructors or subject-specific research assistance to online students” (p. 395). Thus, the care put into the design of the course and the support personnel involved impacts the level of learning students can achieve online. Stone and Perumean-Chaney (2011) believe that online students “have greater control over their learning, experience higher levels of interactivity with other students and are able to construct new knowledge” (p. 394). Part of the reason that students have a higher satisfaction rate is because online learning requires the drive to learn. Online students want to learn, thus makes the time and effort to learn the material provided to them. Instructors also want students to learn and do well, thus their material must be engaging and teach the concepts they are expected to know.
Overall, technological advances have the potential to improve on previous teaching and learning practices (Brindley, Walti, & Blaschke, 2009; Cochrane & Keegan, 2012; Haebig & Lawrence, 2013-2014). Cochrane and Keegan (2012) found that alternative methods of learning are “gaining recognition as learners and educators explore new ways of learning and connecting both within and outside the institution” (p. 1). With the ability to use technology platforms such as Google Hangout, Google Drive, or Skype outside of the institution, I am able to continue with my PhD at Carleton even though I do not live in Ottawa, conduct research in Thunder Bay, and continue to partake in my academic duties as a TA and editorial assistant. If I can benefit from these methods of communication for the purposes of my education and training, other students and instructors can too.
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