Understanding New Media – Institutions

Connectivity brings new sharing of information and knowledge with others. What was once accessible only via a physical school, government building, or other public institution is now potentially accessible to persons all over the world” (113-114).

Veltman, Kim H. Understanding New Media: Augmented Knowledge & Culture. University of Calgary Press, 2006.

Virtual Communities
This term refers to the communities we form online that are generally based around a particular topic and that we use to communicate with others interested in that topic. The have, according to Cliff Filaggo in Hosting Web Communities, three characteristics: 1) focus, through a central subject or theme, 2) cohesion, through member to member relationships, and 3) interactivity, through member to member communication. (117 in Veltman).

This is very much the norm now, with the vast amount of forums and other online groups that exist online. One need not necessarily be a member or frequent visitor to many of these sites, but rather visit the community to answer a single question on a topic related to the communities theme.

Virtual Universities/Schools
Virtual schools/universities are now a ubiquitous concept with virtually every two and four year college offering some form of online distance education. There are also a number of schools that are now dedicating themselves to K-12 distance education. Few people would state that distance education is an exact equal to face-to-face (FtF) learning; however, it certainly has identifiable advantages.

Donald A Norman, one of the pioneers of Human Computer Interface studies, and one of the original founders of Unext.com, an Internet education company for business professionals, also agrees that live situations in real classrooms are preferable to distance learning scenarios of virtual universities but argues that virtual universities are increasingly important for persons who cannot afford the time needed for live encounters. (126-127).

In this way, acknowledging the benefits of both FtF and distance education, a clearly worthy venture would be to seek ways in which to add to the distance education setting the benefits of FtF learning, such as the personalization, the conversational aspects, and the ability to get immediate feedback from instructors. Such feedback is only possible in a synchronous setting (hence the immediacy), and while synchronous distance education certainly exists, the benefit that Norman notes applies more to asynchronous distance education. However, there are ways in which the personalization, social presence, and conversational nature of the FtF classroom setting can be enhanced in various ways for distance education, such as through the use of video as a conversational tool with the OVC.

Concluding the chapter on Institutions, Veltman cites virtuality as the material consequence of new media, continuing,

This is transforming production, services, and the institutions where they occur. Virtuality is something much more profound than a simple substitution of physical objects by electronic simulacra. In many cases the original physical objects remain but are linked with persons, objects, and images, imbuing them with new meaning. (135).

This idea applies directly to the discussion of the OVC in that the OVC provides a virtual conversation. The existence of this virtual conversation transforms the way that instructors and students, in the case of the distance classroom setting, can communicate as well as the location in which such communication occurs.

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