Chapter 1Posted by Time Barrow on May 18th, 2011
I’m not likely to post the whole dissertation here on the blog, since that invites far too many evil plans, deeds, and malcontent. However, here is Chapter 1, which provides a solid introduction and overview of my dissertation study.
COMMUNICATING IN THE ASYNCHRONOUS ONLINE CLASSROOM
Advances in digital communication technologies have largely changed the way U.S. colleges and universities deliver instruction, especially in terms of online instruction, including making education accessible to students who might not otherwise be able to take courses due to location or timing (Lowerison, Sclater, Schmid, & Abrami, 2006). Additionally, the difficulty of commuting in traffic, rising gas prices in an era of high unemployment and budgeting, and global environmental concerns, as well as the low cost of desktop and laptop computers and the near ubiquity of Internet access, make telecommuting to school via online classes a very attractive option for students. The general increase in electronic readership has perhaps also influenced the willingness of students to try online courses.
A recent survey conducted by the Sloan Foundation (2010) revealed that enrollment in online classes has increased at rates far greater than that of the total higher education student population, with the most recent data showing no signs of slowing. The survey revealed that over 4.6 million students took at least one online course during the Fall 2008 term; a 17% increase over the number reported the previous year. The 17% growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.2% growth of the overall higher education student population. Additionally, the study reported that more than one in four college and university students now take at least one course online (Sloan, 2010). The surveyed academic institutions reporting increased demand for both face-to-face (FtF) and online courses, with those at public institutions seeing the largest impact, evidence the overall increase. All academies reported a much greater demand for online offerings than for the corresponding FtF courses. Over one-half (54%) of institutions reported increased demand for existing FtF courses, 66% of institutions reported an increased demand for new courses and programs, and 73% saw an increased demand for existing online courses and programs.
The study also revealed that public institutions (74 %) are more likely to deem online learning critical to their long-term strategy than either private for-profit (51 %) or private non-profit (50 %) institutions. Given that these institutions see the increasing need for online education and the nature of online education removing distance barriers, there is competition among institutions to provide access to online educational resources as a way to attract new students and retain existing ones. In other words, traditional competition to secure on-campus students becomes tougher when institutions are including the global market to a greater extent and looking for students at any distance.
With most colleges and universities answering increased demand for online education by increasing the number of available online courses each semester and the number of full-time and part-time faculty in charge of those classes, the need, popularity, and nearing ubiquity of online education is unarguable. Instructors are conducting these online classes in different ways both synchronously and asynchronously and using a variety of techniques to facilitate communication with and among students. Such online classes provide interactive communication and delivery methods that offer one or more aural, visual, or textual communication element.
Traditionally, communication methods in online education have been largely textual, such as with email, online chat settings, learning and content management systems, etc. While many instructors use a blend of communication methods for their online classes, the trend is that they still tend to rely on textual communication for most exchanges. Use of purely audio communication in the distance classroom is rare and generally limited to teacher-to-student or student-to-student phone calls and the atypical cases of instructors providing recorded audio assignment feedback or recording live lectures to present to online students as downloadable podcasts. The majority of classroom video use has historically been one-sided for purposes of students recording video assignments or instructors delivering recorded lectures, thus offering little communicative interaction ability. However, a number of college and university instructors have begun using asynchronous video in the online classroom as a means of two-way communication with students and as a platform for students to communicate with each other.
This dissertation explores the application of asynchronous online video conversations (AOVC) in the asynchronous online classroom (AOC) to determine its effect on the participant-perceived social presence level in this setting. AOVC is a term I coined to refer to the use of asynchronous online video in an ongoing, conversational manner between two or more individuals. By common definition, multimodal communication refers to the ability to interact through multiple modes, such as speech, facial expressions, hand gestures and body posture. The AOVC, a relatively unexplored, multimodal communication method, consists of both a video and audio element, as well as a textual element in that participants have the option to add comments–in either textual or video format–inside a video’s timeline. This study examines each of these three communication methods.
This study does not examine communication that occurs using synchronous video, since that communication method creates a specific temporal situation in that it offers an immediacy with which one can respond and react to an interlocutor similar to the rate at which one can respond in FtF communication. Rather, the study looks solely at asynchronous video communication, which creates a different learning situation wherein one cannot respond immediately. It is important to differentiate this temporal nature of the video communication method, since the different temporal situations create varying conditions, each with potential benefits and downfalls.
This dissertation applies a number of terms that may be inherently ambiguous or at least become so when applied in fields of technical communication. It also makes use of a number of terms that are historically, and otherwise, potentially controversial.
Asynchronous Online Video Conversation (AOVC)
I have coined the term asynchronous online video conversation (AOVC) to refer largely to non-immediate (i.e., not live) use of online video for communication or conversational purposes. The AOVC creates a highly communicative situation that addresses aural, visual, textual, archival, and interactive elements. One could apply a variation of the term to apply to any–synchronous or asynchronous–communicative use of online video (OVC) or specifically to synchronous use of online video purely for conversational purposes (SOVC), such as with the use of Skype. However, this study examines exclusively asynchronous online video communication (AOVC). In an asynchronous video communication setting, participants record videos on a particular Web site/page; while the technology allows it, users rarely upload pre-recorded videos, since it is too time-consuming for an ongoing conversation relative to the ease with which one can record directly on to a specific site or page where the conversation is hosted. Once one video is posted, users can record responses to it and in turn receive responses (potentially within minutes of a previous post), thus creating an ongoing, interactive video conversation.
At certain points in the dissertation, I also use the term Asynchronous Embedded Conversation to refer specifically to the ability for viewers of video in the AOVC setting to add textual or video comments within the timeline of another individual’s posted video. In this way, one can comment at certain and exact points in the video timeline.
Asynchronous Online Classroom (AOC)
In the realm of online instruction, there are varying levels of live interaction, including courses that meet online at given times each week and interact in some synchronous manner such as chat-style rooms, hybrid courses that are delivered completely at a distance but include some form of synchronous meeting as well as asynchronous interaction such as a discussion board to which students post comments, hybrid courses that may have some live in-person meeting time in a physical location as well as a synchronous element such as a website on which students and instructors interact, and courses that have no live element whatsoever. Such differences in delivery as well as other external factors, such as university funding and policy, produce many differences in communication methods, styles, frequency, etc., and how participants perceive and process communicated information. For this reason, it is important to clarify the specific academic setting in which the AOVC will be examined. For the purposes of this dissertation, the AOC refers to a college-level online multimedia writing course delivered solely online without any in-person or distance synchronous component, such as FtF meetings, live textual chat sessions, or real-time audio/video Skype sessions. It is this AOC setting in which the AOVC is examined.
By most views, immediacy in communication is virtually self-defining (referring to that which is immediate), such as Dennis, et al.’s (1998) discussion of the Immediacy of feedback, which refers to the extent to which a medium enables users to receive rapid feedback. It also relates to the extent to which a medium can provide bi-directional, simultaneous communication and the ease with which a participant can interrupt another to gain clarification or to redirect the conversation. As an asynchronous communication method, the AOVC does not inherently offer a high level of immediacy of feedback. This element is what is most clearly not present (whether for benefit or disadvantage) that differs the multimodality of the AOVC with that of FtF communication. This absence of immediacy in the AOVC, and determining what beneficial or disadvantageous effects it may have on this online communication method, is one aspect of this dissertation’s research question.
However, additional perspectives of immediacy are applied to this study. For example, for Bolter and Grusin (2000), immediacy refers to users’ desire for immediacy in access, understanding, and interaction. In other words, users want an immediate connection with the medium. “The automatic or deferred quality of computer programming promotes in the viewer a sense of immediate contact with the image” (p. 28). Additionally, the authors–in explaining convergence theory–note, “Television offers immediacy through its stream of ‘live’ images or sounds. This stream puts the viewer in contact with the world” (p. 223). By this thinking, an individual using video to communicate with another would have an equal sense of this immediate contact with the individual on the screen based on experiencing the individual’s gesture, appearance, and audible voice fluctuation, as if it was happening in real-time. The viewer can then immediately respond to the video, although the original speaker’s receipt of a response video is not immediate. However, that individual would experience the same sense of one-sided immediacy upon viewing the video.
Proposed by Ned Kock (2001), media naturalness theory is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. During the vast majority of human evolution, we communicated FtF; only vary late in the overall evolutionary process did we begin to communicate through any type of written method. Therefore, one can conclude that synchronous FtF communication, with its use of discrete sounds and visual cues, has been the predominant mode of communication used by humans beings over millions of years of evolution, and that our biological communication apparatus has been optimized for it. (pp. 11-12)
In this way, humans prefer FtF because it is the most “natural” form of communication. Any communication that is not FtF is less natural. “The extent to which a communication medium incorporates actual FtF interaction elements defines its degree of naturalness.” (Kock, 2001). Thus, every non-face-to-face communication requires more cognitive effort. The more natural a medium, the less individual cognitive effort it will require.
Multimodality (Bearne, 2005; Berglund, 2009; Kress, Jewitt, Ogborn, & Charalampos; O’Connail, Whittaker, & Wilbur, 1993) refers to all the means, or modes, we use to form meaning through a certain medium, such as using writing (mode) to communicate through the book (medium). “All media offer specific possibilities to the designer, and to the reader/user in their reading and/or use” (Kress, et al. 2006). With our ability to communicate using speech, including voice intonation, gesture, and facial expression, FtF human communication is naturally multimodal. Therefore, this is a fitting theory to apply to my research, since the AOVC–with its ability to offer both verbal and visual modalities–offers most of the multimodality of FtF communication, yet differs in regard to temporality. Considering most two-way online communication is conducted textually (email, IM, forums, etc.), which has limited modality, it is important to examine what differences participants experience by participating in the AOVC.
Social presence theory (Short, Williams, and Christie, 1976) essentially measures communication media based on the degree of awareness of the other person in a communication interaction. Generally, the higher the social presence level, the better the understanding of both speaker and message. By extension, this level of understanding within the AOC, should lead to greater learning transfer, comprehension, and retention. The social presence level is altered with the removal or addition of each communication modality (i.e. speech, non-verbal cues, and immediacy of exchange). Based on this theory, the level of social presence in the AOC setting is presumably lower than that experienced in the FtF classroom, where one can see, hear, and interact with the speaker in real time. However, this study examines the actual application of this communication method to ascertain the certainty of such a supposition and to identify what advantages and disadvantages it might provide to students and instructors in an asynchronous online multimedia writing class.
Problems Facing Online Instructors
The increase, and nearly ubiquitous presence, of college-level online education is well-documented, including discussions on the variety of media that instructors use to communicate with students. Traditional online communication methods, such as email, synchronous chat, learning and content management systems, etc., typically have students communicating through textual means. The trend has been to use video in limited ways, such as for the purpose of students completing recorded video assignments or instructors recording and delivering lectures, offering little potential for any two-way communication similar to that found in the FtF classroom where class topics and assignments are discussed or clarified through participatory in-class conversations.
However, an increasing number of online instructors are using video in a conversational manner to discuss class material, to detail assignments, to answer questions, and to help students collaborate in groups. Relative to other digital communication methods, this practice is rather unique and new; therefore, little research has been done in this area. While based on a technology and practice that has existed for some time, the particular convergence, and application, of the communication elements and features that form the AOVC present a relatively unexamined method for instructors and students to communicate asynchronously, personally, and at the point of need using a combination of audio, video, and text. Accordingly, it is not clear how communication occurs in the asynchronous classroom through this multimedia communication method, how both students and instructors perceive such online video communication methods, and whether they feel it is a desired and useful addition to their distance education experience.
Much has been written on the use of various tools, both synchronous and asynchronous, such as blogs, chat sessions, multi-user interfaces, video, audio, smart phones, etc., for distance communication, both within and external to the online classroom. Specifically, a number of scholars (Zhang; Yee, et al.; and Malin) have addressed the use of asynchronous online video in the classroom, but with a focus on video navigation and annotation functionality, video storytelling, etc., but not specifically as a two-way communication tool. Others, (Jenkins, Phalip, Clothey, Baggs, etc.) have discussed asynchronous video tools and methods in regard to distance communication, yet in specific professional settings, such as the film industry and corporate training, not necessarily it’s use in the classroom. Griffiths and Graham (2009), a doctoral student and associate faculty member respectively at BYU, examined the use of asynchronous video communication between instructors and students, but did not do so specifically from a social presence perspective.
To date, research for this dissertation reveals that little has been written that directly examines this topic in the way that this study does. Consequently, an apparent research gap exists in understanding the effects of asynchronous online video conversation technology in regard to how the application of this communication method alters the participant-perceived level of social presence in the AOC, the benefits and limitations associated with its use, what types of learning and instruction might most (or least) benefit from this communication method, and what instructional advantages and disadvantages might exist with it.
Therefore, it is important to examine communication methods and tools that can simply and inexpensively enhance the level of social presence in the distance classroom. The AOVC is a relatively new communication situation, method, and tool that can be applied in this way. We need to understand more about how it is used in the distance classroom and whether it holds something unique enough to alter or add to how we think about online, asynchronous learning and the educational use of video communication.
This dissertation examines differences between instructor- and student-perceived social presence in the AOC compared with the FtF classroom, including the extent to which participants sense any change in the level of social presence, how they feel it affects the classroom experience, and the extent to which the modalities of the AOVC simulate the social presence of the FtF classroom. Various theories address this topic of change from one communication medium to another. For example, media richness, synchronicity, and naturalness theories each show a problem of loss of something in the communication exchange when juxtaposing FtF and other communication methods. If one can accept some aspect of these theories, acknowledge that something is lost, or at least sufficiently altered, in the change in communication modalities from the transfer of FtF communication to the online classroom environment, then one can see that there is a need for tools that approximate that lost element in environments that require it. This dissertation seeks to identify that lost element relative to modalities based on commonalities among these and other theories, as well as the reported perspectives of actual users and examines one communication method that may serve as a tool to address this need.
Given this reduced or altered level of some communication factor in the transfer from the FtF to the distance classroom, this dissertation seeks to determine the extent to which students and instructors sense a changed level of social presence between the FtF classroom and the AOC and how they feel it affects the classroom experience. An understanding of such perceived differences could suggest a benefit of reintroducing or simulating some elements of FtF communication in specific online classroom settings to provide more effective knowledge transfer and improved learning, a task achieved by maintaining and prolonging student motivation and interest, while enhancing comprehension and retention of the material. This dissertation focuses on four questions related to the use of AOVCs in the AOC, specifically in an online multimedia writing class.
First, given the suggested problem of the loss, to varying degrees, of something (richness, synchronicity, naturalness, modalities, social presence, etc.) with any communication method other than FtF, in the AOC–where visual communication modalities (rather than those based largely on text or audio) are historically used less often–in what ways does student- and instructor-perceived awareness of the social presence of each other differ from that experienced in the FtF setting?
In the AOC environment, to what extent does the AOVC offer some sense of beneficial simulation or extension of any FtF communication modalities or features, such as immediacy, that may be lost or lessened in the transfer of instruction to the online environment, and conversely, what limitations exist with applying the AOVC in this manner?
In what specific rhetorical and instructional situation within the AOC–that is what kinds of classroom activity, learning, communication, and content delivery–would the application of the AOVC be most fitting and effective in contributing to and enhancing the learning experience, and in what situation would it be lacking?
Finally, given that the majority of both synchronous and asynchronous online higher education employs largely non-video forms of communication, what, if any, instructional advantages and disadvantages does using the AOVC in the AOC offer?
Using an intrinsic case study model, this study critically examines and applies an embedded analysis on the use of the AOVC in the AOC to determine the participant-perceived social presence level. This intrinsic case study model focuses on one case due to its genuine or distinctive nature. For the purposes of this methodology, the intrinsic case refers to the AOVC in a specific rhetorical situation. The embedded analysis, which focuses on a specific aspect of a case, examines the perceived level of social presence created by the AOVC. It collects information through a series of mixed data gathering methods, including online surveys with both students and instructors who have used asynchronous online video in this way and a content analysis of the class videos. By collecting this differing data, the study is able to observe participants using the AOVC, discuss with them their experiences, and analyze the artifacts produced in using this communication method.
This study examines the use of the AOVC over two semesters (Fall 2009 and Spring 2010) of General Principles of Multimedia Writing, a 300-level writing course offered through Arizona State University’s Multimedia Writing and Technical Communication program. Each class was delivered completely asynchronously and consisted of approximately 20 active students (as opposed to those that remained enrolled in the class, yet did not participate in assignments) using the AOVC to interact with both the instructor and fellow-classmates. The examined TWC301 classes were conducted solely online through a blog-style website format, including course content and textual discussion board assignments and options.
To code and analyze both the student and instructor surveys, I will use an open-coding-style, inductive analysis of data, reviewing the material, and forming logical, meaningful categories based on the types of responses and themes that emerge, making note of specific comments to the open-ended questions. I will then perform an axial coding process to determine how the identified categories and responses are related and to interpret meaning from the ties and by extension a new understanding. Finally, I will build a conceptual model to support that interpretation.
Video Content Analysis
Whereas the student and instructor surveys rely on subjective, self-reported information and consider the meaning of the asynchronous online video conversation experience for the individuals, the content analysis of the student videos takes a more objective approach to discover the video trends and commonalities and to triangulate the data with that of the student and instructor surveys by reviewing the video artifacts created by the participants, monitoring both verbal and non-verbal cues, thus observing participants in the process of using the communication method.
I perform a content analysis of the collected student video conversations in which they’ve made multiple comments (both textual and visual), looking at general factors such as video length, response amount and frequency. I then consider non-verbal cues such as body language, posture, and gestures used. In addition to the non-verbal modes of communication, I also code and analyze verbal elements of the videos using a modified model of that put forth by Rourke et al. (1999). The authors developed three different categories of communicative response that contribute to social presence: interactive responses, affective responses, and cohesive responses. Additionally, they developed twelve indicators (distributed through the three categories) to use for analysis of CMC conversations.
The foundational media theories each suggest a problem of loss of some element of communication, such as reduced modalities, richness, or naturalness. Each of these theories considers communication methods that employ lesser amounts of these elements as inferior and thus place them lower on a scale relative to that theory. While such theories each have limitations and imperfections, the common factor that must be acknowledged is that theorists and participants alike sense some differences between communication methods that generally equate to a lessening or loss. These media theories can also link such a difference to a participant’s sense of social presence, the extent to which a participant is aware of other individuals in a conversation.
This study, in part, examines participant perspectives of a specific communication method–the asynchronous online video conversation–that offers its own list of modalities and other characteristics applied in a specific rhetorical setting: a college-level multimedia writing course delivered purely in an asynchronous online setting. By initially understanding the differences that both students and instructors in this setting sense, and what they perceive those differences to be, one can begin to understand what elements within asynchronous video communication are important in this setting and whether such elements might be able to be simulated or re-introduced to the online classroom setting.
Even within a particular rhetorical situation, such as an asynchronously-delivered online class, there are various types of learning that occur. One difference in learning types relates to the way that it is received, such as through personally-read text, a live one-sided oration, a one-to-one conversation, a multi-participant conversation, etc. While it is important to acknowledge personal learning preferences, there are certain subjects, topics, and contexts that are objectively seen as able to be better communicated in a learning environment through one delivery method than another. For example, certain mechanical tasks are generally seen as being more effectively instructed by hands-on learning than by purely textual or orated instructions. In this way, the study looks to what aspects of the AOVC might make it more or less effective in contributing to and enhancing certain learning experiences, and by extension, identifies those contexts.
The idea of simulation and the notion that replicating (or more closely replicating) FtF interaction in the AOC suggests that it provides some valuable addition to an instructional situation or encounter. After identifying what benefits and limitations the use of the AOVC in the AOC provides and what areas are most logical to which to apply this communication method, it is important to consider what instructional advantage or disadvantage might be obtained from such application. Furthermore, such discovery might help to structure a grid that charts which communication methods are most ideal for each learning style.
The existent research gap that this study seeks to fill is in examining the AOVC as a means to alter the level of participant-perceived social presence in the AOC. Specifically, this study seeks to determine how interpersonal communication occurs in the AOC setting through use of the AOVC communication form.
This dissertation adds value to the fields of technical communication and rhetoric by ascertaining the effects of this asynchronous online video conversation feature in regard to filling the gap in social presence that exists between FtF instruction and asynchronous online classes. Outcomes of this study also suggest potential applications of the feature in the classroom to enhance distance learning. Transparency of these effects could reveal new insights into the way we communicate online. By extension, the same principles determined by the use of this method in the classroom could be extrapolated into the workplace in regard to globalization and distance communication.
The results of this proposed study further our understanding of the perceived level of social presence that is experienced through the AOVC. The results might also aid in determining the need for further research into the uses and effectiveness of the asynchronous online video conversation in enhancing communication, comprehension, and retention of information in the online classroom and other settings.
Limitations, Scope, and Further Study
Important to any discussion of a specific, particularly new, communication and content delivery method applied in the classroom is a consideration of how such a technique affects student learning, including comprehension and retention, and how instructors can measure such effects. Such an examination would ideally provide a solid determination as to whether the new method improves student learning in one or more settings. However, this dissertation examines this topic from more of a participant perspective approach and considers the specific characteristics of the AOVC that may make it particularly advantageous for certain educational settings and less so for others. Therefore, this dissertation does not measure the effectiveness of the asynchronous online video conversation in terms of knowledge transfer, learning outcomes, content comprehension or retention, or whether this virtual communication method improves student grades.
Rather than focusing on learning outcomes, the study examines the way in which students and instructors use the technology (both by assignment and by choice), for what types of communication in the online classroom they prefer this technology to traditional textual communication, and what participant-perceived effects occur. Based on existing media theories that discuss the benefits of FtF communication, it seeks to show whether this communication mode is beneficial in terms of enhancing the student and instructor feeling of social presence in a way similar to the live setting. In this way, it provides a foundation for further study to determine the effectiveness of this conversation method on academic learning outcomes.
Furthermore, the scope of this dissertation is limited to examining a single application of this asynchronous multimodal communication in a specific academic setting. It looks at the use of the AOVC over two semesters of the General Principles of Multimedia Writing course delivered solely online by a single instructor. In this setting, the AOVC is applied through the use of weekly discussion board posts made by students, a weekly class overview and update video made by the instructor, and unassigned, interactive uses of the AOVC by students for various purposes.
Because it could be easily applied in other academic situations, the workplace, politics, or in social networking, there is clearly much room for additional study into how it could be applied in these other settings and in measuring its effects. Outcomes of this dissertation are likely to also serve as a foundation to show the value, to whatever level, of this method in other communicative situations.
Organization of This Dissertation
This dissertation reports on the study of the AOVC as a potential means to affect the student- and instructor-perceived levels of social presence in the AOC and of the value of this communication method in a given academic setting. Essentially using a traditional dissertation structure–introduction, relevant definitions, problem statement and driving questions, review of the literature, methods, results, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations, this dissertation addresses those issues.
Following the first chapter, which introduced the study and provided an overview of the dissertation and its purpose and relevance, Chapter Two of this dissertation reviews and discusses the literature relevant to the study presented in Chapter One, largely reviewing the ideas of social and media theories, orality and oral communication, electronic communication and new media, online classroom communication and computer mediated communication (CMC), and immediacy. This collection of reviewed topics provides a solid foundation for this investigation of an essentially oral, new media communication method used in a basically social manner within an online classroom setting.
Chapter Three details the qualitative data collection methods used in this study. Additionally, it defines and defends the methods of inquiry and data collection used when responding to the research questions presented in Chapter One, emphasizing the logic behind a case study approach combined with participant surveys and video content analysis.
Chapter Four discusses the results and findings from the research effort: the data collection, surveys, and content analysis. Additionally, it addresses the implications of this portion of the inquiry to address the dissertation’s research questions.
Chapter Five offers an analysis of those results presented in Chapter Four, including best practices for use of the AOVC in a specific online classroom setting and what course and assignment types might be more logical settings to apply this communication method.
Finally, Chapter Six addresses the research questions specifically in light of the research conducted. Additionally, it discusses the study’s significance, limitations, and implications of this research on fields of technical communication and other fields, and provides potential future research directions.