Electronic Communication

By Pam Alger

Azusa City Library

pcalger@ix.netcom.com

 

Overview

What is electronic communication...and who wants it anyway?

What are the options?

Whatís best? (the process)

What we did  [a local program's experience]

 

What is it? And who wants it anyway?

Electronic communication is merely using electronic media for sharing information. Even if weíve never touched a computer, weíve all got it or used it. Telephones, FAX machines, video conferencing, television all are ways of communicating electronically. No one is perfect - no one meets all your needs. The electronic communication format (including Computer Mediated Communication - CMC) just like any format of conventional communication needs to meet your purpose/your goal. (I have included a nifty matrix of communication categories by Thomas Creed)

CMC gives us a whole new set of tools to advance our ability to communicate with colleagues, tutors and learners.

 

CMC - What Are Some of the Options?

Email

Most of us are familiar with this format. Good for one-to-one (or one-to-several) communication. And, if you check as regularly as your phone messages - good for fast, more lengthy communication with the ability to include attachments. For the simplest email, you need to have access to the Internet, an email address, an email program, and an understanding of limited functions (reply). Currently, there are many free, web-based email programs which allow communication from any Internet connected computer.

Mailing Lists arid Listservers

5uilt on email, these services deliver messages directly to your email box. Generally, these lists are built around a common topic/interest. Most "lists" are automated (although you can build a "primitive" variety using many mai[ programs). Users subscribe. Once subscribed email to the list is sent to a centralized address and automatically routed to the entire list. Most lists have rules for participation including no flaming (personal attacks), no spain (unsolicited commercial mail), some have requirements concerning the appropriate subject area of the list. Lists vary in a number of areas:

Degree to which they are 2-way communication. Some are really mechanisms for sending information from the list owner to the list subscribers.

Degree to which they are moderated. Some let any message be posted - some require acceptance by the list manager. There are a number of reasons for moderated list. Moderators can organize subjects by ensuring common headings, stop flame mail, and, most importantly, focus discussions arid generate new discussions.

 

The number of email messages you receive on a regular basis - some have 100s a day - some allow weekly digest.

 

If you are unfamiliar with lists, you can take a look at many of the adult education related lists on the OTAN Website at http://www.otan.dni.us  You can Ďlurkí without subscribing

and for a list of lists: http://www2.wgbh.org/mbcweis/LTC/ALRl/listservs.html

 

Bulletin Boards/Conferencing

                    Or as it has been called - "Communication at One Location"

Here you can post messages and join conversations in a single web-based environment. A simple and free bulletin board environment is available at  http://www.nicenet.net. Roundtable areas also are available (again at no charge) on http://www.otan.dni.us   This environment offers more options for the bulletin board manager in setting up and managing the conferences.

Major advantages of the Bulletin Board environment over Mailing List are:

 

WWW

The most obvious way to use the Web in communication is through your Web Page. Web pages do not need to be elaborate (and if you are not sure of the web browsers your audience will be using, you may well want to keep it simple). Word Perfect and Word will save as HTML (hyper text markup language - the language of the Web).  You can even use the WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") editor in Netscape Communicator.

For Some Ideas for Using the Web in Instruction, you might visit some of these sites:

Explore a Pyramid - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/pyramid/explore/khufuenter.html  (Great interactive site. Gives you an idea of what can be done)

Spelling Game - http://www.funbrain.comIspell/index.html

California Distance Learning Project - http://www.otan.dni.us/cdlp/ 
(Lots of different resources including read-along news stories with activities)

The Adult Learner Home Page - http://www2.wgbh.org/mbcweis/ltc/telecom/bIob.html

California Email Project - http://www.otan.dni.us/webfarm/emailproject/email.htm

Virtual Field Trip
http://www.miracosta.cc.ca.us/home/cmetzler/field_trip/top.htmll

Course Handouts
http://www.miracosta.cc.ca.us/home/jsmith/htmldocs/im103/genpage.htm
(Might be a good format for use with Tutors)

 

TaIk/IRC

Talk and IRC are methods for having real-time chats. IRCís allow chats among several users. Usually the chat is a text chat. You type your comments and read the comments of all the participants. You usually need a Java enabled browser (newer browser - Communicator) and it helps to have a fairly fast connection (particularly for web based chats). If you live and want to talk to people who live in a fairly high tech environment with microphone and speakers connected to your computer, you can use an audio chat program (Communicatorís Conferencing).

It takes a while to get the hang of text chats (since people are typing new questions while you are still answering the old one) but it can be a useful alternative to face-to-face meetings. It may be a bit too difficult for learners since it depends so much on fast typing and reading. Audio conferencing is great - but most of us dont have the equipment and resources to support it.

 

MUDs and MOOs (Multi User Dimensions/Dungeons)

Usually a text based reality where users assume characters and explore and communicate. Most popular MUDs are designed for game playing but some are designed primarily for conversation. Diversity University has done some exciting work in designing MOO environments for education and sponsors a yearly conference on using MOOs in education.  This choice demands some technical expertise on your part. Might be a good future direction.

MOOS (Education-related)
FROM http://www2,wgbh.org/mbcweis/resources.html#MOOS

Welcome to SchMOOzel (Diversity University MOO) - http://moo.du.org:8888/

Frizzy University Network (FUN) (This is an ESL MOO)
http://thecitv.sfsu.edu/~funweb/

Internet Public Library MOO - http://www.ipl.org/ref/MOO/

 

The Process (the secretís in the planning)

1.  Decide on Your Goal

What do you want from your Electronic Communication Environment?

A way to disseminate information

Conferencing

Training

Instruction

 

2. Check Your Resources

Equipment

Budget

Time

Expertise

Support

 

3. Check Your Requirements

Level of Security

Level of Autonomy

Level of Flexibility

Ease of Use

 

4. Assess the Barriers

Technical

Organizational

Cost

Motivational/Philosophical

5. Beware the Assumptions

Assume that technology alone will excite. (If you build it, they will post)

Assume that everyone has equal responsibility for making the project a success.

Assume that this must be "serious" business

Assume the same level of understanding

Assume you have the time to do all the training

Assume the same amount of buy-in

Assume everyone has decent hardware

Assume everyone has a good (any) relationship with their techies

6. Who Is Going To Organize, Manage and Encourage

        Don't Even Think About It unless you - or someone - is

Willing to put in the time for management

Willing to set goals as a workgroup

Willing to train/mentor

Willing to change scope/direction with the needs of the group

Willing to try, try, try

 

7. Itís Up - Why Isnít Everybody Using It

Is It Fun?

How Comfortable Are Your Members Using Computers/Internet?

What Training Have You Provided? (formal, informal, mentoring )

How Committed Are Your Members to Working Together?

What Is the Pay Off?

From What Organization Culture Do Your Members Come?

How Is Internet Work Seen - Essential or Frivolous?

Can You Really Do Collaborative Work Once a Week or So?

What We Did

What we wanted:

To start by making Coordinators more comfortable on the Net

To be able to keep in contact electronically.

To have something a bit more flexible anti organized than email list server.

To have the ability to have a "private" workgroup setting.

To be in an environment that connected us to others in the world

To have the ability to grow and change

 

Our Major barriers

Varying levels of expertise

Different platforms and Quality of equipment

Firewalls

Varying levels of support from local support from MIS

 

What We Chose

We started with the OTANís First Class Client environment and migrated to the Webboard

        What We Did to Increase buy In

We made it fun (and useful) ... jokes, scavenger hunts/contests (with chocolate bar awards), postings of information from Listservers

We had a central support person

We had on line "how toís"

We had mini workshops

Continued to adapt the site to meet the needs of the group


FYI - All links in this handout (and more) can be found on the SCLLN Website

http://www.otan.dni.us/sclln/clclinks.htm


 

Three Categories of Electronic Communication

by Thomas Creed

Category

Repositories

Public Forums

Private
Discourse

Description

Information stored by a
(usually) large entity (schools, museums, government agencies) and retrieved by individuals.

Information from others is available and can be
retrieved; the information is a
collective knowledge base.

Two-way communication
between individuals. The
communicators control
what information is
available to each other.

Use

Efficient gathering and
storage of collected
knowledge that an individual
or small group would be
unable to compile and
maintain on their own.

Small groups of individuals with a common purpose come
together to share information, create a body of knowledge o
a limited topic.

Two (or more) people share information that is of
importance to themselves
but of little value to others,
or needs to be confidential.

Conventional examples

Libraries

Roundtable
Discussions, Town
Hall Meetings

Letters,
Conversation

Educational examples

Lecture

Cooperative
Learning

Tutorial

Electronic forms

World Wide Web

Electronic
Conferencing

E-Mail

Organization of information

Hierarchical ..................................................................................Non-hierarchical

Persistence

Permanent ..............................................................................................Ephemeral

User input of      information

Little ..................................................................................................Considerable

Modifiability by user

Unmodifiable by user ........................................................Highly modifiable by user

Audience

Large, Public .....................................................................................Small, Private

Amount of information

Mass quantities .................................................................................Small amounts

Ease of creating information

Fairly difficult ..................................................................................................Easy

Intrusiveness

Not ................................................................................................................Very

From: Dr. Thomas L. Creed      http://www.emp1oyees.csbsju.edu/tcreed/workshop/3com.htm1