That being said, I have personally participated in a great many synchronous activities as both an instructor (when they were optional activities) and as an audience member in a presentation. My personal feeling is that I absolutely love synchronous activities when I am an audience member at a presentation. I find it a great joy that I can interact with people around the world from my little office. I try to attend as many as possible. In case you are ever interested in trying some of these free synchronous seminars yourself, here's a short list of a few groups who regularly host them (in many cases, you can also find archives of previous presentations their for your viewing pleasure):
- Innovate Live: http://www.uliveandlearn.com/innovate/
- WebCT Online Seminars: http://www.webct.com/seminar
- CIDER Sessions http://cider.athabascau.ca/events/cidersessions2005
In fact, a great talk is shaping up from next Friday (April 8th, 2005) at the CIDER sessions entitled: Content analysis of online discussions . So if you want to talk about issues surrounding the evaluation of online discussions activities in a DE format, this is a must attend presentation!
I have used synchronous chat as an optional activity in a few of my courses. I've used it most frequently as a type of "Online Office Hours" where I just chill in the chat room for an hour waiting for people to come and ask me questions or just visit with me. It works well. Typically, I get three to five people who drop by to say hello, ask a question or just be social. I don't discourage them from using the Online Office Hours as a social outlet in the DE course. I think some social learners need this ingredient in their learning environments in order to bring them success. So pretty much anything goes in the Online Office Hours. I have also organized one-hour optional chat activities on a specific class topic. I've done it twice. Both times were well attended.... five people once and seven the second time. It's a fast and frantic chat and my experience is that very little learning occurs because you're too busy typing and thinking up the next thing you're going to say (quickly I might add because the messages are scrolling by like mad and the topic you might be wanting to contribute to can be long gone if you don't type it fast enough!). There's a bit too much performance anxiety in this environment for my liking. I would find it difficult to examine a chat transcript and grade it afterwards with good conscience. I would be constantly asking myself if a student's lack of performance was due to performance anxiety with the media or what?
So, there are a few of my ideas and experiences around synchronous interaction. I like it, but not as a requirement for students and I don't like using it as a graded activity either.