What are Real-Time Communication Tools?

Today, people expect fast and seamless communications with each other, facilitated by technology. Real-time communication tools have been developed and integrated into a variety of platforms such as LMS and organizations’ websites to create full-duplex channels where multiple users can communicate information and share ideas synchronously and asynchronously. Many people are already familiar live chats, video conferencing, and unified communications, all of which are now widely accessible and have broadened the reach of many institutions. For example, students in China can complete college courses in America without ever leaving home, engaging in live discussion forums that enable students to ask questions and collaborate in real time. Web development platforms, like Wordpress, have become more accessible and user friendly overtime making it easier than ever to integrate discussion forum plug-ins onto sites that foster seamless communications. As new tools such as Slack emerge, education leaders are pondering how real-time messaging and archiving applications can be used to improve learning and productivity while fostering deeper communities of practice.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

As a wise guy said some 10 years back: We must teach our students on the basis of their future and not on the basis of our past. Real-time communication is both the present and the future of our students, so of course we must go in this direction in our teaching. For the learning process as such, RTC will mean a huge step forward in collaborative learning, and it will make real internationalization possible (i.e. teacing students to act in a globalized world - not just teaching 'national' courses translated into English since we can work across boarders. - ole ole Aug 10, 2016
  • RTC is quite literally "now." Mobile devices and largely ubiquitous network access has already shifted how much of the world communicates. We, the older generation (?) are drowning in email, stymied by what to keep, what to trash, what to file for someday. Tools like Slack are already entering the educational sector as a way of collaborating among student groups, and faculty and staff members. Socially, students adopt the platforms of least resistance, and good RTC tools permit a degree of immediacy and perceived privacy/intimacy to help them stay connected to people that matter. They already expect their faculty and other members of the administration to immediately respond to email. They will certainly expect them to respond on RTC platforms, too. - anthony.helm anthony.helm Aug 29, 2016 - ole ole Aug 30, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016- billshewbridge billshewbridge Oct 1, 2016- nwitt nwitt Oct 2, 2016- rubenrp rubenrp Oct 2, 2016
  • RTC is going to be very essential - and this is now and in future ( as in the past). There are plenty of free tools available for this. This is highly likely to be using mobile devices- especially in Asia. While the official LMS may be used for official communications on the course, the real conversations online and offline are possibly going to happen using RTC. I would think tat communication is so enhanced using these mediums that a challenge can be in processing the overwhelming amount of communication in RTC which may spill over to inclusion of new features such as data summarization/visualization embedded in RTC. This will be an exciting area to watch out for. - nacha_sockalingam nacha_sockalingam Sep 9, 2016
  • Having run remote live lectures via Adobe Connect / Webex etc. along with various social media tools like Facebook, Twitter et al. for many years, I am a little surprised to see this on the list as something to be considered for the future, but with increasing pressure on physical infrastructure due to the sheer numbers of students gaining places at our institutions, the use of such RTC's is not just desirable, it is imperative. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016Agreed. These tools are very much embedded in everything we do now. Ubiquity is key to their usefulness. Slack is a great tool, however checking in on another platform is a barrier. Integration with existing channels will be key to further evolution of RTC. - billshewbridge billshewbridge Oct 1, 2016
  • Being heavy enthusiasts of tools that allow instant communication, RTC represents one of the main expectations for young students. Technologies like this, rationally embedded in instructional processes, will provide new levels of engagement and productivity. - fledezma fledezma Sep 21, 2016 - ole ole Oct 3, 2016
  • We hear a lot about the "depersonalization" of learning, especially in regard to online learning. RTC technology is available now, but probably not used enough. I think it is critical in instruction, but often whatever RTC takes place is wrapped into a Learning Management System. Other critical functions may be left out – student services, financial aid, and student activities, for example. - Lawrence.Miller Lawrence.Miller Sep 22, 2016 Building on this comment, a RTC tool that works across these systems (LMS, CRM, SIS, financial aid, etc.) would make navigating higher education much easier for students, thus eliminating barriers for first generation students and others. - elizabeth.barrie elizabeth.barrie Oct 1, 2016
  • The students in online learning wish to communicate with their tutor (or peer) and thus RTC is important and would be a prime tool in future. - rc_sharma rc_sharma Oct 2, 2016 - ole ole Oct 3, 2016
  • Only a minor detail: RTC (and other technologies) requires a setup of very clear rules for when, how often and how we communicate with the students. No teacher can live with or within the 'quick question - quick answer expected' framework that is so characteristic of the modern student. So a considered contrat with the students and a good course design is (also) here needed and has to be negotiated with the students. - ole ole Oct 3, 2016

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Really interested in the rise of bots on platforms like Facebook, Skype and Slack and WeChat. As RTC becomes more widely accepted as a means of human-human communication there has been a lot of interest in human-machine interactions via the same channel. There are obvious implication for learning and student mentoring. These bots can respond to simple user instructions (either directly or within other conversations) to offer answers ("What's the weather like in Vancouver?", "What is 6*7?", "What's the full syntax for the ls command") or perform tasks ("Book a taxi to the airport", "Contact Neil by text message and ask him to log in", "Find me that paper by Kernohan and Thomas on OER in the UK"). We've not yet seen these come into the edtech world but the applications are many and obvious for students and staff. This is an interesting example.- ole ole Aug 18, 2016
  • RTC in the above description seems to be mostly text based. This could also include Vlogs, YouTube. - nacha_sockalingam nacha_sockalingam Sep 9, 2016Agree - tools like Snapchat are frequently used to "talk in pictures". Many of the new features added by Apple to the Messages app in iOS 10 also play to this visual communication direction.- rubenrp rubenrp Oct 2, 2016
  • Academics often teach the way they were taught and, depending on their vintage, may even still be using overhead projectors and acetates along with yellowing hand written notes. A reluctance to embrace change, especially when it comes to technology, means that some of them may, sadly, make themselves obsolete over the coming years. Teaching is all about communication, and whilst every technological advance supposedly spells the death knell for face to face teaching (Radio, Film, Television, The Internet, Social Media and so on) still it proves to be the most effective method for getting your message across. However, failure to at least try and embrace new ways of communicating with ever increasing and demanding student cohorts, is, I believe a mistake, and we have a duty to use all methods available in order to ensure our students get the education they deserve. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016 - rc_sharma rc_sharma Oct 2, 2016 You're so right! - ole ole Oct 3, 2016
  • I like the idea of using RTCs that have the potential for live video for one-on-one conversations between faculty and staff and students. This is a way to "re-personalize" learning. However, there are important issues that are not addressed by programs such as Google Hangout, Periscope, or Skype. Student privacy rights, as regulated through FERPA, should be taken into account. Also, using disjointed OER or non-educational proprietary tools can result in a logistical nightmare of tracking interactions for the sake of compliance and quality control. - Lawrence.Miller Lawrence.Miller Sep 22, 2016, - rc_sharma rc_sharma Oct 2, 2016

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • As mentioned above by - ole ole, RTC tools are likely to involve a mix of human and automated bots, but both are about getting answers quickly. Libraries and librarians, along with help desks, are already adopting RTC tools to help connect students to resources quickly. In higher ed, too, as we see more and more students gravitating towards alternatives to traditional classrooms (MOOCs, online and blended courses, etc.), RTC tools (will) provide the de facto means by which faculty and students can communicate when not face-to-face. The challenge, of course, is really in finding the right balance between work and private time. Many faculty and staff already argue that email has too much of a grip on their private time, so developing tools to selectively block RTC users during set times will also be necessary. Existing RTC tools already offer the benefits of being both synchronous and asynchronous, but we need more control over our digital lives without just disconnecting. - anthony.helm anthony.helm Aug 29, 2016 - ole ole Aug 30, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016
  • Use of RTC would be significant especially in student centered learning environments, distance education, blended learning- the new age pedagogies. - nacha_sockalingam nacha_sockalingam Sep 9, 2016, - rc_sharma rc_sharma Oct 2, 2016
  • One potential negative aspect of these technologies is the instant gratification they imply e.g. if a student has a question at 3am on a Sunday morning, and they post it using an RTC, if one does not respond immediately, they feel somehow dissatisfied, and/or annoyed. We need to look at setting expectations and boundaries early on in the process if we are to successfully use these kind of tools in education. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Sep 16, 2016 - helga helga Sep 19, 2016I'm not sure that students overall have this type of expectation of these tools - messaging, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook all have more of a "get to it when you can, if you can" aspect to them (in varying degrees) when used by millennials.- rubenrp rubenrp Oct 2, 2016
  • It seems that improved RTC tools that can be integrated across an institution would not only enhance the strength of discipline specific communities of practice, they would enhance affinity building with the institution. As many institutions face financial constraints, tools that provide affinity to the school in online/distance students could have a beneficial impact on alumni donations. - elizabeth.barrie elizabeth.barrie Oct 1, 2016

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • Several higher ed institutions, including Adams State College (CO), Georgia State University, Laredo Community College, and the California Online Education Initiative, are using an academic communications system called Cranium Café from ConexED. This cloud-based tool is used to personalize student engagement with college faculty and staff for instruction, student services, and informal learning. Story on Cranium Café in CIOReview - Lawrence.Miller Lawrence.Miller Sep 22, 2016
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