Daniel Stanford, Director of Technology Innovation at DePaul University, talks about the matrix of online delivery as occurring along two axes: immediacy and bandwidth.
Bandwidth is bandwidth. The amount of bandwidth, usually provided by a cable or phone company, that a given technology requires to operate successfully. While many of us live in a post-bandwidth world, with enough bandwidth we don’t think about this as a constraint, between 20 and 40 million Americans don’t have access to stable broadband connections. Even those with usually stable internet access may find their neighborhood connections are periodically unstable due to increased neighborhood demand during stay home orders. So bandwidth is a scarce resource, both more generally and specifically now.
Immediacy is how much a given activity must take place at a given time. As Stanford points out, we’re used to thinking of immediacy as a good thing. And it can be good. But immediacy places demands on student time, forcing students build their schedule around specific events. If they are at home, they need not only to be available at a specific time, but to get hold of the family computer, find a quiet spot in the house, check that the internet connection is stable at that time.
Faculty are used to thinking of the costs of immediacy as already built into the class — in a face-to-face world, of course, students are expected to be in a certain place at a certain time. It may seem that synchronous online simply transfers that obligation to online delivery.
But there are major differences. When we have students attend a face-to-face class, we also provide them an environment at that time — the physical classroom — which is set up to guarantee a good space to participate in that event. The space automatically allows for multiple focus as well — students can attend to the slides, the instructor, classmates, or their own notes in a fluid way that even those with multiple monitor setups can’t replicate online. Most importantly, the cost of immediacy is offset by something we call “presence” in the educational technology literature. The physical presence in the classroom of both teacher and students is felt in ways that build a sense of connection with the teacher, students, and material. The cost of immediacy is offset by its benefits.
So let’s take a look at that chart again:
When we move students into the red zone we often:
- Expect the student to supply a viewing/presenting environment at a given time to which they may not have access
- Expect them to have bandwidth they do not reliably have
- Push these new costs onto the student while providing decreased benefit around presence and decreased fluidity around delivery and consumption
I’m not against using video conferences in online courses — even with all their flaws they can still build connection. But they should be used intentionally, and, particularly now, sparingly. Most distance courses may not need them at all, except for study sessions and online office hours. Instructional designers will often ask instructors to explore the other quadrants first, since video delivery tends to incur many new costs on students with less benefit.
The blue and yellow quadrants are part of most modern online courses, and if we were building courses from scratch at the beginning of a semester I’d encourage you to pick at least one of the technologies in those quadrants to teach your course. (If you want to integrate one even now, we’re here to help!)
But it’s the green quadrant — the quadrant that Stanford calls the “underappreciated workhorses” that provide the foundation of most online presentation and interaction. And it’s technologies in that area we’re going to focus on in upcoming posts (with a smattering of focus on the two other non-red quadrants).