Thursday, February 3, 2011

1. Somewhere to begin from...

Here we begin. Finally. It has been a long search of articles, and readings, information, models and such, to gather an initial research background for this project. And as I finally came across a specific reading for a discussion posting in my class, I stumbled upon this really well written, short but clear article by Brian Newberry, on initial reflections about the following topics:

  • use of media
  • social presence and
  • educational activities
The reason I love this article and I believe it can constitute a really good starting point for the project, is the fact that it brings to the surface some very fundamental initial thoughts around the se of technologies (specifically online tools) considering them from the perspective of Media Richness Theory, the social aspect of the perceived presence of agents interacting with technology-mediated communication tools and the ability for education to implement and infuse more traditional activities with technology-mediated practices.

From the perspective of the idea of how to go about to modify and adapt an ESL course which is traditionally implemented as a face-to-face (F2F) delivery into online environments, this article that I am about to give you a few notes on in the following paragraphs, creates a solid and simple basis to initiate the discussion and considerations of the challenges of the adaptation task.

The article is titled:

Media Richness, Social Presence and Technology Supported Communication Activities in Education
Written by Brian Newberry

And it can be accessed for free at: 

Note: The article is located on a site that is freely accessible to users - it was a project Technology Enriched Learning, funded by the United States Department of Education with additional funding provided by the University of Kansas School of Education and other sources. More information directly at the site:

Key Messages in the Article
  1. Educators seem to be included to adopt newer technologies and are often fascinated by new tools that can enhance the more traditional approach to instruction with interactive tools. 
  2. Technology supported (and mediated) activities can be used consistently with instructional approaches that are sound and innovation can align and enhance the value of instructional design. The article introduces the essential idea that using a variety of media, especially when these are newer to the instructional landscape, must include the knowledge of the medium being utilized.
  3. Media Richness Theory - this theory states that different media impact communication in different ways. Every medium contains two inner qualities to carry information: the data carrying capacity and the symbol carrying capacity. Data carrying capacity refers to the medium's ability to transmit information while symbol carrying capacity refers to the medium's ability to carry information about the information or about the individuals who are communicating.  This means that educators, like all communicators, can  benefit from a deeper understanding of  how a communication tool can enhance, facilitate or hinder a certain communication. Since the teaching and learning of ESL (or EFL) and any education act is essentially a communication act, instructors can benefit from keeping in mind these qualities.  Depending on the importance of a variety of characteristics of the specific medium and the message one wants to communicate, the ratings of that medium ability to carry information can be ranked from high to medium to low. For example: If immediate feedback is deemed essential F2F is usually the ideal settings, for instructors and learners. Video Conferencing, Synchronous Audio and Text-based chats are also examples of technology-mediated tools to reach this goal. On the other hand, unless there are recording features embedded in the tools, the feedback is often lost. The article summarizes a few of these basic elements of the model of Media Richness Theory which are clear ways to begin to reflect on the qualities of the medium.
  4. Social Presence - another important aspect considered in the article is the idea of "social presence" - The author states that: Environments where participants do not feel they are recognized as individuals, or in which their input does not seem to be valued may result in a reduced motivation to participate.  By reflecting on this basic consideration, it appears that the idea of social presence can directly impact learners' participation and motivation, which are clearly essential factors to determine the overall success of any learning experience, and even more important for ESL learners.
Weaknesses and Conclusion

While clearly and concisely stating two essential starting points in the adoption of technology-metidated tools for educational purposes, the article remains clearly superficial in proposing further considerations and suggesting strategies to practically adopt specific tools at any more complex level than activity ideas. When planning for adaptation of entire curricula from F2F to online environments, the conversation around Media Richness and Social Presence must clearly dig deeper and achieve higher understandings of the complexity of goals, environments, infrastructures, cultural competencies, and more. But definitely a good place to start.

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