Virtual and Physical Spaces in Synchronous Courses

I am a PhD student in the English department here at ODU. We have a large distance component. Something that differentiates our program is that nearly all the courses offered at a distance are synchronous and facilitated from the main Norfolk campus via a teleconferencing platform like Jabber or WebEx. In other words, students – whether categorically “onsite” or “distance” students – are essentially face to face in a digitally mediated environment that uses a specified platform to create this synchronous experience. Instructors typically hold class meetings in a classroom on campus, and it has always seemed to me that this classroom space functions as theĀ “recognized” physical space for the course, as this is the space where the instructor is typically located; also, the web-based meeting technologies are usually affiliated with a department or university account or chosen technology.

As someone who is technically an onsite student who occasionally opts to login from home, I mostly consider myself part of a hybrid learning environment. I’m interested in this notion of space and knowledge creation as it concerns defining who is “onsite” and in the “physical” space of campus when everyone in class inhabits her or his own physical space when participating in the synchronous class experience. As pertains to knowledge creation, I am interested in these broad and rough-hewn questions:

1) If all students whether on campus or at a distance are experiencing course instruction and discussion in a digitally mediated environment, how are those experiences differentiated? How are they similar?

2) In terms of how these spaces impact knowledge creation, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a distance student? An onsite student?

3) When taking a synchronous course of this nature, how are the physical and virtual spaces blurred and how might this impede or promote the collaborative generation of knowledge amongst students?

4) How are students and instructors collapsing the boundaries between the virtual and physical, the digital and material in productive ways that encourage collaborative knowledge making and sharing? What do we need to do to improve?