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 the “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?


One Comment

  1. Here are some questions I am having my education students consider?

    How does anonymity, especially in virtual spaces, affect interaction and knowledge creation?
    How does anonymity (or lack thereof) affect our willingness to divulge information?
    How does anonymity (or lack thereof) affect our willingness to comment on or critique others’ work? To post opposing perspectives?
    How does anonymity (or lack thereof) affect accountability? Does accountability cease to exist in spaces where anonymity is permitted?
    How do physical spaces affect interaction and knowledge creation?
    How does proximity affect interaction? For example, I have one classroom where all my students are jammed together in tiny seats, another where they are all spread out.
    How does physical space affect the dynamic between students and instructor? For example, why are the seats up front, by an instructor, often left vacant?
    How does seat arrangement (rows vs circle) affect interaction and knowledge generation?
    How do physical and virtual spaces affect sense of community and how does community affect knowledge creation?
    What types of knowledge are more readily developed in virtual, rather than physical spaces? What types of knowledge are more readily developed in physical, rather than virtual spaces?
    How does the asynchronous nature of many virtual interactions affect knowledge generation? Are we more thoughtful when responses are delayed?
    How is affect conveyed and perceived in virtual as compared to physical spaces? How does affect relate to knowledge generation?

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