Real Time Communications Featured Article

Changing Course: Using Real Time Technology to Make Online Education Effective

May 06, 2014

We’ve come a long way from the first type of next generation technology I was introduced to in third grade: the floppy disk. The way we learn, teach, communicate and collaborate in education environments is always changing, and today it’s more important than ever that this area is enabling real time communication and access to information. 

Distance learning and online education have become a huge part of the education ecosystem. Just like today’s enterprises, valuable education is not limited to the constraints of walls and physical buildings – students, professors and administrators are all remote, accessing, consuming and sharing information right from their mobile devices or tablets.

Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board released a study last year, “The 2012 Survey of Online Learning,” that highlights the growth of online education. Total enrollment in online courses has consistently increased since 2012, and more than 6.7 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2011 term. However, while 77 percent of academic leaders rate the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face classes, many remain unconvinced that online courses offer the same value as in-person courses, and Inside Higher Ed notes that faculty are less likely than administrators to express excitement about online courses.

WebRTC could be one technology to help change that mentality. In order for an online course to be as valuable as an in-person experience, the online quality needs to replicate face-to-face, lifelike interaction. That means in terms of connection, video, audio and any other means of communication and collaboration, the speed needs to be real time. When you are in a conversation with someone in real life, there is no jitter, latency issues or any other interference in delivering your voice—and therefore, message—loud and clear. The same needs to go for online communication.

Education in particular goes beyond just being able to communicate clearly. Students need to hand in assignments, raise their hands, see where the professor is pointing and ask each other questions. They also have real life “presence” – nobody will call on them if they are away for a few minutes on a bathroom break, for example, and professors need to be able to offer office hours. These same type of capabilities need to be available on an online platform in order for online education to be effective.

One of the problems with the video and audio conferencing systems available to educators and students today is that they are proprietary and often require additional software and a standalone app to install, which may require a licensing fee or setup cost. WebRTC eliminates these hurdles, seamlessly adding video conferencing, screen sharing and other real time interaction options to existing Web tools for students and educators.

WebRTC also enables many of those collaborative functionalities, such as sharing documents, a screen, messaging, annotation and presence. There are companies in the WebRTC ecosystem developing and implementing features that make online education even more intuitive, such as scalable video coding or bandwidth optimization. It’s likely that sometime in the near future the days before using WebRTC in education will seem as dated as the first day I learned about the floppy disk. 

Image via Shutterstock

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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