BACKGROUND OR CONTEXT
Teamwork is an integral component of any engineering degree, but students often have difficulty organising team meetings outside of class times due to discrepancies in their individual study timetables as well as their family and work commitments. Rich-media synchronous online technologies such as video/web conferencing and virtual worlds can be used to help address this problem by enabling anyplace, anytime interaction, while at the same time mirroring the communication modes students will encounter in their future workplaces. However, not much is known about how these technologies compare with one another for facilitating different types of collaborative learning task and in terms of their student-perceived affordances.
PURPOSE OR GOAL
In this study, the researchers sought to elicit student perceptions of and experiences using
Adobe Connect, a 2D web conferencing application with video capabilities, and iSee, a hybrid desktop video conferencing and 3D virtual world environment. The goal was to examine, from a user standpoint, the appropriateness and efficacy of these software platforms for supporting student-directed project team meetings. Such research is of value to the academic community because it is important for educators and students to be able to make informed decisions about the modalities to be used for collaboration and concept representation, since these can impact heavily upon the effectiveness with which joint meaning-making and knowledge co-construction occur.
A quasi-experimental approach was adopted in which half of the student teams in a project based engineering subject were assigned to use Adobe Connect and the remaining half were assigned to use iSee for their online team meetings. The research design was specifically targeted at identifying differences that might exist between the Connect and iSee users in terms of: (a) time required to learn the software; (b) perceived ease of use; (c) perceived communicative affordances; (d) perceived enablement of co-presence, user/information representation, and collaboration; and (e) overall satisfaction. An end-of-semester survey was used to gather data from students relating to each of these aspects and to facilitate between-groups comparisons.
Basic measures of central tendency pointed to iSee requiring less time to learn and being easier to use than Adobe Connect, but the differences observed were not statistically significant at the .05 alpha level. The survey data pertaining to perceived communicative affordances similarly tended to favour iSee, but the differences were again not statistically significant. However, iSee was rated as being effective at fostering co-presence and enabling collaboration by more students who used it than was the case for Connect, at a level approaching significance (p = .090). A significantly higher proportion of iSee users than
Connect users said they would recommend the use of the software for student team meetings (p = .035), which can be seen as early evidence that iSee, with its combination of
3D spatial interaction and video-based communication capabilities, lent itself to a more productive and enjoyable online collaboration experience within the application context