As in any educational setting, communication is essential in an online or blended environment. There are many ways to communicate when Teaching and Learning Online. Communication starts at the beginning of the class with clear expectations and guidelines around teacher availability, anticipated response time, class schedules, methods of communication, etc.
A variety of communication technologies exist that permit increased access to teachers, and in many cases, help to forge a personal and meaningful relationship between the teacher and the student. Students are more likely to express themselves in a virtual setting or written format, especially if those students are shy or not inclined to ask questions or challenge their teacher in a traditional setting.
Online communication is rich and rewarding, but carries the sense of anonymity and protection for students who would otherwise remain closed off from teacher interaction.




Synchronous Tools

  • Blackboard Collaborate
    • Formerly "Elluminate".
    • Online conferencing tool, used as a virtual classroom
    • Voice, text chat, whiteboard, application sharing and demonstrations
    • Sessions hosted as webinars can be archived and re-watched at another time
    • V-Room (Three for Free) allows up to three participants to share an online collaborative space.

  • Skype
    • VOIP (Voice over IP) technology to make audio-only "phonecalls" or visual "videocalls" across the street or across the globe
    • Real-time two-way communication

  • Video Conferencing
    • Groups of paricipants can share voice and video from one location to another
    • Can be used to bring an expert into the class, or to bring the class to another place

  • Adobe Connect
    • Like other web-conferencing programs, Adobe Connect allows participants to communicate in real-time
    • Allows for voice, video and application sharing

  • Bridget
    • Used for sharing documents, applications and destop applications
    • Used in conjunction with other Video Conferencing software


Asynchronous Tools

  • Email
    • One-to-one communication tool
    • Institutional-provided, web-based, integrated into a LMS

  • Discussions
    • Message boards where students and teachers can communicate and collaborate
    • Open to all users, or to a sleect group

  • Social Networking
    • Tools like Twitter and Facebook allow individuals to connect and interact with each other in a virtual way
    • Teachers need to be very cautious when using these tools, and ensure they are respecting the regulations in their own jurisdiction
    • Some research has been done in regards to Social Media, but this field and technology is just in its infancy
      • Greenhow, C. & Robelia B. (2009). Informal learning and identity formation in online social networks. Learning, Media and Technology, 34, 119-140.
      • Kitsis, S. M. (2008). The facebook generation: homework as social networking. English Journal, 98, 30-36.

Research

Barbour, M. and Plough, C. (2009). Social networking in cyberschooling: Helping to make online learning less isolating. Tech Trends, Volume 53 (No. 4). Retrieved from: http://www.springerlink.com/content/n8m1101601628870/fulltext.pdf
Through this article, the author argues that students in full-time online schools (cyberschools) are not provided with the appropriate socialization opportunities to meet and interact with other students. The author begins by highlighting some general trends in Cyber charter schools, including the significant growth in enrolment in these types of programs. The majority of the article is focused around one specific online charter school who were able to utilize established social networking sites to engage their learners. The educators at this school created a pilot project to use Facebook and Ning sites to establish an online social presence with students and teachers. The goals of this pilot were to create a space for students to interact academically and socially. Without a physical connection to each other, these online spaces became very important to all students and were consequently used in a successful manner. An educational leader would be able to use this article in support of introducing new Web2.0 technologies into their learning environment. Although there is a specific focus on charter cyber schools, much of the research and study can be translated to a online public school - in the United States or Canada. The author highlights the importance of establishing an online social presence, and this can be done in a variety of ways - not just through established social networking sites.

Kuhlmann, T. (2010). The rapid elearning blog. Retrieved from: http://www.articulate.com/rapid-elearning/
The Rapid e-Learning Blog was established in 2007, and currently contains 168 different postings, all related to e-learning course design. Because the author has an educational background, and recently completed his Master's in Educational Technology, it's clear he understands the importance of course design, while focusing on the needs of the learners. Throughout the blog, a variety of topics are covered, including Visual Course Design, Assisting Learners to Remember More, Common Mistakes in Creating Online Quizzes and Tips for Using Audio in Online Courses. Although none of the posts are specific to a educational environment, almost everyone can be easily adapted to an online K-12 classroom. Perhaps because of his educational background, Kuhlmann seems to espouse the philosophy to "use what you've got". Many of his examples use common, Microsoft software that most course designers would already be familiar with. His innovative, creative and inspiring uses of PowerPoint emphasise the way in which common tools can be re-imagined and re-purposed. For example, he doesn't just use PowerPoint as a presentation tool, but takes advantage of the included clipart and inherent design aspects to truly use it in place of expensive and inaccessible graphic design software. Many schools and school divisions cannot afford expensive graphic design software, or a team of designers to create new graphics and visualizations for their online courses. However, by using some of Kuhlmann’s tips and tricks, teachers can use the software they are already familiar with to create illustrative examples or eye-catching graphics. Although none of his posts focus specifically on K-12 schooling, any educational leader would relish the chance to share these practical and pragmatic suggestions and solutions. Any online teacher or course designer (whether novice or advanced) will benefit from Kuhlmann's expertise in this emerging area.

Yu, S. W. (2009). The impact of online discussion on face-to-face discussion and academic achievement. American Secondary Education, 37, 4-25.
Not just relegated to the virtual classroom, online discussion forums can be used to foster discussions within a face-to-face learning environment. In fact, in many situations, the inclusion of online tools (including focused and carefuly-moderated discussions) can lead students to higher academic achievement. The educational leader would be able to use this research to effectively implement a blended strategy into any learning environment. By combining the online component into the traditional classroom, the teacher is able to create a more rich and engaging environment.