The Evaluation and Selection of Collaborative Tools in Distance Education

J. Baggaley (Canada)


Software: Evaluation; Collaboration; Online; Synchronous; Asynchronous


Distance educators and their students benefit greatly from the use of online collaborative techniques. In the past two years, the traditional text-based conferencing methods have been complemented by audio/video-conferencing methods, whiteboard, polling, and instant messaging techniques. These operate in synchronous and asynchronous communication modes, on a variety of computer platforms, and in stand-alone and integrated designs. For the online teacher, the selection of cost effective collaborative techniques is complicated by the wide range of competing software methods currently available. At Canada's Athabasca University, an ongoing software evaluation initiative has been established, providing updated reviews of the collaborative software options, and of the features that teachers and students find most useful. This paper presents the main conclusions of this project during its first year (2002-03). One hundred software products and services have been evaluated to date, and the most promising ones are being applied in the University's teaching. The paper discusses the range of approaches, and the evaluative criteria used by their graduate student reviewers. Problems of cost, complexity, control, clarity of usage are identified; and the potential of the new online methods for distance education is discussed.

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