I am a big fan of mediated face-to-face communication platforms such as Google Hangout and Skype. They have transformed the nature and frequency of communication between families and friends who find themselves separated for long or short periods of time.
As educational technology tools, these platforms provide opportunities for online learners to get together for video chat and voice calls from computers, tablets and mobile devices via the Internet. Users can create conference calls, exchange files and images, send instant messages, and exchange files free of charge. This is very convenient – and in some cases necessary – for fully online learners. I remain unconvinced that an idea can be fully threshed out without live dialogue, and these platforms certainly make brainstorming easy to do.
The Wonder of Tech did a nice little comparison of video calling services using helpful comparators:
In spite of all of the potential of communications platforms, sometimes the most important feature is technology’s Achilles heel. Reliability. The Internet still isn’t perfect. For students using the platforms (businesses may be better able to optimize the conditions) many variables can affect a successful hangout including individual’s technical proficiency, internet speed, and plain old dumb luck. In one week our modest group of 5 experienced a major audio feedback loop that forced us off one of the platforms and onto the other; assorted video and audio issues; and a session where one participant was lost in in the realm between reality and cyberspace and was unable to log on. That said, in 10 years we’ll no doubt be telling our grandchildren about the ‘dial up’ Skype we had to use back in the old days….