The design, implementation and evaluation of mass conferencing
The development of the PC has opened up many new perspectives in the use of technology for distance learning. Broadband, high-speed telecommunications now make it possible to access, transmit and receive sound, still images, video and other data. This application is normally referred to as videoconferencing (Woodruff and Mosby, 1996). It provides the capability to connect two or more parties separated by distance by means of audio, video and data and allows opportunities for real-time interaction. It is often used by groups of people who gather in a specific setting to communicate with other groups of people who are unable physically to be there. However, the term videoconferencing can be applied to a wide range of situations, such as individual-to-individual discussion and video-lecturing. Lopez and Woodruff (1996) identify four videoconferencing formats: the interview, the virtual meeting, the virtual field trip and the lecture. They state that the least productive of these is normally the lecture which, they suggest, does not promote dialogue or interaction: a lecture is as a one-way process where intellectual resources are transmitted, and as a learning environment does not usually provide opportunities for students to interact with tutors or between themselves. They are unlikely to establish any form of dialogue or to use their own thought processes (King and Honeybone, 1997). Whilst cost-effective in traditional terms, the lecture forum can be a shallow and relatively ineffective learning experience.