March 9, 2010

A Social Dimension to Distance Learning

As academics, we are acutely aware of the gulf between the world of our youth, society in general (work politics, media etc.) and the educational system. The last item is described as archaic, static and outdated with a learning environment offering little to students raised with the Internet and enthusiastic over the digital universe.

An experiment at Cégep@distance has offered the opportunity to explore the potential of these new digital environments, and we would like to discuss some of the advantages that emerged in distance learning which could certainly be transferred into the classroom.

Since last September, Cégep@distance has been offering students in three of its courses the possibility of registering in Osmose, a social networking environment using Web 2.0 technology including a videoconferencing platform.

A New Way to Break Down Social Barriers

This environment allows teachers to post a profile and expose a more human side to their students. The teacher or tutor becomes multi-dimensional with interests to share with students. Who could have imagined that the HEC graduate had an interest in dance!

In the same way, student profiles in class or in distance learning can allow classmates to better know one another and find common interests. Among the students enrolled in Osmose, several students, including a number of men, indicated cooking as a passion.

Multiple Uses for Multimedia Tools

The students and tutors using Osmose have a number of multimedia tools to communicate with. Some used them to add information to their profile or like Guillaume in Littérature Québécoise (Quebec Literature) to communicate an experience to his peers.

Guillaume’s Video (in French)

Tutors also use these tools for short ad hoc communications with students in their group or with a student in particular. In certain tools such as files and pages, students and tutors alike inserted a photo or schema to support their points. They also copied templates which structured information that they received such as visiting sites that were referred to them by their tutor or by classmates.

Extending Teaching and Learning

The social environment becomes an extension of the class for both the teacher and the student. For example, a face-to-face conversation can be continued in a videoconference with follow-up in a group forum. A group project begun in class can be finished online, either synchronously or asynchronously. In Osmose, team members can meet in a videoconference to coordinate their individual contributions. For another team, individual work can be shared asynchronously using the team’s collaborative space. Tutors can correct group work in a shared space allowing all team members to benefit from their comments.

Other Uses

Using videoconferencing, tutors and teachers can organize impromptu sessions to focus on ideas and concepts that seem to not have been mastered in regular instruction. Only those who feel the need to participate are obliged to attend. Furthermore, those that were not present can view a recording of the session archived on the platform.

Other possibilities, as yet untested but technically feasible, include supervisors communicating with students in work-study programs or students in these programs communicating between themselves from geographically distant locations.

Do you have questions, suggestions or ideas about this exciting development? Use the comments feature and share them with us and your colleagues around the province.

Editor’s note: Osmose is in an experimental phase, and elements of it may be used for the future “Virtual Campus” of Cégep@distance. One of the courses that has an “Osmose option” is an ESL course. The English service of Cégep@distance has asked for funding for FSL starting in 2010-2011, and hopes to find some interesting ways to integrate technologies/lessons from this current experimentation.

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Gerry La Rocca
Gerry La Rocca
8 March 2010 22h07

Long Distance Learning is great, it has many advantages, saves travel time and has the added feature of viewing the lecture at a more convenient time.

Which software are you presently using and the cost to purchase?

Martine Chomienne
Martine Chomienne
11 March 2010 19h22

We use VIA a commercial video Web conferencing system.
Get info at

We also use ELGG a social netware software that we have adapted to the needs of our target population at Cégep@distance.