Critique of Computer Mediated Instruction Written by Daniels and Pethel

Jae-Seok Yang
Indiana University in Bloomington

The Brief Summary

In the era of “digital age”, computers have played a major role in human society. Computers do not mean just a machine for doing word processors or solving complex math equations but a broad medium for our social communications. One of the major implementations of computers is as an efficient tool for education. Through the combination of technology and communication, computer mediated communication (CMC) in education stimulates learner-centered learning environments. There are various ways of implementation of CMC: blog, BBS, chat, email, instant messenger (IM), listservs, virtual learning environments (VLE), course management systems (CMS), learning support systems (LSS), and Wikis. Each has benefits and drawbacks. Besides there is some doubt about CMC as a valid educational tool. However, it is evident that CMC tools for educational environments will meet the student’s needs for overcoming the limitation related to place and time, and will be a part of tools for interaction with others for some time.

Critical Thinking

The title does not indicate appropriately the whole flow of this article. The title of this article is Computer Mediated Instruction (CMI). However, the authors just focus on computer’s communicative function in terms of Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). There are two possible interpretations from only the title, CMI. The first one is that the role of computers is a medium between a learner and instructor. In other words, a computer is a tool for learning. Nowadays there are various types of software made for learning and they have been widely used. For example, software for learning English vocabulary, correcting learner pronunciations or spelling, and interacting with peers or experts online in real-time conversations are available today. The second possible meaning of CMI is that the role of computer is a medium among learners for instruction. In other words, the computer is a communicative tool for instruction. Computer networks provide virtual places or connections for communication. Email and Blog are the examples. Thus, the content of the chapter needs to be broader beyond the communicative functions, or the authors should consider changing it to include a reference to web-based instruction. In my opinion, Computer Mediated Communication Instruction (CMCI) would be reasonable title.

The presentation of information about the basic characteristics of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in this chapter is generally adequate to understand CMC in an educational setting in terms of a time-place model. (see Figure 1.) By citing the pertinent literature, the authors not only provide several major benefits and drawbacks of asynchronous communication as well as synchronous communication, but also provide some specific examples that others might use in their own instruction. The benefit of asynchronous communication is flexibility of time, place, and students’ level. The drawback of asynchronous is the difficulty of simultaneous feedback and activities and student’s lack of motivation or procrastination. Furthermore, the major benefit of synchronous communication is the capability for simultaneous and interactive feedback. The disadvantage of synchronous learning is the limitation of time-zones for setting up the exact timing of the session. In addition, synchronous is appropriate for short sessions because it is difficult for learners to keep paying attention to it for long periods.

At the end of this article, the authors added information regarding social issues and aspects of CMC to consider. They suggest that CMC is not incomplete compared to face-to-face communication settings. Even though CMC lacks emotional expressions through visual cues, on the contrary, the lack of visual cues can exclude negative factors which inhibit communication. For example, racial bias, social status can be excluded through CMC.

The authors suggested a possible scenario. In the scenario, Dr. Jones had completely and successfully replaced the face-to-face class with CMC instruction. However, the authors need to provide more realistic examples of CMI applications in schools and other types of learning environments. The scenario presented is too good to be true-way too optimistic or idealistic. In effect, the scenario only illustrates the bright side of CMC; however, in truth, there might be potential problems in the complete virtual classroom setting. One of the big problems of university online courses in Korea, for example, is an issue of instructor’s learner assessment standards. In the online education settings, it is harder to realize the degree of learner’s efforts to prepare his or her class than to do so in the traditional face-to-face setting. Moreover, ethical issues can be raised such as plagiarism. Students are exposed to the overflowing information of the Internet. It is easy to copy and paste it. Lastly, the problem of anonymity can cause potential distrust among students. Internet users have a tendency to make comments in an exaggerated way or lie. These factors should not be underestimated because these can make students’ motivation and their desire of accomplishment decreasing. Thus, the authors should consider these possible negative factors.

Strengths & Weaknesses

A key strength of this article is the application of computers for the purpose of education. With the benefit of the communicative function of CMC, a fast growing trend in teaching and learning is how CMC can push educational environments in new ways. The authors offer up-to-date information about CMC tools in an organized way. One of the strengths is the ‘Instructional Uses’ part at the end of each CMC tool illustration. These sections make appropriate suggestions for using each tool in different settings, levels, lecture types, and so on. In addition, the authors provide a glossary of common CMC terms at the end of the chapter. These brief and understandable definitions are informative and considerate to people who are not familiar to the CMC.

At the same time, a weakness of this chapter is that the authors do not mention the available or effective subjects to be taught by CMC tools. According to this chapter, it seems that all CMC tools are well applied to all subjects regardless of the field of study. For example, if a student who is taking math or algebra courses has a problem to solve, such as “which is the better way to ask the equation question?”, then the chapter implies that he or she might learn from CMC. However, this is one area wherein the traditional face-to-face interaction would be helpful. To use CMC tools for math tutoring might not be preferred. Another example is a language learning setting. There are myriad online ESL courses on the Internet; however, most of courses are for reading, writing, and listening, but not speaking. It may be confusing that the authors already noted that CMC tools have a benefit of communicative function. Speaking requires a real communication through practice in face-to-face environments. In terms of the present development level of CMC tools, most of them are text-based. Speaking proficiency requires real practice with peers or teachers through intimate interactions. Learning how to speak necessitates the real communication and it cannot meet the student’s needs through text-based communication. In order to deal with this problem, the authors suggest an alternatives model, virtual learning environment (VLE), such as suggested by Pierre Dillenbourg. Nevertheless, if this is even possible, it will take quite long time to reach the ideal level of virtual cyber space such as in sci-fi films. Thus, this chapter would be more convincing if the authors added expanded explanations of how to apply CMC tools to certain field of studies or which tools are recommended for the field of studies.
Overall Critique

This chapter does an admirable job of summarizing the research on and implications of CMC, particularly for an overview or introductory article. For the most part, it was well written and well organized. The authors defined, explained, and provided various implementations of CMC in the educational environments. In addition, they accounted for the benefits and drawbacks of CMC tools. However, there was a suggested need for a different review of aspects of CMC to find out potential problems and to develop the educational environment. Nevertheless, this chapter was extremely interesting and is a significant contribution to the field of educational technology research.