Synchronous Communication Tools

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Communication in distance education is made between an instructor, learners, and content through communication tools/channels. Synchronous communication often takes place in a chat room, a web-based forum in which multiple users type and send their comments and messages to each other. They are generally text-based, but many synchronous chat providers come with additional features such as audio and video. Synchronous communication, due to its speed and efficiency, is excellent for brief and rapid-fire communication.


Designing good communication strategies with effective communication tools is important to promote students’ quality interaction. Some researchers (e.g., Kock, 2001; Shirani, Tafti, & Affisco, 1999) have found that using synchronous communication in online learning environments increases the quantity of ideas. On-line communication effects and enhances students’ knowledge, as well as creating an effective social context, climate, or dimension that facilitates quality online participation (Tu, 2000a, 2000b, 2001; Wegerif, 1998).

Design Questions/Issues

Important issues when selecting synchronous communication tools relate to how certain tools help (or hinder) students’ ability to meet course objectives, as well as each tool’s potential impact on pedagogical activities. When deciding on whether to integrate synchronous communication in an online learning environment—or, when considering which synchronous communication technology to use—consider the following issues:

  1. What tool(s) do you currently use?
  2. Do you have the hardware and software required to utilize this tool?
  3. Is the tool being considered pedagogically congruent with the course goals?
  4. Can you clearly describe the purpose/expectations for using this tool?
  5. What specific course topics would you choose for synchronous communication?
  6. Will students be able to use the tool with easy and simple exploration?
  7. Will you count student use of this tool as part of their final grade?
  8. How will you plan to encourage student quality of communication?
  9. How will you accommodate equal participation to everyone who has different learning styles?
  10. Would the tools enhance student knowledge and create a sense of community?


There are synchronous tools within an LMS environment (e.g., Chat in WebCT Vista, Wimba) and others that are stand-alone (including iChat/AIM, MSN Messenger, Skype and Googlechat).

  • WebCT Vista’s built-in Chat Tool
  • Moodle's built-in Chat Tool
Moodle Chat Module:
Chat module includes documentation on: Adding/editing a chat, Chat permissions, Viewing a chat, Chat sessions, Chat reports, Chat FAQ
  • Wimba is a tool to enhance interactivity between teacher and students (and among students) in an LMS environment. Wimba supports text chat, audio chat and video chat.
Wimba Classroom:
  • iChat is an instant messaging client created by Apple that runs on AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM) network, that also supports voice and video calls.
Wiki page about iChat:
Apple’s Product Page on iChat:
  • MSN (Windows Live Messenger) is an instant messaging client created by Microsoft, that also supports voice and video calls for Windows users only.
Product Page on MSN:
  • Skype is a communications client that allows users to make voice calls, video calls, and instant text messages over the Internet.
Product Page on Skype:


WebCT Vista Chat Tool System Requirements for WebCT Vista 4.2.3:

iChat System Requirements for Mac OS X 10.5: MSN (Windows Live Messenger) System Requirements for Windows Live:

Skype Skype for Windows: download from here. System Requirements

  • Broadband internet connection.
  • Speakers and microphone – built-in or separate.
  • For voice and video calls we recommend a computer with at least a 1GHz processor, 256 MB RAM and of course a webcam.
  • For High Quality Video calls you will need a high quality video webcam and software, a dual-core processor computer and a fast broadband connection (384 kbps or faster).

Skype for Mac OS X: download from here System Requirements

  • For higher-resolution video a faster processor and a broadband connection with at least 384kbps upload speeds.
  • 512 MB RAM.
  • 40 MB free disk space on your hard drive.
  • Microphone and speakers or headset.
  • For video, use your built-in iSight webcam, or download drivers for your third-party webcam.
  • Broadband internet connection.

Wimba System Requirements

  • Windows Vista, XP or higher Mac OS 10.2 or higher, some Linux distributions may run Wimba, but none are officially supported.
  • 256 MB Memory+ (higher recommended)
  • Sound card (for audio)
  • Speakers (for audio)
  • Microphone or headphones with built-in microphone (for audio)
  • IE 5.0+, Netscape 7.0+, Mozilla 1.0+, Safari 1.1+ (Browser must be Java and JavaScript enabled)
  • Internet access at 56k or above (Broadband recommended)
  • A Webcam will work (for video)

Software Requirements

  • Macromedia Flash Player 8 (Download Player)
  • Java v.1.4.x* (Download Plug-in)
  • Wimba Voice Tools components are Java applets that run Sun's Java Plug-in. (


Write an entry for your course weblog about your experience here (on your "Home" page and posting a new entry). How labour intensive was the process? What worked well? What was challenging? What surprised you?

Practice for WebCT Vista Users

  1. Check you are under the “Build” Tab.
  2. Find “Add Content Link” which is in the center at the top of the window.
  3. Click “Add Content Link” and Choose “Live Classroom”.
  4. Click “Create Live Classroom”.
  5. Put any name (e.g., Live Classroom) in the “Title” field and Click “Continue”.
  6. Now you can see the Live Classroom on the Homepage.

Practice for Moodle Users

  1. A Wimba Live Classroom/Admin account has been created for you. Here is the link. User Name is etec565; password is wimba .
  2. To upload content (powerpoint, images, etc), visit: and log in with your account information above.
  3. You can also give this link out to your participants to enter your room. They do not need to pre-register to get in. They just need to click the link, then “Participant Login” and enter in any name into the Name field when prompted. They will be prompted to run the Setup Wizard if they have not already done so.

Moodle & Audio Chat & Integrating Audio/Video Conferencing in Moodle

  • Moodle itself does not yet include an audio chat solution, due to the large server requirements to implement a standalone solution.

However, there is a choice of third party modules that you can install into your Moodle to achieve this:

  1. OpenMeetings - FREE full audio/video conferencing
  2. Dimdim - FREE full audio/video conferencing
  3. Elluminate Live - full audio/video conferencing
  4. Wimba - full audio/video conferencing
  5. Marratech - Emeeting Module - full audio/video conferencing
  6. Nanogong - FREE, for recorded audio


Most importantly, you should consider how students use the tools to achieve the goals you indentified for student activities. It would be useful to explore the example tools and check the functions they have.

Wimba Demo

  • For this demo, registration is required to access this page. However, if you elect to learn about Vista, you can add Wimba tools to your course site.
  • You can signup for on-line training for Wimba here.


Live Classroom: Enhanced chat tool used for on-line office hours and meetings. This tool has both audio and video capability. There is a set-up wizard that will test out your sound devices. All users should run the Setup Wizard before entering for the first time. The setup wizard will guide you through a series of tests to ensure that your computer is ready. Depending on the speed of your computer and your Internet connection, the Wizard may take a few minutes to complete. Test here.

Headsets for Live Classroom:

Wimba requires inexpensive headsets with microphones. Multimedia headsets of various types (including neckband, earbud and Bluetooth options are available from the UBC Bookstore, as well as most major electronics stores.


Wimba Online Workshops: This website will keep you updated about any upcoming Wimba online workshops, which include various tips and strategies for the use of Wimba.)

Wimba Community Forums: This community forum will connect Wimba users from around the world to share ideas and learn with each other.)

Skype Journal by Phil Wolff: “Power, freedom and money”.

CARNet Reference Center for Teaching Methods and Communication in E-education: this website has various links to communication tools.


Kock, N. (2001). Asynchronous and distributed process improvement. Information systems journal, 11. 87-110.

Shirani, A. I., Tafti, M. H. A., & Affisco, J. F. (1999). A comparison of two technologies for synchronous and asynchronous group communication. Information & management, 36(3), 139-150.

Tu, C. (2000a). Critical examination of factors affecting interaction on CMC. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 23, 39-58.

Tu, C. (2000b). On-line learning migration: from social learning theory to social presence theory in CMC environment. Journal of Network and Computer Applications, 23, 27-37.

Tu, C. (2001). How Chinese Perceive Social Presence: An Examination of Interaction in Online Learning Environment. Educational Media International, 38(1), 45-59.

Wegerif, R. (1998). The social dimension of asynchronous learning network [Electronic Version]. JALN, 2, 34-49. Retrieved March 15, 2009 from