Real-time forum enabling virtual face-to-face meetings

H Y Tung and Philip Tsang
Open University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China
Zhao Yangyang
Heilongjiang University, Heilongjiang, China
K F Tsang
City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China

The disadvantages of e-learning include the lack of face-to-face interaction with teachers, with whom relationships can be built easily. Critics of e-learning argue that the process is no longer 'educational' in the highest philosophical sense (for example, as defined by R S Peters, a philosopher of education). The feeling of isolation experienced by distance learners is also often cited, although discussion forums and other computer-based communication can help to ameliorate this and, in particular, can often encourage students to meet face-to-face and form self-help groups -- and discussion groups can also be formed online. Supporters of e-learning claim that such criticisms are largely unfounded, as human interaction can be encouraged readily through audio- or video-based Web-conferencing programs and threaded discussion boards. However, these communication tools cannot share handwriting easily.

This paper is concerned with a communication tool called Real-time forum, which enables virtual face-to-face communication and makes the teacher and students feel as if they are sitting close to each other and sharing their ideas freely in handwriting. This forum (a) provides a screen for handwriting with a mouse or joystick -- with the on-screen handwriting showing immediately on the screen of other users; and (b) enables users to talk with each other using the technology VoIP. In this way, communication between students and teachers is strengthened.