The term computer-mediated communication (CMC) signifies the ways in which telecommunication technologies have merged with computers and computer networks to give us new tools to support teaching and learning.
CMC describes the ways we humans use computer systems and networks to transfer, store, and retrieve information, but our emphasis is always on communication.
In our model, the computer network is primarily a mediator for communication rather than a processor of information. As it is currently used to support instructional purposes, CMC provides electronic mail and real-time chat capabilities, delivers instruction, and facilitates student-to- student and student-to-teacher interactions across a desk or across the world. These uses are enabling and promoting several paradigmatic shifts in teaching and learning, including the shift from instructor-centered distance education to student-centered distance learning and the merging of informal dialogues, invisible colleges, oral presentations, and scholarly publications into a kind of dialogic (or even multilogic) virtual university.
"How can educators and learners use CMC productively as we move into the 21st century?"
CMC promotes self-discipline and requires students to take more responsibility for their own learning. Using CMC, instructors can vary a course's instructional design to include everything from structured projects to open projects in which students are free to work on "messy"--but authentic--problem solving. On the other hand, because students must manage their own learning, this newfound independence may be a hindrance to those students who need more structure.
No one can deny that we have entered an information age in which power comes to those who have information and know how to access it. If we consider which factors of CMC will be most important to education in the information age, it seems that our goals should be to develop self-motivated learners and help people learn to find and share information. If designed well, CMC applications can be used effectively to facilitate collaboration among students as peers, teachers as learners and facilitators, and guests or experts from outside the classroom.
One of the more important aspects of CMC use in instruction is that it is text-based. Facility in writing is essential across the entire curriculum, and with the present technology one cannot communicate on a computer network without writing. Just as important, if used effectively, CMC encourages and motivates students to become involved in authentic projects and to write for a real audience of their peers or persons in the larger world community, instead of merely composing assignments for the teacher. At the same time, we must recognize that not all students can express themselves well in writing, and, even for those who can, the act of writing and using online text-based applications can be a time-consuming struggle.
In this regard, there is an emerging body of literature, added to by several authors in this volume, who speak from their own experiences concerning the empowerment of persons with disabilities, physical impairment, disfigurement, or speech impediments, which hinder their equal participation in face-to-face encounters. CMC promotes an equalization of users.