Lit Review: Is it Live or is it Memorex? Students' Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication with Scientists

Lit Review: This is a post in a series focusing on the research studies on videoconferencing.

Kubasko, D., Jones, M. G., Tretter, T., & Andre, T. (2007). Is it Live or is it Memorex? Students’ Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication with Scientists. International Journal of Science Education, 30(4), 495 – 514.

Authors: Kubasko, Dennis; Jones, M. Gail; Tretter, Thomas; Andre, Thomas
Title of article:
Is it Live or is it Memorex? Students’ Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication with Scientists
Publication year: 2007
Database source: InformaWorld
Name of journal: International Journal of Science Education
My Codes:

Main Point: The study compared students’ interaction with scientists via email and via real-time conferencing. The interactions were accompanied by real-time access to live data to remotely control an atomic force microscope (for the realtime group) and recorded experiments with the microscope (for the via email group). Both groups gained in their knowledge of viruses. Students in the asynchronous group asked more inquiry and interpretation questions than the synchronous group. All of the students were one-on-one with the scientist and NetMeeting was the synchronous method.

Theoretical Framework/References: Theoretical frameworks referenced include inquiry-based learning and hands-on science learning; as well as Vygotsky’s social constructivism. Several references are used to compare synchronous and asynchronous online learning.

Methods: The students participated in the instruction – learning about nanotechnology, then working through stations to conduct experiments and interview the scientists (twice), and finally writing a newspaper article about what they learned.

Data was collected from the students interactions. The live interactions were video taped and transcribed. The asynchronous email communications were captured for analysis. The students’ interactions with the experiment (live or replayed) were also captured for analysis.

Knowledge assessments were used before and after the activity and the newspaper articles were analyzed for content.

Sample: Eighty five biology students from four high school science classes in one school. The classes were randomly assigned to synchronous and asynchronous groups.


  • Both groups asked the same number of questions.
  • The content of the asynchronous questions were most frequently about inquiry/interpretation.
  • The majority of the synchronous questions were informal and about the scientist, personally.
  • In both groups there was a significant shift from two-dimensional to three-dimensional understandings of the viruses.
  • Both groups understood the actual shape of the viruses better.
  • The asynchronous students wrote much longer articles for the newspaper than the synchronous group.
  • The asynchronous group made significantly more statements about what they learned or knew in their articles.

The researchers’ found these results encouraging, since providing this access to students is easier and cheaper using the replayed experiments and email communication vs. live experiments and live interaction with the scientists.

The researchers called the synchronous group students’ fascination with the live interaction the “actor phenomenon”. The scientist in some cases was more interesting to the students than the experiment. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Depends on your learning goals!

The researchers believe “future research needed to document how students can benefit most from communicating with scientists. What aspects of communication with scientists impact knowledge of science versus other variables such as attitudes, knowledge of science processes, knowledge of science careers, or images of scientists?” p. 17-18. Cross reference with McCombs’ evaluation and Shaklee’s study.

It’s really interesting how the email was more formal and thought out. There’s certainly something to be said for thinking about the questions ahead of time. See McCombs’ study.  In this study, it doesn’t appear that the live interaction students had a chance to think carefully about their questions. I wonder how this would compare, say, to the live interaction around a taped program like COSI Columbus’ In Depth Autopsy program. This article was especially interesting since my rant about asynchronous vendors knocking synchronous technologies. Asynchronous can be more thoughtful, yet synchronous has an energy and excitement to it. Which is better? What about the visuals? In this study, the visuals were the same – both groups could see the experiments. Certainly something to keep thinking about!

0 replies on “Lit Review: Is it Live or is it Memorex? Students' Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication with Scientists”

  1. You know what this reminds me of?

    The conversation that always occurs around Web 2.0 technologies that one of the most important aspects of them is knowing when to use which one. Could that thought process be part of this thinking also? Sometimes asynchronous is best and sometimes synchronous is best and we have to know when the “painfulness of scheduling” the synchronous connections is worth it…and which tools to use for successful asynchronous.

    This actually entered my mind today as I was putting together resources for our UserGroup meeting. If I make a page with all the links, why do I need to meet face-to-face, synchronously with my group? What topics really need to be discussed f2f and which can just be referenced later?

  2. That’s a great question about your user group. Why do we meet face to face? I’m thinking of statewide meetings that “have” to be face to face; when they are just a “regurgitation” of information. What about principals meetings? etc. etc. that happen at our service agencies. Surely there is a reason for getting together face to face. There’s something to the camaraderie at least.

    I think you’re on to something here, Roxanne. And isn’t integrating technology in the curriculum really all about choosing the right tool for the learning objectives? For that matter, good teaching is about choosing the experiences that will best meet the learning goals and the needs of the kids.

    Hmm. We must keep thinking about this!

  3. Two thoughts came to my mind when reading this post and the comments:

    1) The informality of the questions coming from the synchronous group is related to the immediate feedback they can receive. They aren’t really given time to process and reflect what they are seeing and trying to understand. It is like when you present to a group and ask if there are any questions. Generally ten seconds of silence follows. This is why I think the A.S.K. process is so important and powerful for these types of videoconferencing experiences. It builds the processing time in advance so the live interaction has more value to both the questioner and interviewee.

    2) As far as why have face-to-face meetings go, it is so everyone involved makes time to review the information together. If you just post it and tell everyone to make sure they review it, some people will and some people won’t. The immediacy of it lessens because there are other things that require a specific time line to complete. In my experience, very few people will schedule time to review information that is just posted and will coast by when it comes to using it.

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