Several years ago, I participated in the international distance learning project where students around the world had to be in front of their computers at the same time to attend the synchronous activities offered over the Blackboard. In my opinion, the virtual chat rooms and online synchronous activities are invaluable for online courses. Most online learners find it exciting to participate in discussions with virtual classmates in real-time.
Jonathan Finkelstein in his book “Learning in Real Time: Synchronous Teaching and Learning Online” argues that online courses lack interaction: online learners have no lively chats among peers over lunch, in-class discussions or debates, student-led presentations, hallway conversations, and serendipitous meetings on campus. Online learners have only “course materials, reading assignments and isolated, independent study – none of which provide the kind of supportive, dynamic, and human environment that helps learners be engaged, motivated, or successful” (p.2). I don’t support the author’s view that online learners are not “engaged, motivated, or successful” without real-time human interaction. I feel engaged, motivated, and comfortable in the online learning environment and with my virtual instructors and classmates even without chat rooms and videoconferencing. However, I agree with Finkelstein that synchronous activities offer great opportunities for interaction with the instructors and peers in real-time.
LearningTimes offers recording of "Hybrid Live Learning Events or "Multiple Venue Productions" (MVPs)." It's a long presentation, but it visualizes how synchronous chat rooms provide participants with ample opportunities for interaction: material is presented with slideshows where text can be underlined and highlighted; participants can send instant messages and speak with each other. You have to create a user name and password to access this site.