Alvin Trusty recently pointed out the inefficiencies of synchronous chat rooms in online courses. The social protocol of the chat room does not always lend itself well to serious discussions. In a chat, people are constantly entering and leaving. Some people try to monopolize the conversation by responding to every comment made. Others take the discussion off-topic by following tangents. The result can be a confusing thread of thoughts which accomplishes little and frustrates everyone involved.While text chats can have their place (they work well as a supplement to an audio discussion, for example), I can see his point. I’ve always favored the asynchronous discussion (message board) approach, because it encourages people to reflect more on what they have to say. They’re not hindered by the immediacy of the moment. Sure, the discussion takes longer, but the product is a lot better.
TechSoup posted an item a couple days ago regarding the inefficiency of email. A 2005 study in Great Britain reported that electronic distractions, such as email, make workers temporarily dumber by 10 IQ points. The TechSoup item makes several useful suggestions for improving efficiency with email, including making sure email is the right tool for the job. They leave out one of the best approaches, though: turn it off. If I leave my email client running all the time, it’s going to check for new messages every 10 minutes or so. When it receives on, it notifies me with an audible sound on my computer. I’m trained to recognize that sound, and I have to stop whatever I’m doing and go read the message. As often as not, it’s a spam message, or a report from one of my backup servers, or something that can wait for a few hours. If I turn off the email program, and just check it a few times a day, I’m not constantly interrupting myself. But that’s easier said than done. 🙂