Any electronic conversation must be effective in order for it to be a vehicle for learning. There are many communication vehicles, and of these, many of them have very similar attributes. Understandably though is that the most important tool is a tool that works properly. When dealing with technology, you will find that having reliable technology that always works is impossible to find. For this reason, I feel that have instant messaging as a tool is great because all parties are active at the same time and there is no delay. Email and message boards are great but information can often take time to be received. With instant messaging and video chat tools such as MSN messenger, Skype, DimDim, and Google (talk or docs) all parties are able to communication instantaneously and it becomes a lot harder for someone to lose focus. This method of instant messaging is great for quick explanations and presentation of materials, however to have thought provoking discussion, other vehicles may be necessary. This is when message boards and email discussion become very useful because the reader has a chance to not only read the post, but to also think on it and not have to have an immediate response.
I have participated and now overlook Video Conferenced (V/C) classes and this method is very useful much like the instant messaging or video, but on a much larger scale. However, the largest drawback of this technology is ironically, the technology itself. A slow internet connection leads to a lag on the receiver’s side, which then leads to a negative online experience. Also, the software for our V/C (Polycom) can often have a steep learning curve for novice computer users and lead to much frustration. If the teacher does not feel comfortable with the technology or cannot grasp how to use it, the learning experience for everyone is hindered and the vehicle for learning stops.
Overall I feel the most important tool in the classroom is on that engages the student. In my experience, this has been through instant messaging or video conferencing but I am sure in other situations, email and message boards are important as well.