Technical Considerations

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Technical Considerations

Technical Considerations

Mediated Systems

The following table lists different types of media and their strengths and weaknesses. While studying this list, think about what was discussed about the people and the message in the previous units of this lesson.

Media Type Strengths Weaknesses
Personal video conferencing (video and audio exchange), e.g., Skype. May be low or no cost. Simulates face-to-face conversations. Connectivity may be an issue due to large bandwidth usage. May have a moderate learning curve.
Personal web conferencing (presentations and audio exchange, may include video), e.g., WebEx; GoToMeeting. Simulates face-to-face conversations. May allow sharing of documents and other media through desktop sharing. Connectivity may be an issue due to large bandwidth usage. May require special technical support. May have a steep learning curve. May be expensive.
Group video conferencing (video and audio), e.g., larger Polycom systems. Simulates face-to-face conversations. May allows sharing of documents and other media. Connectivity may be an issue due to large bandwidth usage. May be expensive. May require highly specialized equipment. May require special technical support. May have a steep learning curve.
Communication-centered applications (learning management systems, content management systems, online forums), e.g., Blackboard, Drupal. Often supports multimedia sharing: voice, text, and visuals. Provides document sharing. Usually asynchronous, but may have synchronous components; typically chat and video conferencing. May be very expensive. May require technical knowledge to install and support. May have moderate to steep learning curve.
Telephone (voice only). Fast. Easy. Relatively inexpensive. Provides immediate feedback. May or may not be private. May or may not be secure.
Mobile devices (smart phones, tablets), e.g., iPhone, Android. Multiple ways to communicate (phone, text, video). Easy to carry and portable. Moderate price. Tools can be synchronous or asynchronous. May or may not be private. May or may not be secure. Graphics can be slow. Connectivity may be an issue in remote locations.
VOIP (Internet phone), e.g., MagicJack. Fast. Easy. Low or no cost. Provides immediate feedback. Connection may be more prone to interference than phone.
Chat. Fast. Easy. Provides immediate feedback. Often requires Java installation. In group communications, there can be many conversations taking place at the same time. May be hard to follow. May require fast typing skills to keep up.
Email. Fast. Easy. Proven technology. Allows media attachments. Message can be sent to the wrong person. Easily hacked.
Texting. Fast. Easy. Good for short messages. May allow image and video attachments. Not good for long messages. Not secure. Easily hacked. Message can be sent to the wrong person.
Fax. Relatively fast. Great for sending documents. Requires phone line. Images may be poor quality. Requires receiving fax machine or software.
Discussion forums. Great for deep discussion and brainstorming. Good for mid-sized groups. May allow image attachments. May have slow responses.
Heuristic systems (exploratory systems, querying systems, demonstrations and online activities.), e.g., Wikipedia, some websites, interactive java applets, etc. Great learning tools. Permits free-form exploration and learning. Time consuming to create. May require significant bandwidth.
Animation, e.g., virtual calculators, animated graphs, some e-cards, etc. Good explanatory tools. Provides real-life simulation. May support interaction. May require significant bandwidth. Limited to computerized technology (computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones).
Websites and blogs. Accessible 24x7. Large quantities of information. Can include multimedia. Can be used in conjunction with feeds for automated updates. Can be challenging to create. Most communication is one-way.
Interactive web media. (Social networking), e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn. Fast. Supports multiple communication types (microblogging, blogging, chat, email). Often free. Accessible 24x7. Can include multimedia. Good for short broadcasts or quick conversations. Lacks privacy. May have steep learning curve. Functions change randomly. Many ads. Often contains a good deal of superfluous information. Not favorable for formal communications.
Microblogging, e.g., Twitter. Best for short broadcasts. Easy to access. Fast. Interactive discussions are rather awkward compared to other technologies. Security/privacy is limited.

Underlying Transmission

For some communications, the underlying media may need to be considered because it may affect the quality or reliability of the message. The following lists includes some of the transmission methods, and their strengths and weaknesses:

Media Type Strengths Weaknesses
Hard-wired electronics (uses electronic pulses). Dependable. Fast. Requires cabling. Not mobile.
Fiber optics (uses light pulses). Very fast. Dependable. Requires cabling. Less available than electronic wiring. Not mobile.
Wireless radio waves (microwaves, satellite). Allows mobility over large areas. Can be affected by weather and the environment. Less secure unless encrypted.
Wireless radio waves (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth). Allows mobility. Can be fast. Best for short broadcasts. Easy to access. Connection is not secure unless encrypted. Connection has a relatively short range.

Two example situations in which transmission would be considered are:

  1. An important sales meeting that requires a reliable connection and uses both audio and video, thus requiring a lot of bandwidth. In this case, hard-wired networking is likely to be the best choice.
  2. A staff member who travels from location to location. Wireless communications may be the best option in this scenario.


As was learned in the first lesson of this class, face-to-face communication normally combines three different forms of communication:

  1. Words.
  2. Voice.
  3. Body Language.

Because words and voice are received by one sense (hearing), most face-to-face communication uses two senses. In the same way, the most common uses of multimedia combine two senses:

  1. Text with visuals
  2. Spoken words with visuals.

It has been shown that:

  1. Combining two media types enhances the reception and understanding of messages.
  2. Combining three or more media types decreases understanding.

The reason for this is sensory overload. Most people can only process two sensory inputs at a time. Concentration decreases when the senses have to process too much.

Other senses may be introduced at times to enhance the message or emphasize concepts. Like an occasional physical touch in face-to-face communications, a third media may be introduced into virtual communications, but it should be used cautiously and intentionally.

Layering Media

If we want to use multiple media types (e.g., audio and visuals) we may need to layer technologies. Layering simply means to use multiple mediated systems concurrently.

Layered technologies can be beneficial:

  1. As a backup in case all or part of the primary system fails.
  2. When used to combine the same features available in expensive systems without paying a premium price.
  3. When used to enhance communications and more closely emulate face-to-face communication.

Let us look at some examples of layered technologies in different situations:

  1. The audio fails in a web conferencing system, so the facilitator connects all users through a VOIP conferencing system, such as Skype, while continuing with the visual presentation in the web conferencing system.
  2. The presenter is showing his or her desktop with a screen sharing program, and wants to show an activity or paper document. The presenter uses his or her web camera to record the document or activity, which is is displayed on the local desktop, and thus is visible to the participants.
  3. The participants wish to share a whiteboard application that is run on a local machine. Using an application sharing program, control is passed from one person to another, giving each the ability to work on the whiteboard application.

One drawback to layering technologies is the heavy use of system resources. When multiple media systems are running concurrently, transmission quality may decrease due to the demand on processing power and bandwidth.

If at all possible, thoroughly test systems in advance prior to using them in production, particularly with clients and executives.