| Information and Computer Technology Fact Sheets |
What is computer-based communication?
It is the use of computers and telecommunication devices, such as telephones and modems, to send messages. Electronic mail (or e-mail) is one popular form. This is the process of transferring the electronic equivalent of a piece of paper from one location to another, perhaps with copies to several addresses, or even to a whole mailing list. After receiving the message, people can then respond, again copying their response to others.
What is computer conferencing?
A computer conference emulates a face-to-face conference where many people meet to discuss an issue of common concern. Computer conferences include a private "messaging" module to simulate the corridor or coatroom discussions that often take place at meetings but they also permit communication among multiple users and allow more flexible treatment of conference comments. In effect, they provide the basis for a location-independent "virtual meeting" with an open-ended database of the contributions to the discussion. All those who wish (or need) to participate in a computer conference may do so, each at their own convenience, on their own time schedule, and from their own choice of location.
What are some advantages of computer-based communication?
It provides a means to bridge time and distance to facilitate interpersonal communication. It presents the opportunity for as many people as have the need or desire to communicate about a particular subject (or many subjects) to do so without being either physically present in the same location (as in a conventional meeting), or even available at the same time (as in a telephone conference call or a video teleconference).
Computer-based communications lead to:
1) A better information flow,
2) More continuing and immediate contacts among scientists of like interests,
3) More opportunity for wide involvement in discussions and less opportunity for domination by a small number of vocal participants,
4) The bridging of some language barriers, as it is generally easier for people to deal in the written form of unfamiliar languages,
5) The creation of an ongoing, permanent record of discussions, Some reduction in the need for travel,
6) Opportunities for professional development, and
7) The development of a global network of scientists with a common interest.
What are some of the problems associated with using computer-based communication?
Such communication is a technical reality and is in every-day use in many organizations; however, getting it into place in a new environment can be another matter. Complex economic, social, political, and legal factors will certainly affect the use of the technology and may in some cases present barriers to its successful implementation. The telecommunications systems in many African countries are suffering from deteriorating equipment and inadequate investment. Some forms of computer-based communications can be expensive. In some African countries telecommunications costs are high in relation to other costs, and participation in some computer-based communication activities can require scarce foreign exchange.
What do I need to use computer-based communications?
Basically, a computer, a modem, communications software, and access to a telephone line. A system needs the use of data access links (which may be a simple, ordinary telephone or an international packet-switched data network), a computer to act as "host" for the discussion, and a terminal device. Experience has proven, however, that there are a number of additional factors that contribute to the success of computer-based communication:
1) There must be a need to communicate: those involved must have something to say to each other and must be willing to say it and pay for it.
2) Reliable, low-cost, readily-available data communication facilities are essential.
3) Participants must have easy access to a terminal, as the systems work best when accessed directly.
4) The host system must be reliable, accessible, and easy to use.
5) A communications advisor must be involved who will help the moderator and participants to start the conference process and keep it moving.
6) Institutional recognition and support, beyond funding and provision of equipment is needed.
7) Participation in this type of information exchange must be appreciated as being as valuable as traditional forms of scientific communication.
8) A leader who is able to fire the imagination of the key participants and funding agencies helps keep the conference moving.
Where is it being used in Africa?
The situation changes almost daily. For current information about networks in Africa, please contact Wendy White or check one of these WWW sites:
http://www.mids.org The Matrix
http://info.isoc.org/home.html Internet Society
http:// www.nsrc.org Network Start-up Resource Center
http://naic.nasa.gov/nsi/survey/survey.htm Survey of International Internet and K-12 Connectivity -- NASA
Where can I find more information?
Capacity Building for Electronic Communication in Africa (CABECA) is a three-year project to promote computer-assisted networking throughout Africa, executed by the Pan African Development Information System (PADIS) of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Its overall objective is to provide technical assistance to bring about sustainable computer-based networking in Africa, at an affordable cost, accessible to a wide variety of users from both the private and public sectors.
For more information, contact: PADIS, UN Economic Commission for Africa ,P.O.Box 3001, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: + 251 1 511167; fax: +251 1 514416, telex: 21029 eca et.
For examples of how electronic networking has been used in Africa, see Bridge Builders: African Experiences with Information and Communication Technology, a book included in this cd-rom