Friday, May 28, 2010

Confer Rules

Rule A: Don't.
Rule A1: Rule A doesn't exist.
Rule A2: Do not discuss the existence or non-existence of Rules A, A1 or A2.

- R. D. Laing

Most teachers have rules they share with their students. "Come to class on time." "Silence cell phones during class." "Cheating is not allowed."

What are the rules for the Confer classroom? I've collected a few suggestions (not rules) that you may want to consider when setting your virtual class ground rules.

1. When class begins, ask students to close their e-mails, instant messengers, and all other open applications - and tell them that you're doing the same thing. Assure them that you're doing this to make sure you and they can pay attention to one another without outside distractions or interruptions.

2. When recording your session (making an archive), “Be sure to tell participants they are being recorded!” This from Jennifer Hofmann in The Synchronous Trainer's Survival Guide (2004). As   Anderson et al observe in Best Practices in Synchronous Conference Moderation, "it should be noted that privacy regulations or expectations may require that participants be informed of this intention [to record]  before the session begins.”

3. When conferring over the telephone, "Ask participants to mute their phones when not speaking so extraneous sounds are not picked up. Also, tell participants not to put their phones on hold. If a person’s telephone system has a ‘music on hold’ feature, it can be very annoying and puts the event on hold until that person returns.” (This also from Jennifer Hoffman.)

4. When conferring using Voice Over Internet Protocol (computer audio), "participants can be required to raise their hands before being granted the ‘mic’ to speak. Even when this is not a technical requirement, hand-raising can be a useful etiquette. It can help to ensure that more learners’ voices are heard, which can lead to greater sharing of ideas and experiences.” From Joe Tansey in Learning to Effectively Use the Virtual Classroom.

5. In Chat mode, Ruth Clark says "we sometimes ask everyone to type in their answers but not to press send until the instructor says ‘Send.’ In that way, reflective learners have more time to consider their answers without the distraction from the first answers to appear in the chat window.”  Clark and Kwinn also observe, "A disadvantage of chat is the limited amount of screen real estate dedicated to text messages in most virtual classroom interfaces. When the response box fills, new text messages cause older responses to scroll up. If you have a larger class, you may want to use some crowd control mechanisms to limit who sends messages. For example, you might ask everyone to type in an answer but only the women or only a certain division to actually send their answers. Alternatively, you may provide a workbook in which everyone responds and, then, after a pause, call on only some participants to type in their answers”

6. Larry Green (above) has a "no-dissing" rule for his class: You're allowed to make comments about other students in the Chat area, but those comments always have to be positive. Clark and Kwinn are even more restrictive about chat comments: "we ask participants to use chat for on-task communication only during instructional activities – no passing notes in class.!”

7. Jennifer Hofmann also recommends these ground rules for students:
  • “If you run into technical problems, contact the facilitator or producer. Don’t waste a lot of time trying to solve them yourselves.
  • “Assign someone to manage the exercise, someone to capture information, and someone to report back to the larger group.
  • “Don’t leave the breakout session just because the trainer isn’t ‘watching’ you.
  •  “When using collaboration tools within the breakout rooms (whiteboard, chat, application sharing, web browsing) the ground rules for those tools apply.”
8. Jonathan Finkelstein has a rule for Polling: If you ask, do something with the answers. “It is important to remember to actually do something with the results of polls conducted in real time. If one asks a series of questions but does not use any of the responses to affect the direction of the learning activity, learners begin to wonder whether their responses matter.”

9. Donna Eyestone (above) has this rule: Tell your students how long your class session will be, and then respect that. If you say you'll be done in an hour, regardless of how much material you cover, be done in an hour. (Period.)

10. With Web tours, Jennifer Hofmann recommends this strategy: "When independent navigation of hyperlinks is available, don’t start clicking until the trainer tells you to. When leading the class to a website, be sensitive about the nature of the content.”
There are ten of these, but they are not commandments. Consider them suggestions from folks who've been around the synchronous online classroom for a while.
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