Friday, October 22, 2010

Why We Love to Confer

"It has become commonplace to say that today's culture is marked by a ubiquitous computer technology. This has been true for some time... What is important to the educator-as-anthropologist, however, is that they exist as objects that people see, and start to accept, as part of the reality of everyday life. And at the same time that this massive penetration of the technology is taking place, there is a social movement afoot with great relevance for the politics of education... As an educational utopian I want to know what kind of computer culture can grow in communities where there is not already a rich technophilic soil. I want to know and I want to make it happen." - Seymour Papert, Mindstorms.

What makes instructors change their approach to instruction and adopt a new technology like Confer? What changes their mind, makes them learn new skills and expose themselves to the risk of embarrassment and failure?

Irene Palacios came to use CCC Confer because she needed a way to meet with her online students for office hours. She tried several other products first, but she was attracted to the quick, high-quality Confer interface, excellent support, and price (free). Irene says, "If you're not really good with technology, if you don't have a lot of time and a lot of money, and you want a quality product, Confer is the only way." Irene's students responded immediately, and it became so popular she found it hard to keep up with the demand.

Michael McKeever was attracted to CCC Confer because he had a need to expand his classroom outside the physical walls. His classroom had to be portable; he has taught his Santa Rosa Junior College students from the Phillipines, from Washington DC, from hotel rooms, and from wherever he travels. Confer gives Michael the freedom to attend events and do things he would not ordinarily do because he can bring his classroom with him wherever he goes.

Robin Rogers Cloud discovered that teaching art to online students actually became easier to do with Confer than did teaching art to students in a "normal" classroom. She believes that this tool has changed education for artists, and has revolutionized her classroom. She now has more time with her online students, and these students now actually prefer the online sessions to those she offers in the traditional classroom.

Donna Eyestone has learned something about teaching simply by using the Confer tools. She observes that students love this tool and show genuine interest in what they're doing and learning because of the "buzz" this virtual classroom helps to foster. By allowing her to give students a sense of who Donna is, Confer makes it easier to keep students engaged and excited. As Donna says, "every student has a front row seat."

Larry Green was never going to teach an online class before he encountered CCC Confer. He didn't believe that online classes allowed for the kind of spontaneity and interaction that he finds vital to the teaching of math. Now, Larry claims that teaching with Confer is actually better than face-to-face. One of the attractions for Larry is that no one tells him how he has to use it.

These five instructors independently discovered that Confer was ideal for their specific teaching requirements. While they may have been able to appreciate each others' observations about the relative merits of the virtual classroom, it seems likely from their stories that each of them needed to see specifically what they were able to see before they could be convinced that the ordeal of adopting a new technology was worth the effort. Michael, for example, might have appreciated Robin's enthusiasm for the visual immediacy of the whiteboard, but he would not have migrated to Confer without also seeing that his classroom could be portable. Now, each of them sees CCC Confer as a natural and normal part of teaching and their everyday life.

Seymour Papert envisioned this kind of penetration in the sixties, and he observed the social revolution that was taking place at the same time. Today, the ubiquity of the Web and pervasive social media set the stage for discoveries like these in classrooms and offices everywhere. We need a "rich technophilic soil" less than we need light to shed on the rich garden that's already growing around us.
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