Friday, December 14, 2012

The Year 2012 in Web Conferencing, Month by Month

The year 2012 saw many changes at CCC Confer and in the world of Web conferencing in higher education. Here are some highlights worth noting.

January Garry Falloon, writing in the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, presented findings from a study of post-graduate students who used Web conferencing to achieve a postgraduate diploma in education. The students' views of the technology were favorable, but the value of the tool was found to be a function of the instructor-imposed tasks and several technical factors.

February Deb Nielsen and Kealin McCabe described the "Embedded Librarian" presentation, which outlined how university librarians are taking a unique and proactive approach to student learning by embedding themselves directly in various non-library venues, including Web conferences.

March Two University of Wisconsin engineering professors presented "Online Delivery of a Project-Based Introductory Engineering" to the American Society for Engineering Education. They reported:
"The online instructor believed that the use of Blackboard Collaborate for the virtual office hours and synchronous meetings was vital to the success of the students in the online section and to their working as a team and producing quality projects. The use of Blackboard Collaborate aligns with Moore’s theory of transactional distance. The theory states that distance is a pedagogical phenomenon and the learner is not considered with location, but with student interaction and engagement. The use of Blackboard Collaborate allowed the students to be connected with the professor and with their teammates."
April Steven E. Stockdale at University of New Mexico recorded a Web conferencing session to demonstrate what he had learned about synchronous online instruction technology. His 9-minute demonstration is entertaining, informative, and instructive: he actually explains what he did wrong when first using the software and how he learned to adapt and ultimately use the tool effectively.

May Will Stewart at University of Bradford presented a case study of a re-design of an existing face-to-face post-graduate educational module for online delivery. As he puts it, "the challenge was to design a course that reflected a 21st-century approach to teaching and learning, rather than simply to replicate a traditional didactic, classroom model in an online setting." This included Web conferencing as part of the online delivery, and the results were encouraging: "The use of Blackboard Collaborate (Elluminate) was seen by most (85%) as a key tool in supporting learning, and a major factor in the success of the module. One student commented:

'Elluminate was the most effective tool we ever used for real-time learning.'"
June Simon Kear described in the Association for Learning Technology's newsletter how he and his associates conducted the "Follow the Sun 2012" conference using Web conferencing technology. Kear concluded, "The technology is very stable, and it performed flawlessly, which really is all a learning technologist cares about."

August Blackboard Collaborate announced its mobile app and Ian Coronado at Lane Community College posted that:
  • The user experience on the mobile app is just as good as the computer based version and perhaps better on the iPad version due to the simplicity of the interface
  • It is easy to use.  If you know the Collaborate app, you will have little difficulty using the mobile version.  Simply click on a link to a session and the app will automatically launch..
  • The mobile app is geared towards participants and is not suitable for moderators or presenters.
  • Webcams are not available for participants to use on the mobile version.  I hope they are able to add this in with future versions.
  • Screen sharing is also not supported on the mobile app.
  • Perhaps the biggest deal is that the mobile app does not support playback of recordings at this time.  Only live events.

September Brett Stephenson and Jillian Downing studied "The Affordances of Web conferences in Online Pre-service Mathematics Education" and confirmed earlier research that Web conferencing was effective as a tool in online teacher education. Among the observations of student teachers in this paper:

"Being an online student you can feel very isolated. The webinars have been really helpful in feeling connected. The feeling I have is that the setting is more intimate than a large lecture, with more interaction than in a regular setting. This has made learning the content more interesting and hence easier to assimilate. Also you can ask questions or participate without feeling like everyone is looking at you."

"The webinars have been great in the ability to offer distance students more collegial experiences than units that do not utilise them. The units that do not use them would benefit distance students by utilising them or at least by recording tutorials so that online students can observe."
"I think the idea of a teacher standing up the front and talking to a set group of students may change in the future. Rural or isolated students would benefit. Being able to do special classes in a regular school would be cool."

October At Bowling Green University in Ohio, Armen Ilikchyan and John W. Sinn presented a Proposal for Change with three objectives: 1. Build a Web-based student community; 2. Simplify the student membership registration process; and 3. Expand connections between students and practicing professionals. They decided that Web conferencing, with Blackboard Collaborate, was the ideal solution for accomplishing these objectives.

November At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, librarians use a virtual room to offer orientations, workshops, meetings and office hours:
"Hosting online workshops not only allows us to teach distance students, but allows both students and staff on campus to participate and learn virtually from their desks and get comfortable with online meetings and training. As online learning continues to grow and budgets continue to shrink, less travel is possible for training both internally and externally - but online learning opens more opportunities for all."

December UNESCO announced its "Media and Information Literacy (MIL) Online Course", which will cover Intercultural dialogue and citizenship; Freedom of expression, freedom of information and understanding the news; Representation and languages in media and information; Advertising and citizenship; Information literacy and library skills; Communication; MIL and teaching/learning; MIL policies and strategies; Citizens and the media and technologies; Global media/technologies in an increasingly connected world; and Internet opportunities and challenges. The course will be delivered via Web conferencing.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Best Practices for Synchronous Online Instruction: An Update

Slideshare recently contacted me to say that my presentation on best practices for synchronous e-learning had attracted more than 1,000 viewers. I know they meant well, but - instead of making me happy - I felt terrible! The presentation used a ton of embedded videos to make its points, and when I sent the slides to the site, none of the videos were included.

So here's my correction for those who may still be interested: the slides and the videos, together again. (To view the videos, click on the relevant images.)

Click to view

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Friday, November 30, 2012

How to Flip Your Classroom

Image from Edudemic
Hack Education lists "The Flipped Classroom" as one of the "Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2012", noting that "the practice became incredibly popular this year." In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dan Berrett says the Flipped Classroom "describes the inversion of expectations in the traditional college lecture. It takes many forms, including interactive engagement, just-in-time teaching (in which students respond to Web-based questions before class, and the professor uses this feedback to inform his or her teaching), and peer instruction." Generally, though, the model is that of taking the lecture out of the classroom and putting it online so that class (face-to-face) time is spent working with students on mastery. Here's one of the many available images that illustrate the "flip" -

From Deseret News

- and (if you're collecting them), here's an infographic from Edudemic that provides more details:

There are several ways you can flip your classroom. You can use a lecture capture utility. You can try Google Hangouts. One writer lists these tools as options: YouTube, Facebook, TED Ed, Khan Academy, Screencast-o-matic, Edmodo, Schoology, Spreaker, Podomatic, Audacity, Podbean, ShowMe, ScreenChomp, Explain Everything, Educreations, and ScreenCast Video Recorder.

Here at the California Community Colleges, we have our own classroom flipper: CCC Confer. With Confer, you can record your lectures anytime, from anywhere, and deliver them to live online students, face-to-face students, both at the same time, or to students who will view them at an unspecified time and date of your choosing. The archives can be accessed from anywhere at any time, and they can be made portable (i.e., as MP4s or uploaded to YouTube) if you choose.

Here's how easy it is:

You can discover more about how instructors like you are flipping with Confer archives here. By recording lectures, they're extending class time, providing options for students who miss class, providing for searchable content, accommodating diverse learning styles and abilities, and making it easier for students to apply themselves to learning and mastery, rather than to taking notes and interpreting.

Interested in more information about the flipped classroom? Try this link, which will take you to my curated articles on the subject.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Oh, the Places You Can Go with Web Conferencing!

Now that we've institutionalized Web conferencing, it's beginning to become apparent that this kind of collaboration can support many more kinds of learning and support than the traditional teacher-to-student interactions we originally envisioned. Even in the latter, of course, I've been constantly (and pleasantly) surprized by how innovative educators adapt the tools and their own approaches to instruction in order to create learning environments that make full use of the rich tools of the Confer classroom. But here are some examples that transcend the classroom and potentially open doors for students who might not otherwise be served.

Psychiatric Care. At the University of Rochester (NY) Strong Ties Community Support Program, members of the inpatient and outpatient teams have been meeting since 2010 using Web conferencing. Leslie Tomek and J. Stephen Lamberti, two of the psychiatrists, describe the use of this technology: "Initially it was peculiar speaking to a video monitor instead of face to face, but the monitor quickly seemed to disappear and we became one large team of clinicians working collectively to provide effective care for our most acute patients." Among the benefits they report from adopting this technology: better discussions of patients' progress; streamlined planning for discharges; enhanced follow-up decision-making. Web conferencing "allows large groups of people to communicate concurrently. We have also found that patients and their families are pleased to hear about our new form of communication." In higher education, one can imagine that regular Web conferences between physicians, counselors, nurses, and other health care providers would have similar benefits.

Psychotherapy Training. Allan Abbass et. al., in Web-conference supervision for advanced psychotherapy training: A practical guide, report that the "advent of readily accessible, inexpensive Web-conferencing applications has opened the door for distance psychotherapy supervision, using video recordings of treated clients. Although relatively new, this method of supervision is advantageous given the ease of use and low cost of various Internet applications. This method allows periodic supervision from point to point around the world, with no travel costs and no long gaps between direct training contacts. Web-conferencing permits face-to-face training so that the learner and supervisor can read each other's emotional responses while reviewing case material. It allows group learning from direct supervision to complement local peer-to-peer learning methods."

Language Instruction. Sng Bee Bee and David Gardner report in the International Journal of Web Based Communities on research they conducted to determine the viability of Web conferencing for language instruction. (I have reported elsewhere in this blog about California Community College instructors who have successfully taught Spanish and other languages using CCC Confer.) Two groups of learners, one Thai and one Vietnamese, were located in two different countries: Thailand and Singapore. They met by means of Web conferencing and - based on participants' feedback - concluded that this technology was effective in helping to accomplish the learning objectives.

Library Research Skills Instruction. Sheila Bonnard and Mary Anne Hansen of Montana State University report that they have successfully taught library research skills to online students in real time for the last two and a half years. Their article, "From Two Dot to Turkey", provides tips and lessons learned, along with amusing anecdotes about the rural communities (including Two Dot) served.

Tutoring. Karen Kear et. al.from the Open University describe a Web tutoring pilot that involved about 140 tutor groups and report that "tutors and students reacted positively to the opportunities Web conferencing provides for interactive learning and teaching." They also stress the need for prior preparation and "real-time improvisation" in this environment, along with the challenges of establishing social presence and avoiding cognitive overload. (As with language instruction, I have written elsewhere in this blog about successful tutoring efforts using CCC Confer).

Research and Data Collection. David M. Glassmeyer and Rebecca-Anne Dibbs describe in "Researching from a Distance" how geographically separated learners can use Web conferencing software to collect qualitative interview data by conducting interviews in an online graduate education course. And Yang et. al. describe "Use of Webinar and Web Meeting to Support Research Collaboration Between Italy and China" in the 2012 Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How to Look Good on Web Cam

You Confer sessions have a prominent portion of screen real estate devoted to video, and it's a great tool for social presence, building social capital with your audience, and reinforcing the feeling that computer-mediated meetings are still first and fundamentally human interactions. But there are good ways to use the video window and decidedly bad ways that will embarrass at best and interfere with your mission at worst. Here are some tips to steer you toward the first group.

1. Look and dress the part. Get ready for a Web conference session the same way you prepare to meet or teach in face-to-face settings: after all, with the camera, you are face-to-face. Wear professional or appropriate attire (top to bottom, since you don't know whether or not you're going to stand up on camera), shave or groom as you normally would, and check yourself out before you broadcast to the world. Worried about color? Blue or green are especially good on camera, and choose solid colors: stripes, polka dots, and weird patterns won't decompress well at the other end. You may want to forego jewelry as well: a necklace can clash with a microphone or make noise as you move.

2. Clean up the background. Your camera picks up more than just your face. Make sure what your audience is seeing isn't upsetting (e.g., your messy bed) or confusing ("What is that in the wastebasket? Pantyhose?"). You're best off if you choose a neutral, clean, orderly background to sit or stand in front of when you present. Get the dog or cat or kids out, and keep them out. The focus should be on you, not your surroundings.

3. Control your body language. Eating or chewing gum are out, as are yawning, grimacing, nose or tooth picking, staring out of the window, rolling your eyes, rocking in your chair, scratching, fixing your hair, and anything else that is likely to distract your viewers. Pretend your mom is watching! Don't move too fast or the audience will catch pixellated "stop-jerk" motions that aren't pretty. Sit up straight in your chair: slouching is impolite.

4. Get the right camera angle. We want to see your face, not your bellybutton. Center the frame on your face and upper body, and it's generally best if the camera is a little higher than your eyes: if you're looking up, your double chin disappers and we may not be staring at nose hairs.

5. Adjust the lighting. Natural light is better than flourescent, and lamps are very handy. You want ambient lighting, and you want the lighting to be IN FRONT OF YOU, not coming from behind. Come out of the shadows unless you're trying to scare your audience. Never sit with your back to a window.

6. Look at the camera. This is harder than it sounds. Practice looking at the camera, not at yourself on the computer. Squinting is a no-no (see #3). Of course, you'll have to look away while you multi-task, but don't forget to look directly at your audience often during the session. Staring at the screen without interruption distances you from the audience. A smile doesn't hurt a bit, either: it conveys confidence and reassurance.

7. Control outside sounds if possible. I know: this isn't about video, but audio will affect your looks unless you control it. Open windows will pick up sirens, honking cars, barking dogs, etc.: close them for your session.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Does Web Conferencing Work in Education? (Research Results)

"Basic research is like shooting an arrow into the air and, where it lands,
painting a target."  -- Homer Burton Adkins
I've done a little digging to see what educational researchers and writers have been finding about the use of Web conferencing for instruction. Here's a sampling:
Best Practices to Promote Learning Through Web Conferencing: Resources, Tools and Teaching Methods. Eastern Kentucky University educators Paula Jones, MaryAnn Kolloff, and Fred Kolloff summarize five best practices associated with best teaching practices using Web conferencing: (1) Prepare content beforehand; (2) Plan a practice session; (3) Have an assistant on hand; (4) Before the first meeting, plan for accessibility, record the session, prepare participants, have a plan for emergencies, take care of audio problems, greet participants; (5) During the session, interact with students, prepare for delayed reactions, plan for scheduled breaks, reduce visual clutter.
Georgetown University: Web Conferencing—A Critical Skill for the Connected World. Pablo Molina shares that Georgetown University undertook a campus-wide adoption of Web conferencing services "as part of its planning for the possible consequences of a swine flu epidemic." Although the flu didn't end up disrupting classes as expected, it gained some converts, and the author was among them. He describes how he used the technology to teach his classes and the successful results he observed, and concludes: "The pedagogical use of web conferencing technologies also targets the ability to make informative and convincing presentations online. For this to happen, web conferencing must be pervasively built into the curriculum. Presently, student web conferencing is only built into a few core courses (in addition to the capstone course required of students to complete their Master of Professional Studies in Technology Management degree). Beyond this program and this institution, there is great potential for extending this practice to other programs and to other educational institutions."
An Institutional Evaluation of Web-Conferencing and its Impact on Learning and Teaching Processes. Researchers at the University of Aveiro in Portugal evaluated the use of Web-conferencing for several courses. "The overwhelming majority of students and teachers agreed that Web-conferencing was able to improve access to learning and increase the level of interactivity experienced... Teachers found the workload associated with teaching using Web-conferencing was manageable, and nearly 80% of students indicated that they would be more likely to choose subjects that used Web conferencing."
Reflections in Cyberspace: Web-Conferencing for Language Teacher Education. New Zealand researchers report on an in-depth evaluation of an Applied Linguistics course which utilized Web-conferencing for instruction and delivery. They determined that "inclusion of students' voices enriched what could be learned."
Taking the Classical Large Audience University Lecture Online Using Tablet Computer and Webconferencing Facilities. At Technical University of Denmark, the author took lectures for "Introduction to Statistics for Engineering Students" (which average 250+ students) online using Web conferencing. "A quantitative and qualitative analysis of the course evaluations are given that documents that students reacted positive [sic] to the initative."
Web-Conferencing Based Education: An Empirical Comparison with Face-to-Face Education. University of Nebraska researchers concluded that, for interactive instructional strategy, "students in a Web-conferencing based learning environment experienced a higher level of classroom interactivity than those in a face-to-face classroom environment. Also, in the interactive instructional sessions, students in the Web-conferencing based learning environment experienced higher perceived learning and satisfaction than those in the face-to-face learning environment." They conclude that "educators need to focus on designing interactive education that can leverage the new technologies supported by Web-conferencing" and "maximize the use of video/audio/instant messaging and other visual tools" in their use of the technology.
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