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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Adobe Connect Report 2: it ain't happening

Supposed to start delivering a 6 week course online live synchronous course on Monday Nov 5th. In preparation for my course I am massively behind schedule because i was naive enough to assume that adobe connect and the many other products of this ilk were robust enough in the digital age to handle a bit of true interactivity and not just some talking head in a web conferencing system answering a few text chats and ponderously allowing others to speak because the VOIP systems have massive difficulty dealing with multiple speakers. I believe problems are compounded in adobe Connect because of the craziness of having to give presenter rights to participants to access the voice controls and the same problem applies to whiteboards where participants cannot use a whiteboard without presenter rights, meaning that anyone can move onto the next slide or erase text just like that.

during a couple of trial runs with only two people setting aside intermittent patchy audio, there was terrible echo. After investigating i believe problems could stem from the fact that participants can click on all sorts of options, multiple speakers, mute etc and the true host/ presenter is not sure what is going on.

the presenter rights issue aside, all systems seem to struggle with the VOIP bandwidth issue. At might last investigation Webex allow 7 microphones on at once and elluminate 6. I have worked with 5 in a webex environment and it worked fine. As i want to work with 12 at a time it seems that dialing in on a separate teleconference seems to be the best way to ensure that everyone is free to talk freely. I have participated in many sessions of this nature.

The advantage of VOIP in is that there are no additional phone costs to be incurred by either host or user and it's one less technicality to worry about.

Anyhow i have to come up with solutions for a monday start, but all the extra investigation of problems has seriously effected other complimentary preparation for the class, so i am not a happy bunny.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Community Building, Learning Networks and all thatJazz

Sheryl Nussbaum Beach on community building. Sheryl continues to come up with interesting articles. This latest one ties in with my recent thoughts on how best to build an online community of practice/interest. 21st Century Collaborative: Community for Everyone

When i think about DMU, i don't believe there is a mechanism in place that is harnessing to great effect the great knowledge and experience that the people of DMU have to offer. I believe that technologically web 2.0 offers increased options to build a significant online DMU community that will have social and learning benefits.

Currently i love ning networks and their ability to create specialized networks that would be ideal to promote a learning and knowledge community that can spread 'the word' quicker than current methods.

Perdsonally i don't see Blackboard as a unifying force. I have noticed in social networks i have been involved with recently of an example of a move from moodle to a ning network because the environment is percieved to be more conducive to participation. Facebook is i believe to wide and even if a group was setup in this environment it would lack identity and can not be focused to the same degree that a self created ning network offers.

interestingly as i look into to social networks i noticed this article by Mark Hopkins The Real Value of Web 2.0 (Hint: It’s not Facebook), which extols the virtues of twitter and google reader and whilst there is plenty to consider and might be good for the individual i still believe the development of a learning network with social spin offs would be a good thing for DMU.

If it was developed it would be good to debate the pros and cons of the various implementation options available.

Adobe Connect : Interaction and Collaboration

My initiation to interactive and collaborative live online learning was using the webex environment. My opinions of other synchronous collaboration software is somewhat clouded by what i perceive to have been an excellent schooling in an excellent webex environment. Three significant influences were the use of an individualized pointer tool for each participant that could be moved easily around the screen to indicate contributions to the white board, the use of whiteboard tools without giving presenter control to the participant and the use of phone dial in as opposed to using VOIP for audio connection to the host and other participants.

This blog discusses some of the issues of implementing a synchronous class in Adobe Connect. First of all please note as a great source of reference and help the excellent Adobe Connect Blog.

In anaylysing Adobe connect i make the following observations

1. For participants to access the class a host has to open the class. This is fine as the class can be opened early, up to 12 hours in advance to allow participants to logon early to check initial audio connections. Adobe Connect seems easier in this respect to logon which is a good thing as we need to keep the technology barriers to a minimum.

2. Using Flash and the vector based system 'pods' that contain whiteboard, chat and other tools automatically adjust to the size of the participants computers, which again is good. However if you woork on high resolution screens like i do, it is still better to reduce the size down to 1028x768.

3. The Interface is easy to organize and has a good feel to it.

4. It is easy to add content and Url's, which are stored on the adobe server for easy retrieval next time around.

5. I am working on the basis of a VOIP connection as this is the least troublesome for students, both technically and from possible additional costs that may be incuurred. My experience is that a phone dial up is preferable for quality and allowing a large number of users to participate at once. I hope i can overcome this issue and be proved wrong during my 10-12 strong synchronous classes.

Useful Links: Adobe Connect Tips

POINTS to Note
1. After logging on participants need to be given enhanced rights to use the camera and Voice pod and the 'Share' pods which will allow them whiteboard tools to annotate powerpoint slides which are the backbone of the class. The host needs to ensure that the camera is off and that multiple speakers are allowed to speak. Note that webcams are not used as part of the course. They are not really necessary and will take up bandwidth which could effect the quality of audio that is broadcast.

2. When working with participants off campus best to use a connection speed at DSL level and advise students to set their own connection to their own level (modem or broadband dsl). The connection status of each participant can be checked in the attendance list options. in the top right hand corner the strength of connection is indicated with either green(best), orange (ok) or red (not good). Similarly the same colour indication is used when a participant speaks in the camera and voice pod. greyed out when not speaking, green when good connection and speaking.

3. Once given the rights to speak participants have the choice of pressing the 'talk' button down and holding or use hands free to keep it permanently available to speak. Keeping it hands free is my preferred option, but after a practice session this morning there may still be a possible problem with bandwidth availability as my connection was distinctly patchy. I will try again and change a few settings, but it may be that in order to best proceed we'll have to take the approach of holding the'talk' button down.

4.Another irritating issue is that due to all participants acting as a presenter, if one was to use the erase (clear) whiteboard objects tool, then all screen objects are lost and not just the individuals contribution. The way around this for individuals to delete their own whiteboard contributions is to select for example a text object by using the selector tool and drag it slightly to reveal the border resize handles and then press the delete key on the keyboard. This seems ok, but is not totally natural and sometimes it does not seem to work on some text objects that are drawn. If it does not work then using the pointer tool to surround the object with a large invisible rectangle will select the object, (providing the complete area of the text object is covered) and then again use the delete key on the keyboard.

5. One advantage is that once the selection tool is mastered text objects can be easily moved around the screen. Drawn objects that use a pencil for example work slightly differently and the only way to select a whole drawing that is the result of a few pencil lines is to use the pointer tool to draw an invisible rectangle around it as in the second method described previously.

6. Recordings can be made, but unless things have changed recently they can only be saved and accessed on the adobe server. No downloads to your own computer to save or distribute for offline viewing is available.

To achieve the fluid interaction and collaboration i want, so that the only thing to worry about is the learning and not awkward technology requires a lot of research and experience in using the various synchronous classroom options. Consideration of the points above is essential for institutions interested in solutions that are aimed at improving learning. straightforward connections with low interactions will be easy to achieve, but institutions need to look deeper than that.

Connect is offering some ease of access plus points. I will work with it in the coming month to see if i can get it to act in a matter befitting a group of people that just want to concentrate on the learning.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Twitter yeah not!

As i posted my last blog on Twitter, having still not used it and not knowing that much about it. I decided to take jennifer Jones RSS blog feed and add it to my pageflakes page. The feed dropped straight on top of my translitercay RSS feed and guess what the first article of the transliteracy feed was on the use of twitter for intimacy and empathy.

Apps for intimacy and empathy (PART)

This connection has obviously given me a heads up and further pushed 'Twitter' to the forefront of my mind. So connections with people and resources are nourishing my mind, feeding the connections in my brain and as Stephen Downes has highlighted in his own blog articles - The more a connection is used and strengthened there is a corresponding strengthening of the neural pathways in the brain to ensure that the connections stay strong.

In this connective world of web 2.0, where i now inhabit, i know not yet, my location, i don't know where i am going and unlike the real world, there are is no finite physical map. How best do i build my web2 Home to make best use of the possible connections that are available? Questions Questions Questions.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

injenuity » Blog Archive » Twitter is Important

I have been looking more deeply into a number of web 2.0 technologies recently. What i conclude is this, if you are a teacher you should make a vow to yourself to try out a new web technology on a regular basis. It should be built into your weekly schedule - just make time to explore the many new technologies that can help to improve your teaching and the learning experience of your students.

I have only scrapped the surface of how web 2.0 can benefit myself as a teacher and subsequently my learners. It is blindly obvious to me that web 2.0 technologies are an essential part of a teachers toolkit if they wish to offer their students a varied and interesting educational experience. AND THE MAIN REASON IS CONNECTION. I'll say no more for now.

This particular blog was inspired by a technology called 'Twitter' which i have never used and have always previously dismissed as an irrelevant chitty chatty frivolous application. After reading the following blog post i realised i need to try things out before passing judgment. injenuity » Blog Archive » Twitter is Important

The Blog is written by Jenifer Jones, who is a member of the College2 online network (community)

I might in the end not value twitter as a major player in my web 2.0 toolkit, but i'll have more of an appreciation of it's potential and may then be able to find a use for it future solutions to learning or connecting with others.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

An Exploration of Social Networking

This blog is primarily for the benefit of students who are preparing to participate in the forthcoming short Course - Web 2.0 for teaching and Learning: The basics - blogs, wikis and tagging

I guess that we can say the learning has begun.

First of all i believe it is true to say that web 2.0 technology is generally easy and relatively accessible for non-technical teachers to setup and administer. That said tenaciousness in sorting out problems is a good attribute, as is patience and preparing ahead of time.

Our short course will look at a few web 2.0 technologies. These are Blogs, wikis and tagging with the emphasis on social bookmarking. By enrolling you on the web 2.0 learning network i am attempting to use the web 2.0 technology that fosters and encourages 'social networking'.

Social Networking

The most obvious examples of Social Networking sites are 'facebook' and 'myspace' and both are quite obviously about socializing. In an educational situation and in our situation i want to use a social networking' site to support an online community of learners in what can be more accurately described as a 'learning network'. I can see a good argument for the ease with which a participant can float from social to learning interactions on facebook, and subgroups can be setup on facebook with the intention of acting as a group of learners.

The use of the Ning network on the face of it, (once technical difficulties are resolved) is a much better option. A clear distinct learning network (group) can be formed and then managed by the network creator. It is very easy to organize and administer for non-technical users. In my opinion one of the most important factors to foster and stimulate online community participation is the use of email notifications whenever activity (e.g. discussion board postings, announcements) occurs in the network. Ning networks include the web 2.0 learning network that i have created offer this facility.

Whilst Blackboard automatically offers an online community setup, the clunkiness of development (i.e 4 clicks when only 1 is sufficient), the lack of email notifications and not having a full set of features to cater for a smooth running community leads me to look for an external web 2.0 solution.

Another approach that could be taken is the use of google groups, which i have participated in. For aesthetic reasons i did not enjoy working in this environment. but simple and easy to setup and does notify by email of new postings.

Due to the difficulties encountered with ning, i have looked at a number of other social networking solutions - I looked at 'LinkedIn', which is a social network site for professionals which does not appear to add additional functionality for the purposes of our learning group. I have looked at Basecamp, which does have some potential, but is more of a project based setup, but could be customized for our purposes. I found also a competitor to ning networks called ' goingon', which from a presentation and functionality point of view, does not seem quite as good as a ning network. The final item i looked at was not so much a social networking site, but an individual course organizer. This was nuvvo and it seemed simple and easy to setup and could offer a solution to an online home for a group of learners to work together.

If you have any questions or comments about social networking you can comment here for now. I shall keep you up to date with course start dates and details of your first introductory online synchronous session. If we can persevere with ning for now - i think it will be the best option, keep me informed of how you are getting on.

cheers, Steve

Monday, October 01, 2007

Social Networking Tools, Education and Groupwork

What is one to do to harness the power of social networking tools for the benefit of your students and there education. Why bother harnessing social networking tools? Connecting to others in your network will offer unexpected nuggets of knowledge, understanding, avenues to explore and camaraderie. The emotional impact on learning can be enhanced for groups of students participating in a programme of study.

The only requirement of the individual is to contribute to the network. As someone pretty famous once said “Give and you shall receive.” There is a massive reward to be gained even if you did not receive, but personally my brief experience is that you will receive ‘nuggets’ galore. By giving to the learning network your thoughts, feelings and understandings you will crystallize and refine your own thoughts and gain deeper understandings and insights to your chosen field of study. This act of externalization has direct benefits for the individual.

Whilst blogs and wikis can be the focus of particular learning activities, it’s a social networking environment that fosters the emotional well being and incidental learning that can be so useful to the morale and learning of individual students.

Facebook and Ning

How can one go about setting up an appropriate social network? Facebook it seems to me has exploded in the last three months and is in pole position to quickly and easily setup a group and as more and more students are using it, an easy transition from a social to a learning situation can be achieved. And although it feels good to use, my feelings are that it does not offer as good a level of organization of personal resources (photo’s, videos) as a ning based social network. In addition a ning based social network will offer email notification to all members of posts on forums, walls etc. This in my opinion is the glue that keeps the online social network abreast of community developments.

For educators ning networks are very easy to setup and student blogging can be self contained within the group. Access to external wikis is made easy from within the network.

‘Ruby on rails’ and Basecamp

For programmer types and organizations that want to take a good look at the customized services they could offer ‘ruby on rails’ an open framework for web development seems to offer a lot for creative organizations prepared to use it. An example application is basecamp. I need to look into this further.

Google Groups

A quick word on google groups – I have not enjoyed participating in them at the moment – but they do also notify by email notification of all new posts to discussions – so they are good for keeping a community abreast of developments. Easy to setup also.


Bottom line is that Ning offers a very easy way to set up a self contained learning network. Facebook will be central to a lot of students already. The choice is yours.

Add me to your network

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