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.