Yes the thing – the thing to bring some emotion and enjoyment to the business of distance learning. Live online learning not only connects people, but is also a powerful aid to learning. How so! Using web conferencing software a teacher/facilitator has a vast array of tools to promote active learning and whether that be face to face or online at a distance there is a vast array of literature that extols the virtues of active learning. What tools say thee! Ok we have voice and video conferencing, text chat, whiteboard text and drawing tools, feedback icons such as 'yes', 'no' and raised hand (to ask a question), web browser sharing, quizzes and polls, file transfers and on the fly uploading of resources.
from a previous study (Mackenzie 2008)
Now with some investment in time to understand how best to use the technology for teaching and learning, you'll soon see how you can transform the hum drum educational experience of the distance learner.
Some Initial Reactions
I write these notes after completing an initial round of live online inductions using Wimba Live Classroom with my colleague Mellissa Phillips on the topic of myDmu and Blackboard, the main online learning services of my university DMU. These first set of month long inductions were not without some initial logging on difficulties which was disappointing as we were desperate to avoid irritating logging on problems. However for those postgraduate students that did logon and participate it appeared to be a welcome and enjoyable experience. Some brief comments (all positive) from those that attended included:
“Very interesting session, i am amazed by what technology is available and i think it will be a very good way of learning and communicating during the remainder of the course.”
“I thought the use of live on line tech was very good and there were no problems. Would like to see it used in discussion boards etc if poss”
Some Broad Lesson Learnt
Some good comments appreciating the value of this form of learning, but we still have work to do to improve this particular live online learning experience. The lessons we are learning are:
1. We have to keep working very hard to change the mindset of the vast majority of programme leaders and students who are unaware of the power of voice technology in distance learning. We hope at the end of this month long series of inductions to have gathered a body of evidence to support the value of this mode of learning and try gradually to move thinking and expectations on in this area.
2. Due to the struggle to get participants live online we are cramming too much into their first live online learning experience. We end up giving them a crash course on how to work in the new environment and then proceed to give the myDMU and Blackboard induction. Currently thinking this should be split due to the need to iron out initial technology problems that some students have.
3. You have to work hard to understand how each particular live online learning environment works. By this I mean that there are a vast array of web conferencing services to use, each one is setup differently - you have to understand how you can smoothly integrate the technology into your teaching aims. Big Big tip – to fully appreciate this whilst developing you should log in on two machines – one as admin/presenter and the other as participant. You can then see the effects of your intended interactions from the participant viewpoint (allowing you to shape and refine your approach).
The Technology Used
Knowing that this was for most students this was their first experience of this type of learning we restricted our use of technology to:
1. Voice conferencing
2. Text chatting
3. Web browser demonstrations
4. Links to web pages that held pre-recorded Camtasia video screencasts.
5. The students also completed some self study tasks during the class.
A Word on Participant Interaction
With regard to the level of participant interaction and use of the technology available on a scale of 1 to 5 I’d rate this just over three. With increased student familiarity and appreciation of the live online environment we can edge this more to 5 when devising classroom activities and interactions in the future.
Headline Grabbing Camtasia
Mentioned as a headline grabber Camtasia is undoubtedly King in the world of e-learning tools. This easy to use moving screen capture software, with brilliant automatic zoom focus technology is a must for any lecturer who spends hours and hours grabbing screenshots for the production of module guides. The video quality is excellent and once saved the source material can be produced in a variety of formats for use in a variety of situations. i.e. web, iPod, DVD. Educational versions can be picked up for £134and in my opinion should be subject to a site licence for any serious learning organization.
More on explanation and discussion on Camtasia and live online learning will follow soon in up and coming blog posts. Look out for them.