Collaborating across the globe is gaining much-needed traction thanks to the accessibility of technology tools and internet connectivity. While there are some countries that still suffer from digital inadequacies, the proliferation of mobile device and tablet accessibility is changing the game and thankfully, beginning to level the playing field.
Social media and other mediums have shown the humanizing impact that integrating video into a conversation can have that somehow, makes us feel connected to those that we haven’t seen in years and/or live thousands of miles away. And now, other industries are starting to take notice.
The academic and business world as we knew it decades ago is evolving to new heights. With more online courses at the collegiate level increasing to the exponential growth of global virtual conferencing in the workforce, our brothers and sisters around the world are much easier to engage on a regular and consistent basis.
Make no mistake, if you’re going to connect sizeable groups of college students or colleagues in a meaningful and engaging way, it takes time and strategic planning. Unlike social media, in academia, business corporations, healthcare, and other industries, structured and formal real-time (live) video interactions can take weeks, maybe even a month, to execute flawlessly. Continue reading
It’s just after your first class and the students are filing out of the room and you happen to be standing near enough to catch a few of their comments. You only get snippets of the conversations, but you hear…
In a face-to-face class, your presence is partly defined by your demeanor, persona and actions while in front of the class.
When I began my classes for my M.S.Ed. in Instructional Technology (IT), I was often looked upon as an odd duck. Most of my classes were full of classroom teachers, school librarians, and administrators looking to be in charge of a different area. So here I was, a musician in their midst (and a jazz musician, no less), and when I would invariably be asked about what brought me to IT, I always answered, “I’m going to change the way we teach music.” I’ve widened the scope of my approach, and my research, to include everyone I serve at the University, but I still haven’t lost sight of that goal. But the problem isn’t in the discipline itself; rather, it’s in the materials and methodology.
In a previous life, I was a music professor, and tried as much as possible to leverage technology to improve my course materials and course delivery, and to facilitate better learning experiences for my students. However, these improvements tended to be hybrid instruction methods, such as online testing, audio or video lectures, online paper submission or discussion boards. They did make my course more efficient and created more hands-on class time for me, but did little to truly transform the learning experience in the classroom or outside of it. The students thought taking tests online, watching short video lectures, and doing lots of stuff online was “cool,” but as we all know, “cool” doesn’t really equate to a sea change in their learning. (This was over a decade ago, when doing anything online had way more sparkle than it does today.) Looking back on it after studying and practicing Instructional Design for several years, I see most of my former “innovations” are not really that groundbreaking, just repackaging of old lessons to take advantage of some tools I had available.
Technology is changing how we do everything. Gone are the days of classroom strategies that focus solely on using static content to engage students. Thanks to high-definition (HD) video ubiquity in mobile devices, tablets, laptops, etc., engaging in real-time (instantaneous) with folks across the globe without leaving home is feasible and affordable. To take it a step further, video conferencing, or as some may describe as web conferencing, webinars (web seminars), or webcasts, enables online collaboration with limitless implications for student engagement, in the US and abroad.
The formal definition of video conferencing, as defined by Merriam Webster, is:
- a method of holding meetings that allows people who are in different cities, countries, etc., to hear each other and see each other on computer or television screens.
- the holding of a conference among people at remote locations by means of transmitted audio and video signals
While there are a number of solutions that exist to host virtual meetings, it’s important that standard features embedded in these systems are easy to use and work seamlessly during an online session. Some of the more common features include the ability to stream HD video, instant chat, screen sharing, recording, and the use of a whiteboard to jot down important points during the meeting. While nothing compares to face-to-face interaction, these tools help connect users in ways that a teleconference (see definition) are incapable of doing.
Some of the usual suspects—Skype, Webex, Gotomeeting, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, Avaya Scopia, Blue Jeans, Polycom, etc.—have worked tirelessly to create user interfaces that are intuitive and function with minimal to no latency issues. In order to make an informed decision, it’s important to develop and prioritize the functionality that’s paramount to a successful implementation for “you.”
“What then, is the Singlularity? It’s a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself.” –Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, p.1. Penguin Group, 2005
Ray Kurzweil predicts that this Singularity will occur sometime in the first half of the 21st century. I don’t think I am really ready for it! I have enough trouble keeping up with the simple changes in educational technologies that impact my institution and my work on a daily basis. These rapid changes affect me in a couple of ways. First, I need a strategy to stay abreast of the latest and greatest tools. Second, I need a reasonably quick way to assess these emerging technologies and determine if further investigation is worthwhile. Unfortunately, I am easily distracted by bright, shiny things and sometimes will go down the rabbit hole and consume inordinate amounts of time trying new things without any regard to their usefulness and impact, simply because they are new. While I don’t have any really good answers to my dilemma, I can share a couple of recent activities that may help formulate a mini-strategy for dealing with technological change. Continue reading
Many instructors are familiar with the popular cloud-based file back-up and editing sites available today. For years, we’ve all played with Google Drive’s integrations with Docs, Sheets, and Slides, or used Dropbox or Box to upload and share versions of our files between computers. With Microsoft’s updates to Office 2016 and integration with OneDrive (available as free or paid options, depending on storage amounts), the old familiarity of Microsoft Office we’ve been so comfortable with using gets a big boost in cloud-based functionality with file sharing and editing. This boost is one that can truly make things easier for developing courses too, since embedding documents that automatically update in the cloud is easier than ever.
To start with an example, many of us have used Word for things like posting a syllabus, a rubric, or an assignment sheet. These documents often go through frequent updates and many versions, sometimes even during the course of the term as we find that something needs to be added or removed. For instructors who teach multiple sections of a course, or for Instructional Designers who work with scores of courses per term, reposting every edit to these documents for each course that needs them can take significant time, not to mention the worry of the wrong version of the document being posted in one or more places.
Using the embedded document through OneDrive helps to eliminate missed edits or updates since instructors or designers can put the embed code for the general syllabus, rubric, or assignment sheet into the correct location in the course, and the edits can be made in one document in the cloud, to be quickly and automatically pushed to all the courses. Each time the course is copied and updated, the embed links stay in place, and automatically changes the content as soon as the document is updated. Better yet, these edits can be made by the instructor or the Designer, or even by a teaching team who is sharing documents across courses in a program. Every course gets the most recent version immediately with minimal time and effort. (While Google Docs can do this too, it often takes several minutes, even up to 15 minutes, for updates to go live on the pages. With OneDrive, the updates are immediate, often just requiring a page refresh).
For years, faculty have asked me to recommend a tool that would make it easy for them to conduct online video conferences with students. Every time I tried to answer this question, I felt like one of those announcers selling an experimental drug with dangerous side effects. “Do not use Connexium™ if your students are unable to install Java 10.2.9.3 on their computers. Do not operate on low-bandwidth connections or enable video sharing with more than two participants while using Connexium. Connexium is not a virtual whiteboard replacement and cannot be used to record meetings. Ask your instructional designer if Connexium is right for you.”
That all changed when I started using Zoom. Zoom provides the key features most faculty ask for with almost none of the unpleasant side effects that come with other tools I’ve tried. Here are a few examples.
- Minimal setup and installation – So far, we’ve found that students can join a meeting even if they’re in one of our computer labs or using a computer that doesn’t allow them to install desktop software. (Some of our students connect from locked-down computers at their workplaces, so this is an important feature.)
- Up to 50 participants per meeting – This is true even for free accounts. For larger meetings, it’s $54.99/month to upgrade to a limit of 100 participants.
- Android and iOS mobile apps – In my experience, these apps work very well and include the most important features available in the desktop version of Zoom.
- Screen sharing and remote control – All participants can share their screens and hosts can even take control of a participant’s machine if needed.