Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wimba and other online classroom environments

Those of you who even occasionally follow this space know I am a believer in asynchronous approaches to online writing courses, as they enable students to interact primarily with writing. However, say you want to have a synchronous classroom experience? There are great tools to provide learning spaces in which all students are present at the same time and can interact via writing, speaking, and video.

My experiences providing workshops, particularly several NCTE workshops last year, showed me how effective these environments can be for dialogue. For NCTE, I used a platform called Elluminate, which has now joined forces with another tool, Wimba. Dozens of people could participate in various ways in the workshops. As online classrooms, they are incredibly easy to use--you're ready to go in just a few clicks-- and they have a variety of capabilities:

  • Voice: Participants can use their mics to talk with each other.

  • Video: Participants can share video feeds of themselves.

  • Chat: Participants can type comments into a chat box.

  • Screen-sharing: Presenters can share their screens, which is a handy way to walk students through an online course site.

  • Whiteboard: There is a shared whiteboard space.

  • Presentation window: The presenter can easily present a PowerPoint.
These tools also provide other functionality, such as letting participants use icons for basic "emotional" responses--such as clicking a smiley face to let the presenter know things are going well. Teachers can create polls and surveys. The whole sessions can easily be archived and recorded.

Years ago, I began introducing my courses with video; I used Camtasia's screen capture software to record an intro in which I clicked through the class and talked to the students. Students could watch the video when they liked.

I now use Wimba, which at Drexel is built into our Blackboard Vista CMS, to introduce my courses, providing a measure of what my colleague Kristen Betts calls OHT, Online Human Touch. I display a video of myself in the corner in the beginning of the course intro (I take it down after a few minutes, because they certainly don't need to see me the whole time). I talk to them using Wimba's voice capabilities, reviewing the course guidelines and policies. I share my screen to show them the course Bb Vista site and some course documents. They can ask questions via voice or by chatting. If they want to share their own video feed of themselves, they can. If they can't sign on during our planned meeting time, the session is archived for later viewing.

Wimba can also be a handy place for students in fully online courses to meet together if they are working on team projects. The Wimba icon is on the homepage of my course, and students are welcome to click on it whenever they want to conduct a meeting.

These live classroom e-spaces can allow you to do many other things depending on your teaching style. For me, they support my efforts to make a personal connection with my students in the beginning of the term and to help them get comfortable with my course. From there, I still want them writing, so soon after, we're off to the textual adventures of the message boards.


Blogger Mrs. Shier said...

For those who don't have Drexel's resources, Skype can provide a similar experience. I think OpenTok might also support video conferencing. It used to be Tokbox, but the old Tokbox has been abandoned and I haven't tried Opentok yet to see what it can do.

12:02 AM  

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