Thursday, January 26, 2012

Web Conference for Teaching

Recently I took part in on-line training in the use of the "Adobe Connect", video conference software for education. The training was fun: Like a group of kids talking into tin cans connected by string. wink

Adobe Connect worked much better than when I tried Wimba Classroom and should be adequate for some teaching and research supervision.

I was able to install Adobe Connect for Linux and run the compatibility tests successfully. But it did not work for the live conference (I suspect there is just some little security setting to change for it to work). It worked well enough under Ms-Windows on a borrowed laptop (but like many in Computer Science I don't normally use MS-Windows).

While adequate, I did not think Adobe Connect as good as "Blackboard Collaborate" (previously called Elluminate Live!") and no better than the free open source alternatives available. In particular Connect is heavily dependent on Flash, giving it poor accessibility and limited support on non-Windows/Mac platforms. I was not able to increase the size of the text in the interface and could not move windows around on the screen.

I was able to change the bandwidth setting to "modem" and change to lower bandwidth audio and video settings. So this should work adequately for students on slow links.

A major lack is an automated on-line end-to-end test. What is needed is a place where you can verify the microphone, speakers and software are working, by sending audio and video over the network and having it played back.

One of the participants expressed surprise that video conference software has not improved much in the last ten years. What has improved is the training provided. Having the training on how to conduct a lesson on-line makes a bigger difference than the features of the software. But there are some extra features in the web classroom systems.

While I now know enough to use Adobe Connect, I am not sure what I might use it for, or how we use it with other teaching software, particularly Moodle. As an example, Adobe Connect has provision for dividing a class into groups.

In theory I could have a virtual TEAL room. That is 100 to 200 students could be on-line watching an instructor perform some demonstration or min-lecture Then the class world divide into groups of about 6 to 9 students and each try the experiment themselves or discuss the topic. Then the class would come back together and the groups report. But that would take more support than Adobe Connect provides.

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