02 January 2010

Exploring Online Support Options

During the fall semester, I was involved with an online course (MOODLE for Teachers), where about 140 students from around the world were exploring instructional design and collaborative learning options using the MOODLE course management system (CMS). The course facilitators use WiZiQ to provide synchronized sessions for the (mostly) asynchronous course. While WiZiQ works well and has tools (whiteboard, chat "talkback", video and audio, and the ability to pre-load presentations (powerpoint) to view and walk through during sessions, operating sessions (whether because of tools, operators, or the number of participants interacting) seem always to involve frustration and uncertainty when systems malfunction.

In the weeks ahead, I hope to compare the use of WiZiQ, Skype, and the free tools from Elluminate (at LearnCentral) to see whether any of these differ in quality. WiZiQ and Skype are free for academic use, while Elluminate charges for use of tools in sessions larger than 3-4 people.

In the past, I have used Skype for sessions where I was about 600 km from a single class session where my video was being projected on-screen and my audio was coming over a speaker system. There was a noticeable time lag that made Q & A sessions a bit hard, but for presentations of any length, it worked very well. Skype also allows the sharing of my desktop for visual demonstrations.

As I said, I have participated in WiZiQ sessions (live for three sessions and I have viewed recordings of 4 others), but I hope to be extending my own use of these tools during January.

I also hope to begin using LearnCentral (Elluminate) for some small group sessions with clients I'm coaching academically this year. The (few) webinar sessions using the (full-priced) Elluminate tools were of superior quality, with more flexibility of screen arrangement, more consistent audio and video, and less time lag.

My project for January will be to try to explore these three applications more fully and to move closer to a decision which tools to use.

I would appreciate any comments readers might have in regard to these applications or any others that are readily available for global academic work.

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