Independent Study: Web-Conferencing


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Independent Study: Web-Conferencing

  1. 1. Web Conferencing Reflection Heather Natale and Leah MacVie Heather Natale and Leah MacVie EDC590 Web Conferencing Dr. John Thompson Summer 2009 Buffalo State College
  2. 2. Heather Natale and Leah MacVie EDC590 Web Conferencing Dr. John Thompson Summer 2009 Buffalo State College This summer, Heather Natale and Leah (Sciabarrasi) MacVie, along with Dr. John Thompson, tested and charted seven different free desktop Web conferencing programs. Each program introduced us to many features that needed to be tested, reviewed, and discussed. Our efforts were not without bumps in the road or setbacks. As a final result, we came out with a better understanding of how these programs worked and how they can be used in educational environments. Initial Projects To begin the Web Conferencing course, we were given a 176 page document from Dr. Thompson to review. Although this 9 month masterpiece was overwhelming at first, it gave us a better understanding of what we would be facing and the possibilities that awaited us. It also gave us a jumping off point in regards to what Web conferencing software would be suitable for testing. We were also added to an ANGEL section that we used only for receiving the initial documents and communicating via ANGEL e-mail. We all were equipped with speakers, headsets and Web cams at the start of this project. Dr. Thompson had already begun devoting his time to Web conferencing at the beginning of the year. He informed us that he had received a research grant to use Elluminate vClass for the rest of this year, so he was eager to see just how easy, or difficult, each of the Web conferencing applications would be. Our first assignment was to review a report on desktop Web conferencing that an Educational Computing class before us had assembled. It charted some of the Web conferencing programs that they had tested, determined which programs were best suited for certain classroom applications, and what, if any, problems they encountered when testing the applications. The evaluating of the research paper added to our experience by showing us a final product and summarized what our course would encompass. Because we, Heather and Leah, had never met before, our communication began with a Skype chat. The most interesting thing was that we were 'meeting' for the first time the very same way we would communicate throughout the rest of the course. It was difficult to get the hang of at first, but as time passed and we used Skype more often, it got easier and became almost second nature. There were many tricks to learn, including talking slowly and wearing headsets to prevent echoing. After these initial hurdles, this medium became an important part of the communication in the course. We met on Skype before and after each testing, as well as stayed connected throughout, in case any errors or glitches occurred with the other Web conferencing programs we were testing that day. Communication On average, the three of us were in communication at least three times a week, either through ANGEL e-mail, personal e-mail or the Web conferencing software we were
  3. 3. testing. We had weekly, or bi-weekly, Web conferencing testings between the three of us, to try out the various programs. We, Heather and Leah, also communicated outside of the normal scheduled times via e-mail or Skype in order to prepare for the presentations we made on each Web conferencing application. Due to the fact that our communication was by electronic means alone, we found that there were times where e-mails weren’t completely understood and had to be explained or questions that needed quick responses weren’t received as soon as the sender would have liked. Without the benefits of face-to- face interactions on a daily basis, we found communication not to be difficult, but needed a little more effort than it may have in a classroom setting. Advancements At the start of the term, everyone was rather unsure on how to proceed. There were no set end results that we had to conform to, or a set number of programs to try out. As students, we rarely have the option of creating our own deadlines, activities, and schedule. We soon figured out that scheduling our testing sessions in advance, and sticking to Tuesdays and Thursdays for our meeting times, was better for everyone’s hectic lifestyles. The three of us tested two programs per testing session, each week introducing new applications or revisiting those that were previously tested. After gathering information on over 15 Web conferencing programs, we settled on seven to use in our testing and charting. 1. AdobeConnectNow 2. DimDim 3. Elluminate 4. Tokbox 5. Skype 6. Vyew 7. WizIQ Method Each week, we, Heather and Leah, each prepared one Web conferencing application by viewing the features, and gathering the key points to discuss and share in our testing session for that week. As an initial test, we, Heather and Leah, would meet on Skype and test the software out between the two of us to check for any glitches and to be prepared for our group testing. On Tuesday and Thursday of each week, we would share the address for our meeting room via Skype, or invite each other to the session via e-mail. Dr. Thompson would then join us as we presented our findings and discussed the usability for each program. Once we went through this step by step process a few times, it seemed to run much smoother that it initially had. To chart our progress, we set up a shared Google spreadsheet. We found the spreadsheet to be very beneficial because we all had access to the document and all three of us could edit it in real-time. It was important that we documented our findings immediately so that each testing session and application would be fresh in our minds. We also kept a journal in a Google Doc to track our progress in the course and to recall specific dates, issues,
  4. 4. and events. This was another way that the three of us were able to keep the lines of communication open. It was a way to discuss our findings using technology rather than a face-to-face conversation. Problems Although many of the Web conferencing programs we tested boasted “user-friendly” and “simple” features, our testing did not always run so smoothly. Many of the problems we encountered were with our microphones and speakers. We found out that we needed headsets rather than Web cams with built in microphones, especially for three-way conversations, or else we would receive feedback and echoing. During some of the sessions, our hardware pieces would not work simultaneously. Two people were able to share video and microphones, but one would not be part of the conversation. There were times when some of us would be kicked out of the sessions, and would have to be re- invited. We found this to be an issue when we switched to the Shared Documents or Video features. All of the problems we encountered were documented on our spreadsheet. The conclusion we came to was that if people who were familiar with technology and Web conferencing software were having difficulties with the programs, then instructors and students new to this type of communication could possibly struggle even more. Key Discoveries None of the programs we tested during this class were identical. Some of the products that we tested had unique features, while others were very basic in function. Some interesting features we encountered included sticky notes, custom URLs, and breakout rooms. After testing all seven of the Web conferencing applications, we concluded that if a school would like to implement Web conferencing software for instructors and students to use, they would first have to evaluate their needs, technological knowledge, and the time they are willing to spend preparing others on how to utilize the applications. Concerns for Course Structure It is sometimes hard to work through your journey if you do not know where you are going. As students, we are accustomed to receiving a syllabus from our instructor with clear cut expectations and grading for the course. Since this was an independent study course, all three of us worked together to come up with a schedule and assignments together, involving the students in the process of creating a course. There were times when we, Heather and Leah, weren’t sure if we were doing too much or not enough work. Being good students, we tended to over-plan and over-test the applications we chose to work with. Our final result, the spreadsheet of information on each Web conferencing application, was kept current throughout the semester in hopes that the work we were doing would be used down the road. At the beginning of the semester, it was tough to recognize just where this course was headed and how our findings would be helpful to others. Course Recommendations If Desktop Web Conferencing were to become a part of the Educational Technology coursework, there would need to be some more structure applied to the class. Clear
  5. 5. expectations, in the form of a class syllabus, should be introduced in the beginning of the semester. This would include a firm testing schedule, what is expected of the students in terms of preparation and output, and the expected outcomes of the testing. During our time together, we used the Web conferencing applications mainly for conversing with each other and to showcase new features. Several of the products allowed for recorded presentations to be shown to meeting attendees. If this class were to be offered again, participants may want to test the products in the way they are meant to be utilized, which would include more recorded presentations along with the live conversations. Conclusion In conclusion, we believe this course has both enriched us with better intuition for Web conferencing software and taught us how to utilize similar software in our professions. We also now know how to evaluate Web conferencing software, and software like it, should we ever have the opportunity to do so in the future. Lastly, we are also thankful that we had each other. We had a great team and this experience would have not have been possible without that.