The convenience of taking online course has been known for a while now, being that you can take the course anywhere, anytime phrases as long as you have the right tools. Everywhere you go, you will see at least one person who has a smart phone, tablet or a laptop with them. The devices that used to be considered luxury items have moved into something you cannot live without. The ability to communicate with others in real time has been enhanced by the availability of robust web conferencing tools. Such functionality can be found on a basic level in instant messaging programs, such as Google+ Hangouts, Skype, or AOL Instant Messenger, which provides the ability for text messaging, webcam, and Voice-over-IP (VOIP) integration.
One of the stated disadvantages for offering online courses is that would-be students do not get face-to-face interaction and lack of engagement. In some subject areas, you need to have that interaction as part of the learning. It can be hard to increase students’ engagement in the online course because of the convenience factor when the course is open 24/7. Why don’t we use technology to bridge the gap as a solution to the disadvantage of online course?
More-advanced Web conferencing tools can provide users with additional features that can enhance synchronous communication in small or large groups. Products such as Saba Centra, Blackboard Collaborate, Wimba Live Classroom, and Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional allow users to share ideas with whiteboards, online polls, file and application sharing, and web page “pushing.” Such options expand the range of information that can be shared during online sessions, which can be archived using these Web conferencing programs.
How do you use web conferencing tools in higher education?
In online courses
Web conferencing can be used in various ways to enhance students’ experiences within higher education. Online courses can benefit from the occasional or regular use of web conferencing. Online courses are popular because faculty and students can communicate asynchronously using e-mail and discussion boards. With web conferencing, online students can give live presentations to either the instructor or fellow classmates, and the presentations can be recorded and archived so that students can review their presentations and learn ways to improve their performance. Such an outcome is easily possible given Web conferencing tools can be integrated within an institution’s Learning Management System. At PCC, we use Blackboard Collaborate, which has integration with Desire2Learn, our learning management system. Online instructors can easily create Online Rooms within Desire2Learn without going outside of the learning environment. Visit our Distance Ed website to learn more about how to create the Online Rooms.
In traditional on-campus courses
An on-campus instructor could use web conferencing to have additional class time with his or her students outside of the physical classroom. This could be useful when the instructor is unable to come to campus to hold regular class periods or when the campus is closed due to bad weather or an emergency. In addition, faculty could expand office hours by scheduling online time with students to answer questions about assignments or the course in general, to provide supplemental instruction, or to give feedback on course performance. Students in higher education are dispersed throughout different geographical locations and web conferencing provides these individuals with a communication medium.
Professional development, trainings and meetings
Professional development trainings and meetings for faculty and staff can be enhanced by the use of web conferencing tools. Webinars can be created by a college to share important information about new policies and procedures; to help a center for teaching and learning conduct presentations for faculty about best practices in the organization; and facilitation of on-campus and online courses and the assessment of learning in such courses. Web conferencing can be used to host such trainings or meetings, and audiences can be both face-to-face and online with prior planning around the use of such technology. In addition, the ability to share such information with faculty and staff is maximized because the presentations can be archived for later viewing. It is also has the benefits of saving time, money, and gas for traveling to different locations.
New features in Blackboard Collaborate
Some new exciting features of Blackboard Collaborate are:
- the capability to use mobile and tablet devices (Apple iOS and Android devices).
- ability to convert recordings to industry standard video formas (mp4 for video and mp3 for audio), which can be stream or download for offline playback.
- the built-in audio conferencing system, which offer automatic teleconferencing numbers for those who do not have a microphone or have audio issues.
Find more information about how to use Blackboard Collaborate from our Instructional Support website.
Web conferencing provides a way for individuals and groups to bridge distances and to communicate in exciting new ways. Important questions must be answered as we continue our use of web conferencing. One question should be what new features will be added to web conferencing in the future and will they have a positive impact on student learning? Web conferencing will continue to be an evolving technology as long as it remains a viable option for education and industry to offer instruction and training in a way that reduces the time and money associated with face-to-face interaction.
Some interesting read about web conferencing tools
- Student perceptions of web conferencing research article – Dr. Fred Hofstetter.
- Best practices to promote learning through web conferencing: resources, tools, and teaching methods – Paula Jones.
- Oh, the places you can go with web conferencing! – Blaine Morrow.
- Web conferencing vs. Video conferencing – Simon Dudley.