10 Jun

Feeling lonely in a webinar

I just finished listening to a webinar on new features of the survey tool Qualtrics, whichwe use in our BA study program. As neither Elluminate nor Adobe Connect was used, I had hoped to get a good glimpse of what is possible with GoToWebinar / GoToMeeting. However, I cannot give a good overview as only a few features were unlocked for this webinar. Thus, I can write about the possibilities to restrict a meeting to a high degree which does not provide a fair image to what is possible with GoToWebinar. I guess, I will have to wait for another meeting using this service to see how the “regular” features work out. What I can say is that I did not encounter connection speed problems as sometimes with Adobe Connect and that the screen sharing was very smooth.

Anyway, this webinar showed to me clearly how I got used to the communication features generally available in online presentations, webinars, online meetings or whatever you may call them that I have attended in the context of educational technology.

Usually, a list of participants is displayed. I like to scroll through it so see if anybody I know is there as well. That is like in a face-to-face meeting when you check the room to look for familiar faces. In this meeting today I did not see a participants’ list. The organizers said that they had been asked to keep that information confidential. I was very amazed because in Elluminate and also Adobe Connect, you can choose any screen name and nobody will be the wiser who is behind that. Furthermore, I got the impression that those who asked for this confidentiality either did not want others to know that they were there,Β  what kind of questions they asked or they were not ready to communicate except with the presenter / support team. I guess, I will never find out because I do not know how many people participated and who they were.

Confidentiality and security over communication

Confidentiality and security over communication

In general, the chat / backchannel is important because people discuss the presentation, post questions and comments, share links and other resources etc. However, it can be highly distracting for me if the backchannel is very active. Then I have trouble concentrating on the presentation and I have to decide which to follow more closely: the presentation or the chat. Despite my own weakness in that area, others are great in handling the chat, the presentation and providing additional information. I am always amazed at presenters who can read chat questions and answer them while they are presenting. The chat enriches online seminars immensely because it draws in the participants and gives the presenter / moderator feedback on what people think about, what is important to them.

In today’s meeting there was no chat. I had a window for questions and answers (see screenshot above), but I only saw my questions and the answers I received. When I realized that I would not see the questions or comments of the other participants, I reached a very low point and was rather disappointed because I was not allowed to communicate with the others in the webinar. Sure, I could write comments and send questions, but I felt that I needed to write questions and not engage in small talk because my chat messages were only read by the support staff monitoring the chat and they surely only wanted to receive content questions. I felt very isolated like being in a box (“prison” would be too strong a word as I chose to be there on my own) with a screen on which I could follow the presentation, which was insightful by the way and nicely done, and only a small window to the outside through which a guard who was positioned in front of it kept watch of what I said and gave answers without allowing me to pass on and receive messages to / from other inmates in their individual soundproof boxes.

It was a rather lonely affair. I really missed the chat because when I read it, I get to know what other people are working on, how they relate to the content of the presentation, what kind of questions they ask etc. Ideas and solutions to problems are shared and it is not always necessary that the moderators answer all questions because often there are knowledgeable people in the chat who provide useful solutions.

As my experience with online seminars and presentations is mainly limited to the educational technology field, I do not know if the type of online presentation I participated in today is very common in other areas and I only had my webinar culture shock. The shock waves still ripple through me and it has nothing to do with the tool we used, which is most likely great when communication features are open to the participants, or the initial content of the presentation. Just the mode of delivery was not to my liking.

01 Jun

Waiting for the (Google) Wave

Since last Thursday I have picked up snippets of buzz around Google Wave and finished watching the demo video today (had kept it for my workout to have that pass more quickly πŸ˜‰ ). I am just speechless and can’t wait for it to be publically available.

Wave is a new communication tool that is email, instant messenger, microblog, blog, collaborative writing tool, and some more all in one. It redefines the way online communication is done because you do not have to think about whether you want to write an email, send a Twitter message or start a chat. You just do it all in Wave.

The Wave team from Australia demonstrated so many features and extensions of Wave that your head spins (not in a particular order):

  • email
  • instant messenger
  • embed waves into a blog
  • wiki
  • drag and drop photos and links
  • embed videos
  • spellchecker
  • instant translator (I think that one got the biggest applause)
  • add people to an ongoing conversation
  • connect waves
  • inline commenting
  • collaborative gaming
  • linking other services, e.g. Twitter, bug tracker, and be able to either update from within Wave or these other services
  • federation: communication between different Wave installations
  • playback of the development of a Wave conversation

I think the only things that are missing are audio and video chat. I could imagine audio comments to show up like text comments or have an audio conversation be recorded while working on a document.

Now, how can some of these features be used for learning and for research? The one point that jumps to mind instantly is the possibility of collaborative writing (including using visual media). You see instantly what the others type and do not have to wait until changes are committed. That is similar to EtherPad. You can add comments to a document which can be hidden or displayed which is easier to detect them and to deal with them than in Google Docs where you write them inline with the text. Parts of a current wave can be opened as a new wave to branch conversations.

When you want to research the flow of communication, for example how people interact when writing collaboratively on a document, all you have to do is hit “playback” and the wave unfolds in front of your eyes. I already liked the “playback” feature when I discovered it in the concept mapping software CmapTools. Even though I have not used it yet beyond testing purposes, it has a ton of potential if you are involved in that kind of research because you do not need an additional program to record what has been done, but you can have all actions recorded automatically.

Another great thing about Wave is that it can run on any server and does not have to sit on a Google server. The GUI is also changeable. This is great news because Google is often accused of listening in on conversations, using it all to their own benefit. When the Wave runs on a server different from the Google one, there is no information exchange. However, Wave communications can take place across different servers so that Wave users do not necessarily have to create accounts on all Waves. They then form a federation. According to the developers, only the content that is meant for the Wave users across the systems will be sent to the federation Waves. If a private comment is made between two users of one Wave, the other server does not see that comment at all. That makes Wave attractive to companies, institutions etc. that want to use it, but do not want to put their communication and documents out there on a Google server for confidentiality reasons.

The demo made it all look so simple, but the Wave team spent two years on getting this far and they have pooled resources from other Google programming teams. Google opened the code and invited programmers to get busy on extensions and gadgets for Google Wave to make it more powerful even before the official launch. Let’s see when the Wave will hit our keyboards.

Update: Mashable has a great resource page which they call “Google Wave: A Complete Guide”. There you get all the information that is currently available.

22 Nov

Lost in Technology

This past week was an online feast I had not experienced before. I tried to catch as many sessions of the conference Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008 at which great minds shared their knowledge, experience, and thoughts. I will blog about that over the weekend a bit more trying to summarize important points for me before they get lost in next week’s travel excitement.

On top of that it was the 11th week of CCK08. Though I have not been an active participant in the course by way of writing blog posts, discussing in Moodle etc., I try to participate in the Wednesday Elluminate and Frida uStream sessions. I always look forward to them.

As we are nearing the end of the course next week and I will not be able to attend the last sessions (maybe next Friday if I am very lucky), I was happy that I would be able participate today during a break of the online conference. However, as our hosts Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, and George Siemens are very busy people, we did have to have one day when a session would have to be canceled. That was the case today. Nevertheless, and due to not reading “The Daily” earlier, three of us (Eduardo, Lisa and I) gathered in uStream and reached the decision to have our session anyway. Thus, we did get to have our revolution after all (if you don’t know what I am referring to, I point you to the beginning of the uStream session of Week 5). πŸ˜‰

Lisa quickly pointed us to her uStream channel, but as all of us had never experimented with uStream before, we had difficulty to bring everybody in on the audio (and video). Andreas and Carmen joined us there after they got our Twitter messages. Soon, we realized that we couldn’t get onto the uStream audio and decided to try Skype because that would allow us – in theory – to audio chat together.

That meant to get all our Skype IDs together and start a conference call. We kept uStream open to be able to text chat while continuing the tech experiment in Skype to get everybody in there. After some bits of discussion in Skype in a smaller conference call with three of us and the other ones listening to Lisa filling them in and text chatting in uStream, we were all united: Eduardo in Uruguay, Lisa in Southern California, Carmen in Minnesota, Andreas in Germany and I in Luxembourg.

Unfortunately, the tech gods did not have their protective eye on me during that hour. I could only get sound through uStream although I was on Skype and could be heard through there. On top of that my audio lacked behind between 30 seconds and 1 minute thus making it difficult to contribute to the conversation in a timely fashion. I usually cut in while others were talking and I felt aweful about that because I interrupted the entire conversation. I resorted to text chat in the end but could hear everybody.

As Lisa rightly said, “And here, you know, the pipe really was more important than the content.” That was certainly true. We had to figure out how to connect and not just connect but bring everybody on the same tool and allow for participation (no willing CCK08 participant left behind). Due to the technical problems, we could not finish our discussion on the blog software we used for what reason, what we will do after CCK08 will be over, whether we will continue blogging, staying in contact etc. It would have been a really interesting discussion had we had more time and mastered our internet communication tools better.

Hosting a live session certainly takes preparation and even when you have all the technology available to you that does not mean that it will cooperate and do what you want. However, we managed to get connected and stay that way more or less using two tools (not in one environment) simultaneously.

A big THANK YOU to Jeff who usually manages our Friday sessions and stays on top of his tech game to connect Dave, George, and Stephen to us from wherever they are on the planet and with whatever internet connection they have to work with. He’s always in the background handling the difficult part of connecting everybody as smoothly as possible.

After our allotted time for our Friday class, everybody went back to their other tasks. I wondered what happened to theΒ  intentions to have meetups as they were discussed at the beginning of the course. There are two Second Life group that meet / met regularly if I remember correctly: one English-speaking one and one Spanish-speaking one. Are there other groups? Maybe even face-to-face ones? How often do / did they meet? What are their experiences?

Our little group was a great experience today, we stayed in class, and learned together without our teachers / instructors / facilitators / moderators / curators / enablers…

Communicating online can be more difficult but still be fun

Communicating online can be more difficult but still be fun

10 Sep

Elluminate me

A crowd of approx. 82 participants of the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course, commonly known as CCK08, just met in a synchronous online session in Elluminate. It was quite an experience for me as that was my first live session in Elluminate. Previously, I was only able to watch recorded sessions of webinars.

Participating in this hour long discussion was challenging as I had to listen to the various speakers and watch the rapidly flowing chat. This time, the whiteboard could still be mostly looked at peripherally. Had the session been at the previously set time (2 a.m. in the morning for me), I would not have been able to follow for most of the time, I guess, as I am not a night owl. πŸ˜‰

I think I would have coped a little bit better even now if the chat window had been bigger. This little window was way too small for me to see the comments properly. I’m not talking about the size of the font, but rather the comments themselves. At times they just sped past and were gone beyond the scrollbar. Maybe I can increase the window size. I haven’t figured that one out yet. However, I still have 11 more weeks to go to either find a way to enlarge the text chat area or to get used to reading the comments in the small window without losing track of the speaker. πŸ™‚

This shows that I am not so good at multi-tasking. George Siemens, who moderated the session by himself for a few minutes before Stephen Downes joined, and was already there before the session, did a wonderful job of talking and reading the comments at the same time and getting back to them.

Screenshot of an (empty) Elluminate session. The text chat box is way too small for my liking as a lot of stuff happens in there.

Screenshot of an (empty) Elluminate session. The text chat box is way too small for my liking as a lot of stuff happens in there.