Teaching online in real time
While I was working on my MA I had the oportunity to take a couple of completely online courses. One being an incredible experience and the others being extremely poor. This got me to thinking about the difference between the two classes and what elements made one more effective and the others so poor. The conclusion that I came to was that for me the difference came from the amount of interaction that I experienced between the student and the professor. As I continued to learn more about current web technologies I realized that we would soon be approaching the time that online education did not have to be like the old correspondence course or even like the current asynchronous online classes. This has lead me on the path of developing my “virtually face to face” classes, working to provide the optimum learning experience by combining the best features of face to face and asynchronous online classes in an online environment. Below I will describe some of the systems and that I have used in my efforts to achieve what should be the optimal online learning environment.
- Google Sites -FREE – The first step to teaching online is having a website to serve as a virtual homebase. While you may travel all over the web exploring information and tools throughout your class you will aways want a virtual homebase where students will meet to find introductory infomration and links for the lesson as well as a location where you can post videos and review materials. Any kind of website will do, but the Google Sites are vrey simple to setup, yet very flecxible for embedding many different types of media and information. This is a great option for the novice web designer to be able to make a custom site including a blog with RSS without any programming background
- Skype – FREE – This is telephony software that allows you to make voice and video calls to other computers or telephones (voice only). You can also set up conference calls, again with voice only. While many of the meeting software packages (see below) will also handle audio, Skype has a much better audio quality and does a good job eliminating echo and feedback from users that don’t use headsets.
- Elluminate / Adobe Connect Pro / Fuze Meeting (choose one, or many other online meeting options) -
- iShowU – $20/$29/$59 – It has been my experience that one of the most valuable things that I do with my online students is to record each session for later review. This lowers the anxiety level and reduces pressure to take thourough notes, allowing students to relax and participate in the online experience. iShowU is a very simple screen capture tool that will allow you to make a video recording of your session that you can post on your website later for review. iShowU will even be able to record audio from your microphone and your computer together allowing you to preserve any audio/ video media that you played in class as well as the full skype discussion.
Simple (yet costly) Setup:
This simple setup relies mainly on a virtual classroom or meeting software with a few other tools added in for enhanced functionality. This setup could be done with just the virtual classroom software alone, but with a lower quality level. This setup is generally more expensive because of the lisencing costs for the meeting software, but is better suited for beginning online teachers and larger class sizes.
Various Monthy Subscription Costs ($30 – $50 monthly)- This kind of meeting software is great for virtual classrooms, especially if you have a large number of students. The software will allow voice and video conferencing, screen and application sharing, text chat, and a shared collaborative space. Most meeting software will also allow you to record (video and/ or audio) your sessions for students to access later for review.
- Skype – FREE – Same as in the simple setup
- CamTwist or ManyCam – FREE – This software acts as a software switcher for your video inputs as well as adding content and effects into your webcam’s video stream. Basically the program interrupts the video as it’s traveling from the web cam to the streaming or recording software, allowing you to add graphics, presentations, effects, and videos into your webcam stream.
- Audio HiJack Pro – $32 – This software is similar to Camtwist except that is serves as a software mixer for audio. It will allow you to “HiJack” audio from any audio source or application on your computer, mix and add effects, record, and route out to various audio outputs and programs. I use this program to capture the audio from my microphone and mix it with the audio from Skype, Firefox, and camtwist. I then send out the mixed audio to Quicktime and ustream using an included software audio device called Soundflower.
- Quicktime – FREE in SnowLeopard / $29 for OS X 10.5 and before- Qucktime is apple’s video and audio system. I use Quicktime to record the video output from Camtwist as well as the mixed audio output from Audio HiJack to serve as a high quality archive and review video. You don’t need to use Quicktime. Any software that will record video will serve this purpose.
- uStream.tv account – FREE – ustream.tv lets anyone have their own internet TV station. It allows you to send out a live video stream that anyone can log onto and watch. I use this system in combination with the video output from Camtwist and the mixed audio from Audio HiJack to stream my class live. Students participating in my online are able to watch the video stream to see my desktop when I am demonstratin g software, presentation slides, and videos that I want to show. If you don’t have any software to record video (or just don’t want to use it) you can also to ustream to record you sessions and embed them into your class website for student review and archive.
More Complex (and fun) Setup:
The complex setup is for the more advanced computer user as it requires more peicing together of various tools. However, many of the tools that are used in this setup are free and you won’t need to purchase the expensive meeting software packages. While more complex, and a bit more work to run, this is my prefered setup as it allows me to function in my regular desktop environment as I would as if my computer was hooked to a projector in class, rather than having to learn to function in the virtual classroom environment provided by many of the software packages. I suppose that this preference would change depending on one’s comfort level and time spent with the various software packages.
Regardless of what software and type of setup you choose to employ, it seems to me that the ultimate goal of all this is to recreate in the online class the same quality of interaction that students and teachers would have in a physical classroom. With this kind of setup in place students and teachers can discuss topics in real time instead of relying on email and threaded discussions as the primary means of communication. This system also allows the teacher to present and share material in real time in both audio and video with the use of screen sharing or video streaming. As I stated before past students have also said that the ability for them to review the session recordings has actually made the online sessions more effective than face to face sessions that they are not able to review as easily. Obviously this is an ongoing process of learning and exploration both for myself and for the area of online education as a whole. I would appreciate your comments and feedback as I continue on this journey.