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March 15, 2007
At lunchtime today I helped Erica Carter of German Studies to run a live online collaborative seminar with a group of students here and a group at Witwatersrand in South Africa.
We had hoped to use our new web based videoconferencing tools, but unfortunately they are not ready yet. It may also be the case that the Wits net connection is too slow. So instead we simply used a Warwick Forums discussion setup. I created external user accounts for the Wits staff and students, and gave them access to the forum. We started off by posting introductory messages, with the Warwick students divided into four groups. Here are a few observations:
- the UK students were entirely digitally native – they instantly understood Warwick Forums, and quickly discovered how to upload images of themselves taken on an Apple laptop, or from their Facebook accounts.
- even so they found the live interaction to be exciting.
- the discussions were a little chaotic, with people posting into threads with no specific structure, the plan had been to setup threads in advance, but Forums maintanance prevented this from happening.
- dividing up the class into four groups, worked well.
- assigning threads to each group is a good model, but it would be useful if it were possible to see the thread in which one is working AND an indication of activity in other threads.
- being able to set up these groups and discussion threads ad hoc is useful, having a more visual representation of these relationships would be really useful.
- Warwick Forums no longer seems to auto-refresh, a useful feature in a live collaboration.
Most significantly, the students were asked to write extended entries as a group and then post them. A forum type setup perhaps supports this model better than Instant Messaging. I suspect that this is a good pedagogical pattern, with students taking more time to prepare their statements, but still getting the benefit of quick feedback. This may well help less confident students. It is possible for the tutor to give them personal help in drafting their statements, something that can never happen in a traditional seminar.
Steve Carpenter is working on a new interface for video conferencing seminars. Pleasingly, many of the features he is considering will work in this way.