Posts Tagged ‘realtime’

Is it possible to recreate the immediacy and interaction of a small seminar group within a large lecture theatre setting?

Well there are tools that can provide a lecturer with feedback during a lecture, the student response system being one example. However, that has to be pre-planned prior to the lecture to be used effectively, so that system doesn’t necessarily give the immediacy you might be looking for and doesn’t allow for audience questions and discussions to take place like in the small seminar group.

But I think there is a phenomenon that can be used to give a lecture more interactivity and dynamism. The concept has arisen out of microblogging during conference presentations. I first saw it at Eduserv Symposium 2008 with the audience (in the lecture theatre and elsewhere online) microblogging comments and them being displayed on the big screen. I’ve subsequently participated as a microblogger from my office, whilst watching livecasts of conference presentations, or without seeing any official output from a conference. This is backchannelling; the discussions that takes place outside the organised channel, so to speak. (I suppose you could say the backchannel is anything that isn’t directed from the front.) If this backchannel is brought into the proceedings it does add an extra dynamic angle to the event. The primary medium for this is now ‘Twitter‘, though before that there were various exponents of ‘CoverItLive‘.

Now image taking that process and implementing it in a lecture theatre with full connectivity and students with laptops or smart phones. Suddenly you’ve got a means of involving your audience right there in the moment. They can be asking questions, giving immediate feedback, allowing content restructuring in realtime, highlighting areas where they don’t quite grasp the concept and need further explanation, they can be interacting, discussing and answering each other’s questions. By the end of the session you and the students can have a transcript of the process, which may be beneficial depending on your needs. Also the channel can be used outside class-time to continue discussions or for the tutor to ask questions to reinforce understanding.

So what are the services that could be used for backchannelling? Well a few suggestions of one’s that allow you to set up a private space for your purposes without having to register are Chatzy, Today’sMeet and TinyChat. Alternatively you could use Google Docs.

My Diigo links about ‘backchannel’ and ‘backchannelling’


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Whiteboards can be used for collaboration or shared discussion work. A group of four or five students gather (or huddle) round to develop ideas. There are ways of capturing this work, placing copycams around the place to take an image of the whiteboard and upload it onto a web location for retrieval tends to be the institutional approach. A quicker way I’ve found is to use a smartphone to take an image and upload the image directly onto a photosharing site using Shozu.

This is good in small teaching rooms for small groups. But does it scaleable? And is it affordable?

Well I think a viable, free alternative has just evolved, and it’s called EtherPad. What EtherPad allows you to do is to simultaneously edit text online as a group, see the screencast. This means that groups can collaborate online in real time, pitching in ideas, but with the advantage of having a useful ‘document’ at the end, which can be accessed from anywhere, re-edited or cut and pasted elsewhere if required. Much more useful than just an image.

With student laptops in lecture theatres this services could be used to introduce effective small group work within a large group setting. Also, there is no requirement to have an expensive AV system installed for the lecturer to be able to display work from different groups. Instead, the lecturer can just use the lecturn PC to display the work of different groups via a web browser, provided s/he has the relevant URLs. Again, this is an example of scaling up a facility that is only usually available in expensive technology rich small group working rooms.

There are additional advantages. Groups where members are physically remote can still easily collaborate in realtime.

But doesn’t Google Docs do this already? The answer is no, not in realtime. “EtherPad lets multiple people work on the same text simultaneously”

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