Saturday, May 23, 2009


Notes about my maiden Elluminate Session Tues. 4 May

Having taught and facilitated a range of courses and online events in the past, I approached the Elluminate session on Tuesday evening with some reservations. My experience is in the use of text based conferencing environments which are of course still overwhelming used by most people on the net for social and educational synchronous communication.

Suddenly here I am in my 'second incarnation' without the same general restrictions of bandwidth which have complicated or ruled out the use of audio and video conferencing for most people in the past. Will this changed situation necessarily deliver improvements? Does the addition of VOICE and FACES really make a difference or lead to better outcomes? I suspect not. So what is it about this 'physicality' which is still so seductive, so attractive? For those who can't see or hear I guess the inclusion of sound and video is a non-event.

What I do know is that regardless of the conferencing tool you use, it is always going to be the skill of the facilitator which matters. If planning, pace and timing, feel for the flow of the conversation, control and the use of appropriate techniques for getting all involved are lacking, you're going to fail no matter how 'sexy' or super-dooper the technology might be.

It's the AUDIO aspect of A-SYNCHRONOUS online communication which has me in its thrall at the moment via my little VOXOPOP project which is ripping along. Had quite a few more additions to the various talk groups this week and have noticed that a few of my students have started to do independent oral contributions from home. Many told me they listen to the threads "again and again" for listening practice.

Even got involved in a Practicing Spanish group myself which has reminded me of just how nerve wracking speaking and broadcasting online in a second language can be. Interesting to see how that evolves.

Now with all that said I don't want you to think I didn't have fun with Elluminate. Of course I did - I've even taken out 'the three man virtual digs' deal and created a link to this latest virtual 'salon' from my MY PAGE hoping someone will find the time to talk to me. (Crikkey! what a sad case, hah?)

The first Elluminate session was full of mucking around, play and familiarising myself with the environment ... the 'clown' in me was in full flight (check out the screen dump above :-)

Ann, think about buying hubby a dishwasher ... the poor sod seemed to spend the whole hour at the sink!

I'm sure Michael C will be a skilled facilitator so I'm keen to see what techniques he uses once we get down to the 'serious' discussion.

So what did I like about Elluminate?

*Sense of immediacy via AUDIO. (My reservation stated above still stands though) I wonder too about the value of the VIDEO facility - who cares whether you can see someone's nog or not?);

*The whiteboard provides a fair range of possibilites for focussing the discussion (but how effectively we'll have to see);

*I think there was a file transfer tool available (though as in most Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client programs, I wonder how often you would use it in a synchronous situation?

*The Poll tool was interesting although I suspect its overuse might be a bit of a problem - danger of dialogue getting bogged down in 'voting' - yes / no answers to questions put by the facilitator?

*The hand-raising / turn taking facility. Fascinating echoes of 'old-world' classroom etiquette. I actually didn't mind the hand raising as I know from my own experience of facilitating online that ETIQUETTE is really crucial to the success of a session. It's often hard for participants to understand the importance of turn-taking as all of us are usually so excited and just dying to get our opinions across. Something participants often forget is that there are usually other opportunites / facilities to express their ideas (eg. asynch FORUM after the synch session) so no one has to misses out on expressing themselves. With that said, you don't want to kill spontaneity either. Balance in all things?

*The text chat. Well, even though AUDIO dominates in this environment. I observed that those who had trouble getting the AUDIO up and running initially seemed disadvantaged. On a closer analysis I think the inputs of those confined to chat was just as valuable. If you're quick on the keyboard I think you can make your presence felt.

Note to myself: those challenged by literacy/language difficulties aren't quick on the keyboard ... is this where the AUDIO might come into its own, amongst my ESL and ALBE students?

* I liked the facilitator. Michael has a gentle, inclusive manner (just as in RL). The chairs exercise was fun. He was encouraging and democratic - made sure everyone participated and that everyone felt comfortable. I also noticed Michael in the background helping someone to connect via the phone. (I can identify Michael, that can be a headache if you're doing the facilitating on your own). There is so much going on for the facilitator in the background. So much we don't see - so much to be done before the session, unexpected problems to solve during, and various tasks to be performed after (eg. preparing and massaging people into asynch de-briefing, editing the LOG or RECORDING of the session). A hard job! Someone asked whether you need 2 facilitators. I would say 'yes' (but can online course delivery afford to employ 2 facilitators?)

What I did not like about the Elluminate environment

* It seems you have to 'book' server space for use with a class or group. (Correct me if I am wrong) That means $$$ and also provides something of a hurdle to planning and flexibility. A MOO for instance is a free, 24/7 virtual space and community where you will find others most of the time. Because you download the client program in Elluminate the 'space' could never seemed owned or intimate? You can build in Virtual Communities where as this facility is just a temporary 'download' the java client for communication.

*Big Brother is Watching. I read in the GUIDE before the session (and Michael confirmed) that the moderator can see private conversations between participants. That's a turn off. Obviously aimed at spotty American teenagers? Glad I found this out early ... will stop me bitching about others and wise-cracking privately :-)

The VIDEO facility. Who wants to see my ugly face? Why do you need it at all?

THE LOG / RECORDING A SESSION? Michael suggested the moderator can RECORD the session but I wonder how that works? The text could be logged and then edited into a document and be made available after the session as something to reflect upon - surely that can be done? But the AUDIO? How would that work? If so, how much could you record? Suspect this important procedure could be messy.

That's enough from me.

Look forward to hearing others impressions of Elluminate and any feedback on this post.

ps. if anyone wants to meet in the 3 man lite version, sing out and send me a message.

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