HD Video Conferencing for Education
WebConference.com™ may be instrumental in improving learning and communication between instructors and students, reducing the perception of transactional distance. Transactional distance theory assumes that the most profound factor in distance education is pedagogy, not the physical or temporal distance that separates
instructor and learner (Gorsky and Caspi 2005). Moore (1993) defines transactional distance as "a psychological and communications space to be crossed, a space of potential misunderstanding between the
inputs of instructor and those of the learner" (23). It has been suggested that increased and improved student-teacher interactions can increase student satisfaction with perceived knowledge gain (Stein et al. 2005; Wheeler 2007). WebConference.com™ may serve as a tool for bridging the "psychological and communications space to be crossed," thus improving student learning.
WebConference.com™ can provide benefits in almost all educational environments. For example, students who cannot make it to class for health or other reasons could participate in a live class meeting from another location. Distance students can communicate instantly with their classmates or instructors through virtual classrooms or during virtual office hours, alleviating their anxieties and getting answers to their questions when they need them. Experts from around the world can interact with students. Webcams can transmit facial expressions and other nonverbal cues, thereby improving communication and understanding.
WebConference.com™ MEETS REQUIREMENTS FOR EDUCATORS AND INSTITUTIONS
Many Web conferencing systems are available, but only a handful meet the requirements of educators and institutions. WebConference.com™ offers a range of features that meet most educational needs and is offered as a hosted as well as a customer premise equipment (CPE) solution through the purchae of your own video conferencing appliance. Whether attendees use the WebConference.com™ service or our server appliance to power their Web conference, they will use the same web interface to deliver the meeting.
WebConference.com™ includes the following basic features found in most enterprise Web conference
• Rich media presentation tools (including Office, Windows Media and Flash)
• Multiparty live webcam video
• Multiparty two-way Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) audio
• Desktop application sharing
• Chat interactions
• Whiteboard marking tools
• Recording capabilities
• File transfer
• Polling functionality that allows for participant feedback
• Advanced Polling functionality that allows for Tests, Quizes and Exams
• Meeting reports
However, WebConference.com™ includes additional features that set it apart from its competitors, including:
• A user-customizable interface
• Advanced testing and grading functionality
• Full Moodle integration and support
• An active speaker indicator (which causes participants who are speaking to appear in the webcam view
• Personal recording capabilities, which allow recordings of meetings to be saved to each participant's computer
• High fidelity recording capabilities
• 99.99% server availability
• Compatibility with Linux and Mac operating systems
• Unlimited data storage of recorded meetings
• Affordable, competitive pricing
Finding Pedagogical Strategies in Synchronous Environments
In order to make WebConference.com™ an effective tool for learning and collaboration, instructors need to know
how to make the best use of their virtual classrooms. Ruth Colvin Clark (2005), a well-known researcher in the field of distance and multimedia learning, has suggested several ways to use the features of WebConference.com™ to support instructional goals in various types of courses. Hybrid courses are well suited to virtual classrooms. You may want to set up the initial classroom meeting in a face-to-face environment in which you introduce students to the WebConference.com™ software, and then conduct a Web conference soon
thereafter for one of the online sessions. For online classes, you may decide to conduct monthly online meetings to keep students connected to each other and remind them of upcoming assignments or simply to answer questions. Students may want to set up virtual meeting rooms for small group assignments, brainstorming, or just talking. All of these options are possible with Web conferencing systems.
Clark (2005) suggests some other strategies that can enhance WebConference.com™ sessions. In general, online
sessions should be limited to about 60 to 90 minutes in length, as multiple virtual class sessions are better than one long one. Between sessions, students could work on projects that they post for review by other class members and the instructor.
There are some challenges inherent in incorporating WebConference.com™ and creating synchronous online
learning environments. These challenges include simply getting the software, learning how to use it, and then training students how to use it. No matter how effortless it seems, some users will encounter difficulties in setting up their equipment (microphones and webcams) and will need additional assistance. If you might be unable to assist them, you should have a technical person on your staff who will be able to help when these difficulties arise, and you also will have access to technical assistance through WebConference.com™ FAQ's and customer service.
You will need to understand how to set up an online meeting effectively and how to communicate in this environment. A great book that provides synchronous online strategies and detailed information on different types of synchronous tools is Learning in Real Time: Synchronous Teaching and Learning Online (Finkelstein 2006).
You will need to set up protocols and conventions for the participants and be ready to act when things don't go as planned. If you have a guest speaker, for instance, you may need to set up a producer or facilitator who can help this person. You may even need to include a co-facilitator during your own sessions at first to provide a more comfortable environment. It will take some time and practice, but in the end, WebConference.com™ can provide a much richer learning environment for both you and your students.