Wednesday, 29 April 2015 16:56

Making Meaningful Connections: Web Conferencing in Online Learning

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Online learning is becoming increasingly flexible, with the unbundling of courses into smaller bite-size bits of learning and increased accessibility through mobile devices, students have access to learning anytime, anywhere. Much of the online content taught is available asynchronously with students accessing online videos, lectures, and pre-prepared materials through a learning management system. Over 90% of institutions that offered online courses offered them in an asynchronous way (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2008). This offers flexibility for students and allows them to set the pace of their learning and access materials at a time that is convenient for them.

working on computer

What is sometimes missing from this model is the personalized connection and instantaneous feedback that can be achieved through meeting face to face. By using web conferencing in an online course, students and instructors can be connected in a way that is personalized and immediate. Web conferencing allows participants to meet in an online learning space or virtual meeting room where they can communicate synchronously in real time through audio, video, text messaging and presented content.

A 2009 study of online learners found:

  • 73.2% of students would prefer to take an online course which uses web conferencing
  • 87.8% of students felt that participating in web conferencing increased their understanding of course material
  • 80.5% of students performed better on weekly quizzes when web conference lectures were used to present material

These statistics were in comparison to an asynchronous model that used text-based lecture and content.
Skylar, 2009. California State University

There are several notable benefits of using web conferencing in your online course, some include:

  • Creating Classroom Community- Holding a lecture or meeting through web-conferencing allows participants to be in the same place at the same time and becomes a ‘virtual classroom.’ Students are able to communicate with each other via webcam, voice, and instant message as well as present material and work together as groups in break out rooms. Ideas and feedback are shared in real time and interactions are instantaneous.
  • Personalized and Student-Centered- It is important to build a relationship with your online students where they feel comfortable. Online students may feel isolated if they are purely communicating through email or discussion forum. Within the web conference, the instructor and students can interact while viewing webcam footage and hearing each other’s voices. This adds the level of personal connection that asynchronous online courses sometimes lack.
  • Scheduling Flexibility- Web conferencing eliminates the need for students to travel to physically meet. Conferences can take place any time of the day or night, and can be recorded for those students who may not be able to make it.
  • Ease of Use- Web conferencing software has become increasingly user-friendly. Training and trouble shooting resources such as online forums, videos, and guides are readily available. Many providers will have live chat or 24/7 supports for users that run into technical difficulties.

There are several steps that can help you ensure success in your next online web conference:

  • Know Your System! At Lethbridge College, we use an integrated version of Blackboard Collaborate. We provide training to our instructors as well as support and resources. It is important to take advantage of any training offered by your institution, and to bookmark these resources ahead of time in case you need to use them. It is especially important to be ready to support students who may run into technical difficulties. You may want to send out a pre-conference package of resources to students who are using the technology for the first time.
  • Prepare your materials! Ensure that any presentations or documents are pre-loaded or readily available for inserting into your conference. If you are doing a web tour or application sharing, you will want to have the items ready and bookmarked ahead of time.
  • Play around, do a dry run! Web conferencing rooms are available even when the meeting is not in session. The best way to learn is by playing around to explore the features in a hands-on way. Invite some other colleagues to be a part of the “pre” web-conference and you can learn how to use the software together.
  • Encourage participation! Techniques such as passing the microphone and moderating privileges to students, encouraging hand raising, and having a question and answer instant message box can keep the meeting dynamic and engage your students in the conference.
  • Respond calmly to technical glitches. It is inevitable that with new technology comes a learning curve and sometimes-technical problems. If you are armed with prior training and a plan for how you may contact support, you should be able to handle them in a calm and efficient way. Have a backup plan for students who may run into technical issues so that you can continue to run your session smoothly without interruptions. Remember you can always record the session for students who miss out.

References:

Angelino, L., Keels Williams, F., & Natvig, D. (n.d.). Strategies to Engage Online Students and Reduce Attrition Rates. Journal of Educators Online, 4(2), 1-14. Retrieved March 11, 2015, from ERIC.

National Center for Educational Statistics (2008, December). Distance education
at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: 2006-07. Retrieved July 9,
2009, from http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009044.pdf

Skylar, A. (n.d.). A Comparison of Asynchronous Online Text-Based Lectures and Synchronous Interactive Web Conferencing Lectures. Issues in Teacher Education, 18(2), 69-84. Retrieved March 10, 2015, from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ858506



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Erin Howard

At work I pride myself on being a helpful resource for our online instructors- troubleshooting technology issues, creating resources, and helping them feel confident in the online classroom. I feel that by working with instructors it will lead to a greater experience for online students. I also enjoy finding technological solutions for instructors that can enhance their existing pedagogy - taking what they already do well and making it more efficient for the instructor and engaging for students. When I’m not at work, I am usually busy doing something active with my family, friends or dogs. I love running, kickboxing, weight training, hiking, wakeboarding, yoga, biking, dancing and basically anything that gets me moving!