Virtual Conference Session: Brave New World Feels Like Timid Old One
At 6am this morning, I was attending a virtual conference session at GEC 2011. The featured speaker was Harvard School of Ed professor, Chris Dede, and the topic was immersive learning environments.
Dede reviewed his work with project EcoMUVE, an immersive, game environment where kids learn about ecosystem dynamics. The punch line is that Dede is conducting research that he hopes might some day (and he did say that this would not be anytime soon – though, I’m more optimistic) pave the way for formative assessments to replace summative assessment. Translated – the assessment information we get when kids play educational games would replace the need for bubble tests.
This is an exciting idea, and one that I have written about before. Less exciting was my interactive conference experience. The conference used Blackboard Collaborate. Though there were no technical glitches, and the barrier to entry was low (a pro not to be overlooked), I was disappointed with how the interactive engagement played out.
The primary backchannel device was a moderated chat box. Thirty percent of the comments were, “Hello,” and “lol.” I guess I missed the jokes, because I’m not sure what everyone was laughing out loud at. My attempts to begin discussion were quickly lost in a rapidly changing scroll that had no structure.
At three different times during the talk, to his credit, Dede paused to read through the comment list so that he might be responsive to his audience. These pauses were somewhat helpful, but I suspect Dede was as overwhelmed by the hodgepodge as I was.
I explored, but chose not to use all of the functionality of the interface, which included the ability (taken away very early by the moderator) to have collaborative virtual whiteboard privilege on the slides Dede showed to us. A smaller group using this tool properly would probably have a much more rich experience. I also elected not to raise my virtual hand, largely because I was uncertain if my microphone would work.
In my teaching experience, the backchannel has the potential to be a significant value-added instructional avenue. Tools like Socrative, GoSoapBox, and any of the many polling sites like PollEverywhere allow audiences to interact not only with the featured presenter, but more importantly with each other.
I was impressed by the opportunity that Blackboard Collaborate affords virtual conference attendees, but I have one suggestion for the development team. Let the audience use their profiles, which should include interest keywords, to construct a filtered and focussed chat box that has limited participation. Oh, and while you’re at it, I’d like mints on my pillow when I arrive at my virtual hotel room. Thanks.