Web conferencing tools have become readily available as part of online communication and education.
I have found them to be incredibly useful especially for synchronous communication that requires more than just audio or instant messaging. Being able to have visual aids in the form of a web browser or whiteboard makes these environments an especially powerful teaching tool over distance.
Three different web conference environments are highlighted and described in this video.
The Talking Communities web conference is the first of the tools to be highlighted. One needs to be able to install a plug-in initially for the conference to be enabled on one’s computer.
I have been using the Talking Communities web conference environment for about a year now. I probably used it more than once a week for many months as I collaborated with partners in Arizona and Israel. More recently, I have used it with partners in New Zealand, Kuwait, Israel and Florida. It is a service that has been provided for all the teachers participating in the Global Virtual Classroom Web Design Contest to enable us to better collaborate.
What you will see in this video screen capture is a meeting between David in Kuwait, Donna in Sarasota Florida and me here in Montreal. We meet weekly to discuss our team progress for a web design contest. In this meeting, we need to discuss the breakdown of students into groups to work on the project. I have created a webpage and put it on the web, then forced the page onto the others so we can all see the same page in our browsers.
The environment permits us to use instant messaging as well as audio in order to communicate synchronously and can support up to 20 persons at one time.
The TC conference tool has been very reliable, very stable and has had consistently better audio quality than skype or other internet telephony programs we have tried.
More recently, one of my partners in Israel discovered another web conference area and she and I explored it to see its potential usefulness to our project.
In order to get to this online environment, one needs to subscribe to the LearningTimes Network but it is a free subscription. Again, a downloadable plugin needs to be installed in order to enable the conference. As far as we could see, it was free. We could not tell how many were able to be in it at once.
It too included instant messaging, audio capabilities, a forced web browser by a moderator, and it also provided a white board. However, we had difficulty trying to figure out how to enable some of the features.
The third web conference to be featured is called HotConference and it is run by a private enterprise that charges for the use of the conference rooms to educators and trainers. It was by far the most sophisticated of the three tools and we were able to get a personal tour of the environment by its creator. Full control of what the user sees is in the hands of the moderator who can change the screen so that it is an interactive whiteboard or a web browser or the moderator’s desktop. And lastly, this environment also permits a webcam. HotConference, though it supported the most features, has a price tag but offered a montly trial for just $1.
As high speed Internet becomes ubiquitous in developed countries, synchronous communication for multiple users becomes more feasible thus opening greater opportunities for communication and collaboration. The range of choice of features and cost is widening. Today we witnessed just three possibilities of online conference tools from which educators and trainers may choose.