Web Conferencing Tools:
The New Orientation Platform
Jessica Hale, Ed.
Over the last decade, the importance of online learning in
higher education has become undeniable. As orientation programs aim to prepare
student to succeed both academically and socially, it is essential that orientations
begin develop online orientation programs.
Historically, the asynchronous
online learning formats have been the predominate mode of online learning (Waits & Lewis,
2003), but more recent research suggests that synchronous
learning is growing in popularity (Parsad & Lewis, 2008). Research suggests
that utilizing synchronous components in distance education can increase the
quality of instructional interactions (Repman, Zinskie & Carlson, 2005), the amount of student participation and motivation
as well as the students’ perception of social support and their ability to
converge on meaning (Hrastinski, 2008).
learning is often facilitated through the use of a web conferencing tool. The basic
function of a Web conferencing is to share real-time audio and text, slides, software applications and
whiteboards. There are currently a number of web conference/virtual classroom
providers. Some of the main providers include: GoToMeeting,
Megameeting, Adobe Connect, Web CT, Wimba, and Skype.
With such a variety of
options, it is important for the instructor and the institution consider four
factors when selecting a web conferencing tool: Usability, instructional needs,
technical aspects, and compatibility issues (Schullo, Venable, Hilbelnik, & Barron,
2007). Usability factors include the ease of navigation, the screen
design, the quality of transmission, and the east of communication between the
instructor and the student. "Test
driving” several web conferencing tools may help instructors identify which
platform is a better fit for them.
factor to consider is matching the scope of the tool to the instructional need
Hilbelnik, & Barron, 2007). What tools will need
to be available to achieve the instructor’s desired learning experience? Will the instruction require break-out rooms
to facilitate student interaction? Are polling and reporting features critical
to achieving the learning outcomes? Would public as well as private text chats
be a benefit or detriment to the learning environment? Is it possible to modify
polling features or whiteboard information on the fly?
Technical aspects may
also drive decisions about what platform to select (Schullo, Venable,
Hilbelnik, & Barron, 2007). The maximum
number of participants, the quality of videos, the compatibility with specific
software programs (like PowerPoint), the quality of the resolution as well as
the audio may also drive decision making. The process through which audio in delivered
may be a deciding factor (one speaker at time versus multiple speakers, audio
caches for disconnection and reconnection features, or audio lag).
A final component worth
evaluating is platform compatibility (Schullo, Venable, Hilbelnik, & Barron,
2007). Will the web conferencing tool work equally well for PCs
and Macs? Does your institution have an agreement with a course management
system that requires the use of a specific platform? What files will the user
need to download in order to be able to utilize this tool? Will differences in
the user’s local audio or video processing cause challenges?
By weighing out these
factors, orientation coordinators may identify a web conferencing tool that is
a good fit for his or her desired uses and institutional conditions. There is
no single "best” tool, but rather a selection of resources that are available
to customize to create a "best fit.”
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