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Web Conferencing Tools: The New Orientation Platform
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Web Conferencing Tools: The New Orientation Platform

Jessica Hale, Ed. D.

Washtenaw Community College


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).

Synchronous 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.

Another important factor to consider is matching the scope of the tool to the instructional need (Schullo, Venable, 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.”

References

Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous & synchronous e-learning. Educause Quarterly, 31(4),

51-55. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/EQM0848.pdf

Kabilan, M. K., Adlina, W. F., & Embi, M. A. (2011). Online collaboration of English language

Parsad, B & Lewis, L. (2008). National Center for Educational Statistics (2008, December).

Distance education at degree-granting postsecondary institutions: 2006-07. Retrieved

from http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubs2009/2009044.pdf

Repman, J., Zinskie, C., & Carlson, R. (2005). Effective use of CMC tools in interactive online

learning. Computers in the Schools, 22(1/2), 57-69.

Schullo, S., Hilbelink, A., Venable, M., & Barron, A.E. (2007). Selecting a virtual classroom

system: Elluminate Live vs. Macromedia Breeze (Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional). Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3(4). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol3no4/hilbelink.htm

Waits, T., & Lewis, L. (2003). Distance education at degree-granting postsecondary

institutions: 2000–2001 (NCES No. 2003–017). Retrieved from

http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2003017

Wang, S., Hsu, H. (2008). Use of the webinar tool (Ellumnimate) to support training: The effect

of webinar-learning implementation from student-trainers’ perspective. Journal of

Interactive Online Learning, 7(3). ISSN 1541-4914. Retrieved from

http://ncolr.org/jiol/issues/PDF/7.3.2.pdf

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