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I hope we will be able to use Dimdim. I wish we hadn't been cut out of contact as I'd have liked to pilot it with you - I didn't know you were doing this. But at least you have got in touch with a mailout.
I qualified as an online educator University of London Inst of Ed 1999 or maybe 98 and Ive been teaching and training teachers ever sincve I now run my own online high school (UK0 a small rescue project for young people who cant cope/ hate ordinary school (with which I have every sympathy!). It's very exciting and a big success though deliberately a small scale personal community.
From that experience I want to ask you to PLEASE not get seduced by flashy gimmicks to the expense of what online learning is really about - people. I have read about your "user led" approach so I have hopes you will listen to an old hand user!
My experience is wearily slogging through hundreds of packages scripts etc BECAUSE there is far too much emphasis on we do the latest thing widget. Of course you need some of that cuz you're trying to win your niche in the sun.
1. Online learning is actually much BETTER without video! Brains and feelings connect better on a task if they are not distracted/ intimidated by face/ clothes/ culture signals. Especially among younger people there is great self consciousness re appearance. What is essential on a dating or social cmmunity is destructive to learning because learning is cross cultural, cross grouped in a way that mathcmaking friends and lovers frequently is not (note match not mix).
Of course it is not that the richer indepth personality connection is irrelevant. But learning runs best with minimal personality mesh to start, focus on ideas, analysis, feelings, reactions. Once we have that going we can discover gradually that the freethinker hippie is working joyfully with the redneck conservative or a suit. The issue of fear is also crucial as there is always anxiety issues around learning - exposing how our brains work to each other is a kind of nudity. So we dont want to add extra anxiety levels on.
We intend to make video webcam available OUTSIDE class hours to enhance community but srictly as an option.
Voice though is imp[ortant on a selected level - language, English, business presentation work especially. So I hope you can separate the two. generally I am being asked to pay for a mega video package when all I mainly want is text and voice.
2. Secondly the most powerful tool there is in online learning does not get recognised. We hear a lot about video, and filesharing, app sharing, whiteboard, everywhere. These are not the powertool of online learning!
The killer app for learning is the private chat feature.
This is often left to a mere whisper mode (private chat appears in the main chatspace). Fine for a small chat with social aims. But woefully inadquate - and potentially v embarrassing if the distinction doesn't stay clear as it inevitabl wont wityh 3 - 6 private chats working plus a main chat seqence plus a phone call coming in! Such is the workstation of a good online educayor.
I use PC mode for
---- Support Hi how are you? how's it going? New students, flounderers, confidence cravers whether high flyers or the victimised
---- Reruns Student asks for extra review esp shy and pc does not hold up class while I copy/paste + a few extra comments to individualise support to specific need
---- Admin re software/ homework/ fees/ anything systemic not the learning area of the session
--- Personal Issues illness/ conflict with another user anything for individual sensitivity and dipplomacy
--- Target checks -individual question pasting in same question helps stop laggers switching off and gaming! Also helps slower students take their own time and not piggyback.
--- Discipline - giving uncomfortable feedback in full group mode is a heavy weapon and things can often be dealt with quietly in pc
--- Creative Exercise 1 - students work in pairs and report back.
--- Creative Exercise 2 each student practices answers, culls and focuses it with me, then presents it to full class.
--- Creative Exercise 3 - Tag - a student gets quiz question from me as feed, takes it to another for answer who then gets q2 from me and so on. Hilarious! I feed about 5 or 6 in quick succession, then start feeding round 2. Students not carrying feed don't know if they are about to get picked and sometimes get picked two at once!
--- Testing - all students answer a short set of questions in PC as an online "exam"
--- Staff Liaison - talking to teacher in another session.
--- Teacher training - parallel monitor and encourage /support new teacher.
Well you can see why I value it so much!
Here's how it needs to be desiged.
a) Private Chat DEFINITELY needs to open in a separate window as if it's another room or a floating window that pref user can relocate to personal preference (to be remembered by system for next use). Best is to choose float/ fixed.
b) It should then minimise automatically as soon as I click on another room or another pc. I don';t need extra click task dragging me backwards from new demand on my brain.
c) Minimisation is best in my experience to a row of tabs ABOVE the main chatspace. This means my gaze has minimal reavel to stay aware of multiple pc's.
Room tabs first followd by pc tabs.
Tab displays name of my co-user.
Changes colour when user types/ sound alert prer both as choice, and active typing indicator is nice extra.
Ive used systems eg flashchat where pc minmises to an icon beside user name in rooms list - not adequate as my main attention is centre space chatspace and small icon on the side edge is easy to miss if it flickers at me during fast moving chat.
Chatblazer does all this very well. But one fault there is that if user opens pc with me I'm automatically placed in that space. I often often continue typing not realising comment for someone else entirely is misrouting!
Oh and the rooms list should be dropdown on the side and as neat and compact as poss so I can access others in other rooms but have as much chatspace left as poss. Though many teachers might like toggle to disable this for students, even better toggle off during session hour.
Wow Shane. First of all thanks a lot for this post. I will read it, understand it and set up a call with you to talk. I will also post a reply here so that others who read it are in proper context.