I am searching for an open source synchronous communication package to use for my Moodle course. I have experience using Skype, for my own graduate studies, and for my personal communication with family and friends. I like Skype. It’s easy to set up and use. However, my top priorty is to show videos to my class via this communication mediu. I wanted my class and I to be able to watch the video together through a centrally located screen. I had two programs to explore: dimdim and openmeetings. The former, however, no longer accepts new clients as the company has been bought out. Openmeetings seemed to fit the bill.
After an initial exploration two weeks ago, I decided to go back today to evaluate the site in greater detail. The bookmark that I’d saved was no longer working. I did a search and found a link that worked. Once I got on I found that I could only add text. The program didn’t allow me to embed videos; I could post the link to youtube, but it wasn’t hyperlinked. After searching the entire site for a way to upload a video, I found a small “file” tab at the top right of the screen instead of the main whiteboard area where one would expect to find it. The program didn’t even recognize the video files that I’d saved to my computer. I did manage to upload a picture, but once uploaded I couldn’t find a way to add it to the whiteboard that students could use. In fact, I couldn’t even view the image!
I found the program counter-intuitive, time consuming, and extremely slow. The latter, however, might be on account of my own computer’s ever decreasing speed. I learned something important, though: if the program’s slow for me, it will probably be the same for my students, and will frustrate them to no end as it’s done for me today. Also, I may have files saved to my hard drive in formats that not all of my students would be able to access; that’s why I wanted students to be able to view it from the whiteboard.
So, what’s my solution? I’ll be sticking with Skype for the time being. I will have an easier time encouraging students to use Skype than openmeetings. It doesn’t meet my top priority, but I’ll have to make-do as I’ve done all along. I will send links to students ahead of time and have them listen before coming to class with a list of questions to consider. We’ll then meet as a group and have the students discuss their responses. If we need to refer back to the video, we can give timings in the video that will direct us to precise points in the video where we should focus our attention.
Because technophobia is so rampant among students, I must be very careful which software and programs I choose to use with my students. I am asking them to go where “no student has gone before” in the classroom, and if they encounter too many obstacles in the path to learning, then I have failed them as an educator. The technology is the means to a pedagogical end; it is not the means itself. I want my students focusing on content of the course, not the technological aspects of access.
Skype will meet my needs to provide synchronous office hours. It will enable students to reach me at the appointed hours in ways that are convenient. They will not need to come onto campus to find me, or spend valuable phone credit to call me. They can ask a quick question then disappear, or they can stay a bit longer to visit. We can share files and links. I can even hold small group meetings with students. Skype will save us the headache and frustration that I experienced today with openmeetings.de. I will practice KISS.