Monday, 23 April 2012

Developing Online Training Sessions via Collaborate

Getting logged in to a Blackboard
Collaborate session
Collaborate ~ Interactive ~ Inclusive

Here in the Learning Technologies Team at the university, we are currently piloting the use of Blackboard Collaborate for some of our staff development training courses in the basics of using MOLE 2 (our new VLE).

A little background:  Collaborate is a collaborative tool which allows you to run virtual classroom / training sessions, online seminars with guest speakers (webinars) or conduct interviews or tutorials with staff/students.

Collaborate was recently acquired by Blackboard and is an infusion of the previous leaders in the field:  Wimba and Elluminate.

So, as far as training is concerned, here at The University of Sheffield, we have been running staff training on how to use MOLE 2 (our new VLE) over the last 12 months.  We are now looking at providing some of that training online via Collaborate.

We have taken the session 'A Basic Introduction to MOLE 2' and have attempted to develop this as a viable, useful online session.

The session is instructor-led (via voice) and utilizes slides (as in PowerPoint), a whiteboard area, as well as allowing the instructor to show his/her own desktop, and set polling questions to check on comprehension during the session.  Attendees are encouraged to ask questions via the chat tool, and the whole session can be recorded.

Converting a f2f course to an online synchronous session:
As far as converting an existing face-to-face session into an online session goes, this wasn't particularly difficult for this particular course, as the blend of slide shows and application/desktop sharing made it quite easy to convert.  Certain aspects were initially removed - such as the hands-on activity section (used in the f2f session):  it was determined that the session should be smooth and easy to follow, and that, as users were being introduced to a new system (the VLE), it would suffice to simply 'show and tell', and then check understanding with simple quizzes throughout, rather than asking staff to jump in and out of the 'virtual classroom' to attempt logging in to the VLE, etc.  I would not rule out including activities in the future, but for this particular session, it was deemed it could become too confusing for attendees new to Collaborate and its tools.

So far, we are really only in the early stages of this pilot, but it seems it could be a very useful tool - particularly for staff development training.

Benefits
Running sessions online can be beneficial for both staff attending and for departments delivering sessions:  Staff do not have to be on campus to attend sessions, as a link is sent to them inviting them to join the virtual classroom.  This can be particularly beneficial to staff working overseas, staff with tight teaching schedules, staff are unable to physically get to the university, etc.

It also means that instructors do not need to book a dedicated teaching room, therefore saving on utility costs, etc.  However, we have noted so far that it is extremely beneficial to run sessions with a 'facilitator' who can be there to help anyone struggling to access sessions, and can answer questions fired via text in the chat area, whilst the instructor can continue on with the session.
"The benefits of integrating live collaboration technology with your learning management system are significant: efficiency for instructors, superior outcomes for learners, easier to manage systems for administrators, and rapid ROI for institutions." 
Wainhouse Research have a white paper out: "Integration: The 'Behind the Scenes' Key Enabler of Blended Learning", which is available to download from Collaborate's site: Wainhouse-Whitepaper

We ran a couple of trial sessions earlier in the year, and the feedback from staff was quite encouraging:  staff particularly expressed how comfortable they felt asking questions via text (staff were not expected to use a microphone or webcam to speak), and also positively rated our use of a second instructor to facilitate the chat area.  

I can also see more possibilities of running online seminars/webinars an maybe even some 'drop-in' sessions in the future, etc.  As far as online learning and teaching goes: conducting virtual classrooms or chat sessions on a regular basis is certainly beneficial to online students in creating that feeling of 'community'.

So... as we are in the early stages, we will endeavour to keep you updated with any progress, or changes made.  

For anyone who would like to attend a session, details can be found on our MOLE 2 web pages: MOLE 2 Training

You can also visit the Staff Development page in this blog for the latest training sessions at The University of Sheffield: http://learningtechnologiesteam.blogspot.co.uk/p/staff-development.html 

Leiza

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