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Posts Tagged ‘video conferencing

I have been sitting on some ideas for a cooperative video conferencing tool. The ideas have been stirring in my pot for a while and the stew is still cooking.

What I am talking about? After reading this opinion piece by Jason Feiffer — the brilliant mind behind the Pessimists Archive podcast, I learnt about a prototype video conferencing tool called Around.


Video source

The video above has no sound and illustrates the simplicity and unobtrusiveness of the tool. Unlike most video conferencing tools that dominate the desktop space, participants are represented in circles. I represent this in a wireframe below.

Wireframe for Around.

Designed for laptops, Around uses auto-zoom and noise cancelling to keep each participant’s face and voice in focus [TechCrunch].

But I wondered how a tool meant for small team meetings could be used in a cooperative learning context. Instead of a didactic or teacher-dominated online meeting, how might the tool be modified to be more student-centric? I share more wireframes below for some ideas.

In my vision of the application (which I call Around and About) there are three basic layers: Participants, Shared Space (e.g., web browser), Variable (hidden behind a “hamburger” menu).

When participants enter the online classroom, they appear as circles or bubbles on the left. This is the Participants layer.

Around and About: Participants layer.

All participants and the facilitator can see the shared space (e.g., photo, video, presentation, whiteboard, etc.). Like Around, the students ”float” around the resource that the facilitator places centrally.

Around and About: Shared space.

But the real power is what lies hidden in the hamburger menu. At the moment, I can think of three components: Cooperative mode, Tools, and Settings.

Around and About: Hamburger menu that hides the Variable layer.

The Cooperative mode presents options to toggle four modes (to be illustrated later).

Around and About: Four online classroom modes.

The Tools help the facilitator decide which mode to use. Examples of Tools might be polls (grouping by choice), quizzes (grouping by evidence of learning), and free response or exit tickets. The tools do not have to be part of Around and About. They can be brought in as layers, e.g., Padlet for sharing and voting on ideas).

Around and About: Tools layer.

The Settings layer is a must because every tool has this. They might include access, rostering, tool toggles, etc.

Around and About: Settings layer.

But back to the Modes. The first is A for Automatic. Students are evenly and randomly divided into groups. In the example below, 20 students are divided into 4 groups of 5 students each.

Around and About: Automatic grouping mode.

In Manual mode, a facilitator might use a poll or quiz result to group students manually. In the example below, the facilitator uses quiz results to divide the class into two cooperative halves. One half participants in paired work (e.g., think-pair-share) while the other half cooperates in 2 groups of 5 students each.

Around and About: Manual grouping mode.

I envision that the Manual mode is enabled partly by the results or evidence shown in the Tools. Alternatively, the groups are created manually by the facilitator’s judgement. A facilitator does this by drag-and-dropping students with a computer mouse or via a touchscreen.

If a touchscreen is capable of multitouch, a facilitator can “grab” a few students simultaneously to place them in a group. The application senses the student circles by proximity and groups them. Perhaps the students can be represented by different coloured halos depending on their groups. Alternatively, a dotted line could represent the groups.

Around and About: Manual grouping mode showing how groups might be distinguished.

The Strategic mode could be used to put students “homogenous” groups, e.g., based on gender or performance bands, or it could create “heterogenous” groups to facilitate jigsaw-style learning.

Around and About: Strategic grouping mode, e.g., homogenous groups.

Around and About: Strategic grouping mode, e.g., heterogenous groups.

The facilitator can reset the class to the default state with the fourth mode, Reset.

Around and About: Reset to default whole class mode.

I am not aware of a cooperative learning tool that works the way I imagine it. Around and About takes the visual and audio focus of Around and combines it with a student-centred approach to facilitating learning.

Side note: The wireframes were created in a Google Presentation using the Portfolio template.

On Saturday my class and I conducted a dry run of using Zoom for synchronous video conferencing. The experiment went well and I got answers to some of my questions.

We used the Zoom client instead of a web interface, so I found out that all our video cameras projected our faces despite the administrative lock. Another feature that worked was gestures (e.g., thumbs up) despite the missing setting on my dashboard.

However, I am still sore about the fact that only two online calendars are enabled administratively — Outlook and Yahoo. Who really uses the latter anymore? Why is GCal not enabled even though this is a setting?

No Google Calendar in Zoom?

I am taking a calculated risk. My contingency should Zoom not work is to fall back on Google Hangouts. We did not practice this because I think that Hangouts is a much simpler tool to use. I have my participants’ Gmail addresses, so I create an invite quickly should I need to.

In the meantime, I am sticking to my plan of dividing our four-hour session into two. The first half is asynchronous via a Google Site, and the second is synchronous via Zoom.

I am still redesigning some of the content and experiences to make them suitable for asynchronous learning. But my overall strategy remains the same — simplify and do not blindly replicate what might be done face-to-face.

Every vendor of remote meeting or video conferencing software is taking advantage of the opportunities offered by COVID-19. Their potential clients want to move quickly to e-learning or e-meetings.

The “e” in this case is emergency first. As I will explain below, it is not necessarily electronic or enabling.

I was a distance and online educator when I worked on a Masters and then a Ph.D. in the USA. Last month, I conducted an online session for those affected by the Leave-of-Absence policy in Singapore. I have used different tools and platforms for online classes, so I watch videos like the one below with open and critical eyes.

The video above is a laundry list of affordances and claims to be a teacher-to-teacher analysis of Zoom. It might as well have been a soft pitch by the vendor itself.

Far better is one of my favourite teacher-techie’s (Richard Byrne’s) short explanation on how to get started with Zoom.


Video source

Byrne focused on the free version of Zoom and thus modelled a strategy that teachers with low or no budgets can follow.

One of my education partners had mandated the institutional use of Zoom. This means we have access to more features. Unfortunately, it might have administratively crippled it instead of pedagogically enabling it. How so?

Consider Exhibit A. The video conferencing toggles are off by default and I cannot change it in my own settings dashboard because the administrator.

Zoom features administratively disabled.

For me, this is like walking blindfolded into a physical class. I do not know if I am supposed to rely only on audio cues or if I can activate video conferencing once we are in.

Exhibit B: Another setting that makes no sense is how the integration with various online calendars is off by default.

Zoom features administratively disabled: Calendaring.

This makes little sense because an automated calendar reminder is the best way to join a synchronous session IMO. I shared this after I conducted a Google Hangouts session last month.

Exhibit C: The administrator locked the option that would allow my students to join the room before me. Like Byrne, I do not see the point of disabling this.

Zoom features administratively disabled: Join before host.

This would be like preventing students from entering a physical classroom before I do. Students who are anxious about being online for the first time need to test their connection and get comfortable first.

Should administrators and IT managers be concerned about bandwidth, privacy, and security? Of course they should. But these should not be their only concerns. Instructors, facilitators, and students have needs and concerns too.

If you are wondering why some educators choose to operate outside their institutional boxes, it is this: The top-down control is stifling. There does not seem to be room for open discussion and logical compromise. There does appear to be support for progressive pedagogy and powerful learning.


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