Friday, March 14, 2014

On March 13, several students from both classes emailed me in the morning, worried over road conditions. Although classes weren’t delayed or cancelled, the cold, icy & snowy conditions (and that St. Patrick’s Day break was looming) persuaded me that this was a perfect opportunity to use Collaborate.

In the afternoon class, what was on the agenda was handing out and explaining an assignment to prepare for a classroom activity on March 27, and small group meetings, where students work on presentations they will give on April 22. 10 (of 22) students logged on at 1:15, one appeared late in the class, and another emailed me later to say she'd tried to log on, but was unsuccessful. I did not hear from the other ten students. I used audio to explain expectations, and powerpoint to share the assignment (which is in PDF on blackboard as well). This took 15 minutes. Only one student used the mic while in the main room, the others used text chat. A couple added emoticons etc. to my powerpoint on the whiteboard.

I then sent them to breakout rooms. There are 5 groups in this class. Group 3 had full attendance (4 members), Groups 1, 4 and 5 had 2 members each (out of 4 or 5 members). Group 2 had no members present, except for the student who came very late. The group with full attendance had a lively conversation (with audio, video, white board) and they stayed until 2:30, when class is always over. One of the other groups, with two members, also stayed until 2:30. The remaining two groups stayed for a while, then exited.

For the 4:15 class, the syllabus has a one hour video, a half hour lecture, small group and all class discussion (it’s a 3 hour class). 10 students (of 26) logged on at 4:15 (several were there at 4, right after I finished setting up). One more came late. Two more emailed later to say they tried, but were not able to log on.

I knew I couldn’t show the video, but I asked them to watch it before next class (3/27). I still gave my ½ hour lecture and showed my powerpoint. The midterm was due last night, and after my remarks, a few students asked me questions about that assignment, using both audio and text chat. There are also 5 groups in this class. Every group was represented (one by one member, two by three members, two by two members) but I just divided them into two groups of five (the 11th student came too late) and had them develop discussion questions. When they came back to the main room, each group wrote their discussion question on the white board, and we had a discussion using audio and text chat.

One group developed a question about the delivery method, web conferencing and collaborate, one developed a question about last night’s material. It was outstanding! Very reflective and enriched. Class ended at about 6:30 and I think would have been willing to go until 7 (but my dogs were getting antsy and so was I).

In both classes, students here & there would suddenly vanish, then reappear, always reporting technical issues. One student in the 1:15 class was in the library, and sound had been disabled, so he could not hear my remarks, but he did use text chat when in the breakout room. I emailed the 4:15 students to warn them about the library computers, but after class received emails from two students using library computers that have sound enabled who could not log on. (No matter how many times I remind students to test things and contact the help desk, they invariably email me when it is too late.)

One student in the 4:15 class commented that his roommate was sitting on the bed, marveling at him participating in class, wishing he had this opportunity.

Attendance in both classes was much less than it would have been on campus, but there is always a lot of absence the Thursday before a break. I recorded both sessions and put the links in blackboard.

All in all, both classes were fairly successful. The design of the 4:15 class was probably more suited to this delivery, mostly because it is hard to make progress on the presentation assignment without at least 75% of the members. But I couldn’t just switch the agenda, as I had promised them this time for the project, and at least one of the groups was able to use it effectively.

I learned from the 4:15 class that it is quite possible to have a good all-class discussion this way. In fact, there may be fewer distractions than in the classroom, and as a result it was quite in-depth. There was no social pressure from the slackers for the speaker to “shut up.” Of course, these are self-selected groups of 10 – it is possible they are the strong students & if the others were shed from the roster the class would improve dramatically no matter how it is delivered.

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