Testing out software

On Friday I had an unusual pique of procrastination. So instead of marking papers (which, let’s face it, is always a joy and my raison d’être), I roped some students into playing with computers and iPads in order to try out some new software I’d come across online. The purpose was to determine which of the four identified programmes would be most useful during a lecture.

Two programmes focussed on relaying the presentation via the internet (UStream and join.me); the other two focussed on encouraging students to use a backchannel during the lecture (Twitter and TodaysMeet).

UStream

Allows live streaming from multiple channels (such as video, monitor, webcam, etc.). You need to download their software which is a little complicated to set up. You need to download software. To share my keynote presentation, I had to have another small app running which would allow the screen to be shared. I also had to set up the microphone which was a bit fiddly. The biggest issue was that when presenting in full screen, I wasn’t able to access any of the controls to ensure everything was working properly (although the students in the other room said it was).

There is about a 30-second delay between what is being broadcast and what the listeners hear. This isn’t a problem if I am going to be lecturing online but if I want to use it as a way to support students with visual/hearing impairments, it could be a problem. I don’t want to tell a joke, have everyone laugh and then, 30 seconds later, have one or two people guffaw again out loud! (Of course, this assumes my jokes are funny and people laugh)…

As it’s web-based, it will work on any device (smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.). There is also an app available for Mac and Android.

As I am using the free version of UStream, listeners have to sit through a 20-40 second advertisement before the stream will begin. This is annoying but I am not in a position to spend $99US/month (£61.80 by today’s rate).

Verdict:

Would be good if broadcasting outwith the lecture room for those who were unable to attend or for distance learning. Not particularly useful for in-class.

Join.me

Cost involved: £9/month (yearly plan available) for the PRO version. You need to download their software but it is disturbingly easy to set up. You can broadcast either your whole screen or a portion of it but you can’t broadcast from a webcam.

In our testing, audio would not work. This isn’t a flaw of the software but more an issue about firewalls as the audio uses VOIP. Listeners can use VOIP (if not blocked by a firewall) or they can call in using a telephone. There is a ‘local’ number for most countries; for the UK it’s a London number.

The lag time is very minimal – a second at the most (in our testing, anyway).

One area of possibility, teaching-wise, is that the presenter can opt to pass the baton, as it were, to others. This would allow them to share files or, if they are on a laptop, to share their monitor. Some possibilities here for collaborative learning/sharing.

Verdict:

Good for use in a lecture instead of using a projector/screen. Little lag so could be useful for those with visual impairments. Audio won’t work in our setup which is disappointing. Will be trying this with students during a class for feedback. Not helpful if wanting to broadcast outwith the lecture room as audio won’t work (from the University, anyway. If I were to broadcast from home, there wouldn’t be a problem—I’ve tried).

Twitter

Cost involved: Nothing. Easy to set up. Students must have an account. One particular issue is that all tweets are published so users with their own account would be inundating others outwith the class with information which may not be relevant (or interesting) to them. One way around this would be to create a professional account specifically for classes.

During the lecture, the students would be tweeting about the concepts being taught in their own words and tweeting them. As their tutor, I would be reviewing these tweets using twitterfall and also having the tweets projected for other to read. It would also allow students to ask questions without having to put their hand up so there would be a level of anonymity. Of course, from the tutor’s point of view, this is quite a challenge and I would need to keep an eye on the feed and be able to deviate from my lecture as need to be either answer questions or re-interate points which may have been misunderstood.

I’ve done this before, though, and I find it quite an exciting challenge. Students have commented that it helps them to engage more. It’s a bit more of a two-way process.

Of course, it can do more and I certainly intend to try this in the upcoming term. For example, students could be put into groups and set tasks. Their results/comments/plans/thoughts could be tweeted. When one group is explaining/discussing/demonstrating, the other groups could be tweeting comments (hopefully constructive ones).

This, of course, leads to the issue of constructive comments. Considering the tweets would be relatively anonymous (depending on the usernames), inappropriate comments could be presented onscreen. Now, considering my students are studying to be professional educationalists (i.e. primary school teachers), I would expect they would refrain from hijacking the twitter feed … but it is a possible scenario.

Verdict:

Lots of possibilities. Free but students need an account – perhaps a unique one for professional purposes. Challenging for the tutor/lecturer and flexibility needed. Helpful for tutor to identify misunderstandings. Helpful for students who may be shy. Possibility of inappropriate comments. I’ll be trying this out this term.

TodaysMeet

Cost involved: Nothing. Disturbingly easy to set up. No accounts needed.

Similar to Twitter, TodaysMeet allows users to go to a specific website pre-set by the presenter. This website can be set to stay active for 2 hours, 4 hours, 1 day, etc. so it’s not a permanent record for all time. Users make up a name and join. It is then very similar to Twitter except no hashtags needed.

What is interesting about TodaysMeet is that, rather like Twitterfall, it is possible to view the inputs in full-screen. There is an option to have a print version which lists all the inputs in reverse order (latest at the top). From here, I can save it as a PDF and post it to students. I like this.

Like Twitter, though, usernames can be anonymous (which can be a good or a bad thing) and, like Twitter, it is possible to hijack the feed by writing inappropriate comments.

Verdict:

Both the students and I agreed this was better than Twitter in that it was very easy to use, didn’t require passwords or usernames and could be saved and put online for students to read. We also realised that this could be used in groups, with each group having their own address, saving their thoughts, ideas, etc. and then presenting them to others. This will definitely be used this coming term.

It is my intention, at some point throughout the term, to use all four of these programmes. When I do, I’ll provide a report on their success (or otherwise). Hopefully students will chip in with their opinions too.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s