I've had the good fortune over the last couple of months to be working with some of the folk at the DTA on a pilot project where we are trialing the use of a virtual classroom to deliver training on income generation.
The project is the brain child of Jess Steele. The main trainer is Hugh Rolo and he has been supported by Mary Doyle, Neil Berry and others. We are all being helped by Josie Fraser who is an Elluminate specialist. The pilot is being funded by The Finance Hub.
We are being very ambitious in this project. Today, our second session with real trainees, we had 22 trainees and we used 4 breakout rooms during the session. Click on the image to see a screen shot of Elluminate in action. There is a lot going on! There's a participant list, a chatroom, a whiteboard and a mic you pass around.
Although you login to Elluminate by putting an url into your browser it is actually a Java application and Java needs to installed all machines. But it works pretty well on PCs and Macs. All participants really have to use headsets otherwise you get dreadful feedback and/or echo if you decide to enable 'simultaneous' talking. So, you need to install Java, you need to plug in a headset and get that working to hook into the system and then you've got to get used to the system itself. It sounded like a disaster waiting to happen to me. But, it's been a surprise. Today we (Josie) resolved all the connection issues with one or two participants during the session so everyone (all 22) could participate. OK so there's a bit of lag sometimes, especially in the audio, and you have to really concetrate but it's OK.
So what have I learnt so far:
- Everybody needs to go through the Mic and Headphones check well before the session starts. Elluminate provide test routines for this.
- You need to understand what the system is good at and work to its strengths
- It's all in the preparation. You need good planning and simple visuals all prepared and in place before the session starts
- Having pictures of people is really good (we are using mini profiles)
- Kick off with round-robin of introductions or 'hello again's to warm people up. We have come up with ways to make this a quick as possible.
- You need to establish clear protocols for the session eg so that people know how to ask for the mic (we ask them to put their virtual hand up); how to show approval or disapproval (we are using the voting feature – 'give me a tick if you . . . ' )
- You need to get people involved and doing things (voting, putting their hands up, drawing on the whiteboard)
- You need good moderation. We are currently spliting this into two: 1) Josie is on general user care and helping resolve mic/headphone issues, and 2) I am getting the materials onto the system in advance and then during the flipping between slides at appropraite moments and moving people in and out of breakout rooms.
- Ideally you should also try and relate to participants as individuals . . . 'Neil, you haven't voted, what do you think?'
- Ideally you should monitor contributors and make an effort to involve those who haven't said anything by asking them for their view in person (just like a good chairperson would do in an audio conference)
So is it the answer? Well it's certainly part of it. I have been surprised that everyone has been able to get the technology working _relatively_ easily. It's not a replacement for face-to-face BUT it reduces costs enormously. 24 people x (travel costs of