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
Here are a few suggestions on our use of Elluminate which came out of the session on 11/11/08.
1 It’s all in the preparation
– going in an hour before to prepare no longer works as everyone is already gathering and you get distracted
– I think we (those who have received and prepared slides for the session) need to go in the day before (without the participants there) and build the presentation together then. Then one person saves it and it’s that that goes up 30 mins before the session
2 Welcome screen
Having something to do and an explanation when people arrive is important too I think
3 Page of links for each session?
What about putting links to all the key materials on a website (blog) so that people who haven’t downloaded them can go off and get them. This blog page could also have the links to the videos and any other useful resources. I could mock something up between now and the next session to deom this if that would help.
4 Break out rooms 1. I think people need to go off to breakout rooms with very clear tasks and things to come back to the plenary with specific things eg one burning question, three concerns, or whatever
5 Break out rooms 2.
I think we need a ‘default’ screen for each break out room – this could also carry the DTA logo (to remind people!).
6 Break out rooms 3.
Exit from the breakout rooms. There is a feature that allows a moderator to send a message into ALL rooms. Perhaps we could use this to warn people that time is running out.
7 Next session set-up
May be a way forward is to treat the set-up of the next session as an informal training sesion for moderators – getting the next whteboard set up while exchanging hints and tips at the same time.
And finally, maybe we could get people to log on early to set up their profiles – we’d put instructions on the ‘welcome’ whiteboard.
9 Smooth hand-over between moderators and participants
We can’t expect participants to do this but as moderators it’s really good if we can ‘handover’ when we finish speaking eg ‘Vicki, over to you’. We were doing this towards the end.
10 Minor stuff
Moderators – put people’s hands down for them if they don’t
Sort people in the participants list as follows: 1) sort by raised hands 2) moderators NOT at the top