Distance Learning

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Projected onto the wall in Salturn from room in Prato

During the October 2010 workshops at Destinations in Saltburn  I explained to the participants that I would be out of the country at a conference the following week and so there would be no session. They said that they attend any way because it’s quite a social group. I therefore suggested it would be an opportunity to try out some thoughts I had been having about distance teaching and learning.  From my hotel room at the conference I began to put together a session. Once again I caught my self, adding too many complications and luckily realised this in time to strip back the proposed workshop to the very basics. The plan was to show participants how to add images to their WordPress blog.  In the end I just created a WordPress blog myself and went through the exercise and then made a link to it from www.myteesuni.com, which is always the starting point for the sessions.
First we had a couple of test sessions with the proprietor of the Destinations learning centre, Paul Davies. We decided not to use any of the Destinations computers but for the UK end we would use a MS Windows PC connected to a projector and screen. I ran a Mac and we hooked up using Skype. We wanted to use free software but there may be other alternatives we could try out later. For now Skype seemed to work well apart from dropping out occasionally.
On the day of the session only 3 people turned up which was disappointing but then we had said the session would not take place. The participants were positioned at computers and in clear view was a large projection of what I was transmitting from Italy via Skype. I wore a headset and mic but at the Saltburn end speakers were set up and the learners communicated with via the mic in the webcam. The mic in Destinations was turned down and my headphones were cranked up to compensate and we experienced very few feedback problems.
I spoke to the participants and then shared my screen with them and showed them my wordpress  (http://bit.ly/steve-wp ) and explained what we were going to do. The participants then logged on to their WordPress accounts with no problem, so the universal password approach was clearly proving it’s worth. I then showed the participants my dashboard and explained changes we needed to make to the preference settings in preparation for image uploading. One participant struggled a bit but another more ICT able participant was able to assist. Had I been present in the session I would have been able to do this but obviously for this distance approach we need to have people seated near to others that can assist if possible. Paul Davies also assisted which was fine for this test but in the long run it would not be an effective use of personnel and self-help within learners would be valuable. I was able to zoom into my screen so the settings being projected could be clearly seen. However whilst pointing to things with my curser this was not so clear but I have since found out how to increase the size of the curser considerably.
There were a couple of technical problems, which I was able to fix by logging into the individuals WordPress account thanks once again to the universal password. Apart for a few more Skype dropouts the session went well and we achieved our objectives. Using the traditional methods the session may have reached it’s objectives in around 30 minutes but this way too an hour. However once the session was over there was a buzz of enthusiasm from Saltburn that we had been able to achieve this across 2,000 miles!
Paul Davies wrote the following appraisal:

Setting up was easier than I thought, the testing we had done last couple of days helped and giving some thought to room / area layout was useful. Would have made even more of a difference if there has been more people, all would have seen you in glorious ‘projection’ mode!! I was worried about the numbers but perhaps for a first session few was more beneficial. Maybe a remote session needs more experienced users as part of it and a peer support element needs to be considered. That said I thought that the session proved both useful and successful as the folks get the results expected, albeit with some unforeseen assistance from yourself.

On that point, Skype worked well and as a tool for distance learning, while there are some limitations, I can see it as user friendly and flexible as say, a webinar setting.

I was concerned our room would be too noisy, not sure how it was at your end. I was also conscious of myself looking after other centre users and not just the remote session users. We could hold a ‘closed’ session or depending on people, use a different room. Either one may help in my not having to move to other areas. All in all though I enjoyed the experience as did the users, and certainly would like to investigate it more.

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1 Comment.

  • I like the chatty style. But what is good is the list of must haves:
    1. Cursor size enlarging
    2. Peer support
    3. Universal password
    4. Not too noisy a place
    5. Choice of microphone and levels on them.

    Be good to know what the minor technical problems were and remote login was good to fix them!
    I see also that complete beginers are not for this.

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