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Interactive Web Conferencing Brings Big Benefits to the Online Classroom

Interactive, synchronous web conferencing software such as WebEx, Blackboard Collaborate and even Skype are innovative tools that can be implemented by faculty teaching both hybrid and fully online courses. When faculty at Towson University began using WebEx to incorporate a synchronous component to their courses, they discovered that interactive web conferencing (IWC) delivers many benefits.

In this article, we outline some of the benefits we found and share tips for getting started with interactive web conferencing in your classes.

Interactive web conferencing increases accessibility. Because synchronous web-based sessions can be accessed by students anywhere there is an Internet connection, IWC increases the likelihood that students will be able to actively participate in classes despite illness, family obligations, weather or travel that would – in a traditional face-to-face class – result in absences.

Interactive web conferencing increases student-to-student and student-to-teacher interaction. Many online courses rely heavily on asynchronous discussion forums or wikis to promote collaboration and communication between the students and instructor. By adding the IWC component, discussions can again be dynamic and spontaneous, spirited and engaging, because the audio and video components of the interface promote real-time learning and discussion. The format also allows students to work collaboratively on a project even though they are not at the same physical location. As college students struggle to balance home, work and school, this kind of flexibility allows them to more easily accomplish project-based collaborative work.

Interaction is also increased because there is a set time where the class comes together synchronously, which helps eliminate feelings of isolation or lack of interpersonal connections with classmates and the instructor that may occur in a fully asynchronous online course.

Interactive web conferencing promotes active learning. Imagine if your students could comment on a presentation as it happens and remain engaged in the lesson via polls, surveys, or interactive whiteboard sharing.

In essence, web conferencing provides a venue for sustained interactions between students, authentic cooperative learning, and collegial sharing of ideas and project progress.

Interactive web conferencing adds variety: While there is much discussion and debate about learning styles (See references), IWC certainly engages the visual and auditory learner and helps to provide the multisensory interaction that traditionally has been missing from text-based online courses.

The format also allows instructors to record sessions for later viewing by students so they can go back and listen to content that they need further practice with or that may have been confusing. These recorded sessions also help meet the adaptations and modifications for students with disabilities who may need copies of class notes or presentations.

Tips for Success
Perhaps the most critical step required in order to realize the many instructional and learning benefits of interactive web conferencing is preparation — on the part of the faculty, student and institution. We accomplished this at Towson University by developing instructional guides and best practices, providing just-in-time training, and developing a community of faculty users for process improvement.

Do you want to get started with interactive web conferencing? Here are some useful tips to increase success and satisfaction for both students and faculty.

Getting Started

Classroom Management

Troubleshooting and Technical Support

Dr. Linda Macaulay is a lecturer in the Department of Educational Technology and Literacy at Towson University. La Tonya Dyer, M.A., M.S., is an Instructional Designer/Trainer for the Center of Advancement Instructional and Technology at Towson University.

References:
Neighmond, Patti. “Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely : Shots – Health Blog : NPR.” NPR. 29 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Sept. 2011. .

Christensen, Clayton M., Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W. Johnson. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. Print.