Last week in class we had a demonstration/practice session with Blackboard Elluminate, the software we will be using to run our own webinars over the next couple of weeks. We also discussed strategies and approaches for webinars. One issue I keep having with the idea of webinars is that of software. Blackboard Elluminate, while far from great (from what I’ve experienced so far), is one of the better pieces of software for webinars I’ve seen or read about it – but it still seems to fall flat.
I think this has to do, in part, with the attempt to wholesale transfer the classroom model to an online learning space. In Elluminate, users are given “rooms” where they have a “whiteboard” and can show Powerpoint slides. Participants in the webinar can “raise their hand” to ask a question. In fact, in many of the reviews of Elluminate that I found online, the “whiteboard” feature was one of the biggest selling points for the software. It seems crazy to me to take a model that we all agree sometimes works in one setting and move it into a completely different world and expect it to work just the same.
While I’ve only just done a cursory search so far, I’ve been unable to find any truly different models for online learning environments. Try as I might this week, I’ve also been at a loss for coming up with any alternative ideas myself. However, I do find promise in the fact that there a growing number of open-source options for e-learning, such as OpenMeetings and BigBlueButton. The more students are exposed to these new learning environments, the more chances we will have for feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully the next generation of e-learning software will be able to take these users’ thoughts and suggestions into account as they design the next, (hopefully) truly innovative learning environments.
What do you think? Do you have any ideas on how learning environments can be changed to adapt to the online world? Have you used software other than Blackboard Elluminate in the past? What did you like or not like about it?
[EDIT]: An earlier version of this post referenced DimDim as an open source web-conferencing software alternative, but it has been brought to my attention that DimDim is no longer an active open source project. Apologies for the error.