Web Conferencing Tools for Teaching (2)

This is the second and the last post about web-conferencing tools for teaching. If you haven’t read our first post, it is recommended to read it first. It gives you excellent descriptions of the characteristics of three most commonly used web-conferencing tools — Google Hangout, Blackboard Ultra, and Cisco WebEx.

In this post, I would like to present additional information about the tools, specifically, 1) how three online tools are different one another, 2) why WebEx is highly recommended than the others and what other limitations it has, and 3) general tips for holding virtual conferences for your teaching. Let’s get started!

1. Comparisons Between Three Web-Conferencing Tools

It seems that there is no 100% perfect online conferencing tool. Each of them has their own strengths and limitations. Therefore, depending on meeting purposes and formats (e.g., a small size of meeting with 8 students vs. a lecture for a large size of audiences; only video chatting vs. sharing files and lecturing with the whiteboard is required), users can choose one of them.

However, in the workshop, the instructor highly recommended Cisco WebEx rather than Google Hangout or BlackBoard Ultra for several reasons. But why? What do we have to know about WebEx before deciding to use it?

2. Strengths and Drawback of WebEx

The workshop instructor said that CLT center deeply investigated the different types of online communication tools for a long time and decided to purchase WebEx licenses. The main reasons are its’ powerful video/audio qualities and diverse features that can reflect actual face-to-face interactions (You can check the features of WebEx in the table above).

However, one of the audiences of the workshop had used WebEx before and shared his experiences and pointed out some limitations that CLT didn’t address.

a) Hard to access the recorded video: Some meeting hosts would like to record their webinar to share with others who couldn’t attend or to document it for another purpose. WebEx has recording functions and creates a simple link rather than bulky video files, which sounds convenient. However, the problem is that this simple link can be only opened in the WebEx platform. In other words, it is not like Youtube link that anyone can easily access the video by typing the URL in the browsers. If someone wants to watch the recording, first they have to download the WebEx program and plugin it into their computers, which is quite inconvenient.

b) Limited Number of License: For the audience (or students), they don’t need the licenses. They can just download WebEx program from the website for free. However, for the meeting host (or faculty), you need the license to hold the meeting. The CLT center said that a limited number of WebEx licenses are available so faculties who are interested in this platform should plan in advance and reach out to CLT as early as possible. However, we all have a sort of ‘planning fallacy’, so this would be a big drawback of using WebEx, to be honest:)

3) Any Tips for Using Online Conferencing Tools

a) What if I’d like to give some break time to my students during the online lecture? You need to clearly state the starting and ending time of the break. During the break time, the audience can leave the chatting room or turn the sound and video off. Thus, you need to check if all audiences come back to the chatting room and can see and hear clearly before re-starting the meeting.

b) How do I know if the virtual conference tool meets my needs and work well from my computer?  A pilot is required before holding the online meeting. CLT center offers pilot sessions for faculty during this May and June, so you can register the session and check all tools when available. Also, WebEx offers 30-days free trials for potential users. You can give a shot to see if this powerful platform meets your needs!

c) How can I check the student attendance?  If using Blackboard Ultra, it’s easy to keep track of the attendance because students log in with their CUNY Portal IDs. However, for Google hangout or WebEx, students might use their own usernames or nicknames, which make it hard to identify their actual names. Therefore, meeting hosts need to make sure that students create some identifiable ID or ask their username in advance for the attendance check.

+  If you have any tips or experiences that might help others who are interested in using virtual communication tools for their teaching, please leave comments below. Any comments would be appreciated. Thanks!

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