Live lecture/webinar hybrid experiment

I’m currently teaching two sections of the same introductory GIS course, one face-to-face (F2F), and one online.  This morning I tried a little experiment – I taught my regular F2F class in a lecture hall as usual, but I had a live webinar version of it online at the same time.  It went remarkably well, so I thought I would briefly explain what I did, why, and how.

What I did:

Students that did not attend the live lecture (in either section of the course) could see whatever I showed using the projector in class, which included PowerPoint slides, web pages, and a live demo of ArcGIS ModelBuilder.  They could hear me talking, but could not see me (no separate video feed of the instructor).  Besides this main window, there were two smaller windows, one for questions, and one for chat (these were not visible to the F2F students). I recorded the entire two-hour lecture, broken into two parts, that was then posted online for students who couldn’t watch live, as well as for those who may want to refer to it again later.  The students who attended the webinar version were from both sections of the course (I did a quick poll before class started).

Why I did it:

There were three main reasons why I wanted to try this.  I have been thinking about trying this hybrid approach for a while, but the current impetus was that I have a guest speaker coming to class next week.  After I invited him, I realized that I couldn’t ask him to do what I have been doing up until now, namely recording a separate podcast version for my online students and then teaching the lecture to my F2F section.  I wanted to have a way to capture him speaking in class in one shot.  Second, I have been a little uneasy about the fact that my online students were not benefiting from the spontaneous questions, discussions, demos, and announcements that would come up in class, and I wanted to capture that.  Third, my in-class attendance has dropped off dramatically in the past couple of lectures (I’m guessing this is due to  the F2F students having access to the online lecture podcasts) and I wanted to have another way for them to participate if they can’t (or won’t) attend in person.

How I did it:

Aside from the usual software (PowerPoint, using presenter view; ArcGIS; Chrome browser) I used Adobe Connect for the webinar.  I have used this for about two years for holding online office hours, so I was quite comfortable with setting it up.  I presented using my own laptop (Dell Latitude E6520) and used my own newly-purchased wireless lavalier microphone.  After consulting with my amazingly helpful colleagues through the U of T Educational Technology Interest Group, as well as a professional sound engineer (a friend of a friend), I decided to go with the Sennheiser ew100 G3 system.  It worked very well, although the sound today was a bit muddy.  I think this is mainly a matter of my learning the correct settings, especially mic sensitivity.  I can also increase the sound quality settings in Adobe Connect next time, which takes a bit more bandwidth, but may be worth trying.  I used my iPad (3rd generation) with the Adobe Connect app so I could see how the webinar looked from the students’ perspective, and it was easier for me to check for online questions without having to keep switching windows on my laptop.  I didn’t go so far as to monitor the audio this way, but will do so next time (at least to check the quality).

How it went:

Really well!  I had about 15 students watching online, and they were able to ask questions and use the chat window to talk with each other (this was minimal and not distracting). I got some very positive feedback and will definitely be doing this again.  I’m really pleased that my online students now have the option of participating in a live lecture.

Student view of the webinar
Student view of the webinar
Instructor view of the webinar
Instructor view of the webinar

Perfectionism, procrastination, and an unpolished first video demo

Like many technology-oriented people, I consider myself to be a bit of a perfectionist.  There’s something about the crisp, exact, digital world that makes me want to fuss over pixel, every detail.  To be clear, I’m not saying this in a braggy, interview way (“My worst fault? Well I guess you could say I’m a perfectionist!”), but more of a confessional way (“Hello, my name is Don, and I’m a perfectionist”).  Yes, I do think that this personality trait has driven me to produce good quality work.  However, I suspect it also often leads to procrastination.

A good example is related to my intention to start using video capture software to create online software demos for my students as a way of introducing them to a new practical assignment.  I have had this on my “to do” list for at least a year, but two things kept holding me back: 1) I was afraid of the time commitment required, since once I started doing them I assumed students would come to expect them all the time  2) I wanted the demos to be perfect.  I bought a copy of Adobe’s eLearning Suite 2, and pecked away at it over a few months, but kept putting off actually creating a demo.  Then, last week, I was going over the lab assignment I was about to give to students on some basic remote sensing principles, using ERDAS IMAGINE (why do they insist on all caps?).  All I wanted them to do was use the spectral profile tools with a small Landsat Thematic Mapper image to explore the digital numbers for various land cover types in different spectral bands.  I have used this assignment before, so thought I would just give it a quick once-over before distributing it.  Then I realized that I hadn’t really spent much time with the new 2010 version of IMAGINE and realized that they had “improved” the interface (if you can call adopting Microsoft’s “ribbon” an improvement, although the old IMAGINE interface did need a big overhaul).  I spent at least half an hour rediscovering where everything was, and quickly realized my students would be pretty lost trying to find their way around the interface, for what was meant to be a brief introduction to IMAGINE.  So, I thought I would try putting together a quick video demo.  I didn’t have much time, so I opened IMAGINE, sized the various windows, started Captivate, and recorded the demo.  It was pretty rough, but I thought to heck with it, just get it out there, so I did.  You can have a look at it here.  It’s not very good – I would like to add a title slide, delete some of the extra captions that come up when I was unnecessarily clicking around window title bars, possibly resize it, and maybe actually have a script (if you have any suggestions, please let me know).  The point though, is that it got done, I gave it to my students and, so far, I have had very positive feedback.  The fact that I didn’t spend much time on it really addressed both of my concerns: I don’t mind if they come to expect them, since I can now do them in a short amount of time.

Just to add some irony, I thought about blogging about this, then hesitated, as I thought I should really make a new, better version, and do all those edits first.  Then it dawned on me: my new approach to teaching and blogging is going to be “quick and dirty, learn as you go” or QADLAYG (I haven’t Googled this phrase, so please allow me to continue to think that I am the first person to ever come up with this idea and acronym). For me, this has been a useful lesson.  I have to push myself sometimes to get beyond the planning, perfectionism, and someday-I’ll-get-around-to-it phase and just start putting something out there.  Of course, I definitely plan to improve, but I no longer plan to wait until something is perfect before I distribute it.  I’m guessing I will be better off getting feedback and learning as I go instead of waiting.