Recently some of my colleagues were asking me about ways to help improve online student discussions. From speaking with different faculty across campus, online discussions appear to be the primary use of Blackboard in both hybrid and online courses. This makes sense to me, as we all tend to value lively discussion of course content as the main indicator that students are engaged and learning.
However as I have posted before, and keep hearing from colleagues, most of the time online “discussions” do not really occur, at least not to the extent we wish to see. In trying to make the online discourse more robust, some are turning to using web-based tools outside of Blackboard that do not rely solely on text postings. These include two tools:
1) Voicethread – http://voicethread.com/products/highered/instructor/
Voicethread allows you to put up a variety of media (images, videos, slides) and then have students record their voice comments as well as type them in; you can even allow video commenting. This can make the discourse feel a bit more personal, but still asynchronous. It is especially useful for students who struggle to express themselves in writing or for courses where the content is more about the verbal recollection and presentation of what the student is learning. The video is from Michelle Pacansky-Brook, who is the author of a book, How to Humanize Your Online Class with VoiceThread.
2) Google Hangouts: http://plus.google.com
This video shows many ways Google+ Hangouts can be used in higher education – but more importantly it shows how Hangouts works for a presentation and discussion
If you want the synchronous connection of having several students together all at once, and want to be able to see them as well as hear them, then you might want to try Google Hangouts. This is a free video conferencing platform that works with groups of less than 10 participants. Similar to Blackboard Collaborate but the added feature is that you can see everyone in the group (provided they have a webcam active) as well as hear them. In the case of online discussions, it allows for more give and take since it is synchronous with everyone together at the same time, in the same space, having the conversation at the same time. Another use is that you can stream your Hangout feed – meaning that it is sort of like having your own personal TV show – students can view the streaming broadcast online via YouTube, and using the chat function ask questions as they watch if they are not among the 9 lucky video participants. Here are some examples of professors who have used this approach:
This link has a list of 18 examples of Google Hangouts for educational contexts. Nothing against Blackboard Collaborate, but if you are looking for different was to get discussion going in your classes, either of these technologies may serve you well. If you want to discuss or try them out, let’s chat – we could even use a Google Hangout if you can not make it to campus!