Monday, August 13, 2012

WSU pilots a new way to chat online

Rubria Rocha de LunaRubria Rocha de Luna: “To learn a language, you have to talk with other people.”

A stapled sheaf of papers became an envelope of videotapes. The videotapes became DVDs, the DVDs became an online media center. In terms of information delivery, online education has evolved swiftly. But what about interaction? Students are online at different times, so how do they communicate?
     For years, the answer has been threaded discussions: Students write something, come back later, and respond to the responses. Part of their grade depends on that interaction. But suppose, instead of writing, students could post audio clips and webcam videos. Suppose conversations took place around a slide show, with students able to sketch on the slides and participate from smartphones.
     And suppose Washington State University’s Global Campus piloted the software in two of WSU Online’s most interaction-intensive courses: Spanish 101 and 102.
“To learn a language, you have to talk with other people,” said Rubria Rocha de Luna, who is designing the fall 2012 Spanish courses with Theron des Rosier, an e-learning consultant at the Global Campus. “When I talked to Theron about the course, he suggested VoiceThread."
     VoiceThread is commercially available software that lets instructors create a multimedia slide show, and students leave comments by voice, text, audio file, or video.
     “It’s a niche that needs to be filled,” des Rosier said. “We already have Skype, Tegrity, Elluminate. I’d call this niche the asynchronous audio-video-based collaborative space.”
     The program, he said, is simple enough for schoolchildren, lets instructors and students replay information, and allows such options as discussions in American Sign Language.
     “Threaded discussions will still have an important place,” des Rosier said, “because the comments show a stream of thinking in the group. VoiceThread, on the other hand, is everyone in the community commenting on a central resource.”
     Rocha de Luna said VoiceThread will make it easier for language students to hold group activities. One assignment, she said, will be to create a simulated radio show, in which one student interviews others about countries they’d like to visit. “Students will hear each other talking,” Rocha de Luna said, “and understand each other.”
     They can also see each other. “Students can use web cameras to create VoiceThread comments,” des Rosier said. “When you see a person’s eyes and face and the other tacit elements of communication, that creates a far richer experience.”

VoiceThread examples:
· Eleventh-graders learn French.
. Doodling on a slide.

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