Dialogue Café

dialogue cafeI was over at the University of Northampton running a Research Data Management Training for Librarian’s training session with a colleague yesterday. We were in the library and I spotted the Dialogue Café. This is a “a global non-profit initiative that uses high-end video conferencing technology to enable video conversations between diverse groups of people from around the world so that they can share experiences, learn from each other and collaborate to make the world a better place“. Apparently it is a way to provide students and staff of the University with an access to a network of over 4000 likeminded organisations and communities across the globe and the opportunity to share, learn and contribute to the work of others. The main technology used is Cisco TelePresence.

The Dialogue Café is the world’s first open videoconferencing network specifically designed for civil society. There are Dialogue Cafés all around the world: in Northampton, London, Rio de Janeiro, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Lisobon, Ramallah (Palestine), Cleveland (US), Paris and Wroclaw (Poland). They have a Flickr site with images of people using the cafe, and are also on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


What a great idea! I wish I’d had something like this when I was a student, it would have really helped with some of the projects I worked on!


Very Virtual: Kaltura Education Video Summit

Unfortunately I missed the Kaltura Education Video Summit virtual event a few weeks back due to other commitments, but after a friendly email inviting me in I decided to take a look at what was still available.

The home screen with embedded video and virtual hostess

The home screen with embedded video and virtual hostess

The first annual Kaltura Education Video Summit has been billed as the most comprehensive conference dedicated to online video in education, learning, and training. It looked at ways to harness video to improve teaching, learning and training and offered those attending the opportunity to network with the world’s leading education video experts, connect with peers from leading educational institutions and enterprises around the world.

Kultura teamed up with InterCall, industry leaders in virtual environments and webcasting, to provide a really innovative virtual event.

The conference is structured round the main hall (home area), which offers links to all the talks, resources and sponsors.

Virtual exhibition hall

Virtual exhibition hall

You can take a tour around or create a virtual agenda, which will help point you in the direction of interesting sessions.

Blackboards’s interactive Booth

Blackboards’s interactive Booth

This year’s summit had 3 different tracks:

  • The Future of Education
  • Video in Education
  • Enterprise Learning, Training and collaboration
Sharon Flynn, Assistant Director, CELT at NUI Galway, presenting

Sharon Flynn, Assistant Director, CELT at NUI Galway, presenting

Each offered interesting presentations on high-level areas such as open and online education, alongside practical talks on areas such as discussion in the classroom, MOOCs and use of YouTube. Some of the talks are more traditional presentations while others are panel sessions and discussions. As well as attending talks you can take a look around the virtual exhibition hall or sit and have a chat with fellow delegates in the networking lounge. You can then pop all the resources and business cards your collect in to your virtual brief case. And of course everything can be shared via Facebook, Twitter or email. You can even upload your own resources and share these with delegates that you meet.

Networking Lounge

Networking Lounge

All pretty impressive stuff! Surprisingly next year’s video summit will be a physical event!

Flipping Lectures!

Last week I tuned in to JISC/HEA Video in Teaching and Learning Webinar series for an Adobe Connect session on Flipping the lecture. I’ve mentioned the flipping lecture idea before and was keen to hear more. The webinar was presented by Carl Gombrich, a lecturer at UCL. Carl, a self proclaimed ‘late started’ when it comes to technology talked about the Echo 360 lecturecast ‘Five Steps to Successful Flipping’ he gave at the HEA assessment event in UCL. The lecture cast and notes is available from his blog.

Carl Gombrich webinar

Carl basically used a Web cam and Echo 360 http://echo360.com/, a Leader in blended learning and lecture Capture Solution, to present a lecture. Carl also invested in a Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet which allows the lecturer to draw on ppts, write mathematics formula etc.

Carl approach is to record the lecture in advance then ask students to view the lecture before the time table slot. Getting them to do this can be problematic but he encourages them to watch it by asking them to write 3 questions relating to the lecture. They also need to jot down when in the lecture (the timeslot) the questions arise. Doing this not only ensures students watch but reflection on the questions is a learning process. As Carl explains “one of the most important things in learning is asking the right questions”. The questions are then uploaded to a community space (wiki, VLE etc.) and then there is a poll allowing students to select their top 10 questions. These questions are addressed in the face-to-face timetabled lecture slot.

Working in this way not only allows more reflection and engagement but it also helps teaching get back to more personal relationships.

Carl then shared some thoughts on the good things about working in this way: students get their questions answered, there is better engagement, submitting questions is part of the formative assessment, time is freed up. And the bad things: there is always a worry that the kit won’t work, some lecturers are self conscious, it takes extra time (but don’t we owe it to them – they pay for teaching – later on you can reuse sessions).

It was really refreshing to hear someone who “just doesn’t care about the technology” but cares about the reaching talk about how the flipping lecture idea could work in reality. Over 60 people attended and the moderator declared it the highest attended JISC/HEA Video in Teaching and Learning webinar to date.

There were a few technologies mentioned in the chat of the session that I intend to follow up including Presentations2go, which lets students write comments on the timeline directly, then discuss them.

Further Links

Blackboard Collaborate at #JISCrmd Webinar

Today was my first experience with Blackboard Collaborate.

Blackboard Collaborate “combines the capabilities of Wimba and Elluminate” – both were bought out by Blackboard in 2010. I’ve written quite a lot on my experiences using Elluminate but haven’t used Wimba before. Since the acquisition Blackboard have been working on a Beta program designed to involve learning institutions and their feedback in the development of the new Blackboard Collaborate platform. I was keen to see whether the union was for the better….

System Setup

Blackboard Collaborate - Introductory slides

Blackboard Collaborate - Introductory slides

To use Blackboard Collaborate you need the correct (and current) versions of Java installed. You can check your system set up online by going to the Blackboard site and following the instructions for “Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing”. If you are interested in trying out the service you can trial it for free. JISC Netskills provide a useful PDF document entitled 5 Ways to prepare for your Blackboard Collaborate Session to help you get up to speed. I seemed to be all ready to go so headed along to the JISC Webinar – Meeting the research data challenge.

Using Collaborate

To be honest at first glance Blackboard Collaborate seems very similar to Elluminate, just with rounded edges! The first difference I noticed was that it’s now possible for participants to have avatars. I’m not sure how you add an avatar but all the moderators and speakers had them. This added a really nice personal touch. When someone was presenting it was possible to see their image at the top of the screen. To some extent this cuts out the need for a webcam – which saves on bandwidth issues.

There were a few other things that seemed different (though my memory often fails me so I can’t guarantee that they couldn’t be done in Elluminate). You can send private messages to moderators and individuals by double clicking on a name. This is much more intuitive then selecting a drop down from the chat box. You can customise the screen and if you want you can have panels on separate screens. There was also an option for participants to forward and back the slides – though after a ‘technical hitch’ when the slides got stuck this option seemed to disappear. There was a little discussion on this slide functionality in the chat panel that I can’t help but share:

Kevin Ashley, DCC
Preferred it when I could move them back and forth myself.
Andrew Treloar 1 #2
Me too, but then we could skip to the end of the story and cheat
marion tattersall 2
Yes I liked that control option too
Kevin Ashley, DCC
The butler did it, with the metadata, in the library.

One thought that occurred to me in the session was – wouldn’t it be good to be able to copy the text and click the links in slides during the webinar. Unfortunately Blackboard Collaborate turns the slides into infographics. Surely this must be next step in online collaboration software?

The Webinar

Simon Hodgson presenting

I really enjoyed the Meeting the research data challenge Webinar. It was primarily a run down of projects and resources from the JISC Managing Research Data (JISCMRD) programme and there was a lot to take in. The webinar was well managed and there were only minor technical issues. The discussion at the end was facilitated well too, which made it both interesting and informal. Potential question askers were encouraged to put their hands up (these people were then queued) or type ‘QUESTION:’ in the chat panel. This clarity really helped.

As soon as the webinar finished and I’d logged out I was taken directly to an online feedback form – which was a great idea. If you’re ever going to get people to fill these in…straight afterwards is the best time! After filling in the form I was taken directly to Research Excellence – JISC really are doing a good job of getting you to the right online places!

JISC Feedback form

The session peaked at around 70 attendees. The moderators also mentioned that they’d had 120 people online at the JISC Research Integrity Conference last month – I was one.

These numbers are impressive. I’ve been involved in the organisation of quite a few workshops and events recently, many of which were free. Getting people along is a constant challenge – yet online seminars and conferences are thriving. I realise there is a place in the academic world for both, and both offer us very different things. However when the powers that be look at the stats the online/virtual event world does seem to give significantly more bang for your buck.

Institutional Web Management Workshop Time

I can’t believe it’s Institutional Web Management Workshop time again, and that I haven’t written anything about it yet!

This year we are at the University of Reading from Tuesday 26th to Wednesday 27th July 2011. We also have a pre-conference DevCSI hackday on Open Data and the Institutional Web – the developers are hacking as I write!

We have done so much for remote audiences at IWMW in the past that sometimes it’s difficult to find new things to do – but we like to try. This year we are taking a slightly different approach and working with a commercial sponsor (Collaborate) and using Adobe Connect to stream the plenary talks. One of the key reasons for us using Connect, rather than another live streaming service, is that we feel it provides a unified space for the end user: it pulls together video of the speaker, a twitter feed for the plenary hashtag, slides for the plenary and a chat facility.

I had a little look at Adobe Connect a few months back and liked what I saw. Adobe Connect is based on Adobe Flash technology but an app is also available that will still let you watch the streaming.

iPhone app for Adobe Connect - swf pods will not work but streaming will

We trialled the system this morning and I really hope everything goes well. To tune in go to the IWMW Video Streaming page in good time for tomorrow’s plenaries.

I am also running a session on amplified events entitled The Economical way to Amplify Your Event. I’ll try and post more on that later.

First Experiments with Adobe Connect

I’ve been having a little look at Adobe Connect 8 as a possible way to stream an event I’m involved with.

Adobe Connect is marketed as “an enterprise web conferencing solution for online meetings, eLearning, and webinars used by leading corporations and government agencies“. It’s based on Adobe Flash technology so there is a lot of ‘rich interaction’. Adobe Connect has had a fairly chequered past and was originally developed by Presedia. Macromedia acquired Presedia and it became Breeze meeting, one part of Macromedia Breeze. When Adobe acquired Macromedia it became Adobe Connect and many of the other Breeze products have been added in. While Adobe has been pushing other products Connect has sat on the sidelines, but it seems like they’ve now realised its potential.

Video in Adobe Connect

Initially on using Adobe Connect I found that I couldn’t help but compare it with Elluminate and BigBlueButton but after actually using it for a while the differences become quite clear. Here are the biggest two I noticed:

  • It’s slicker – it just looks more professional and is a lot more intuitive than some of the other solutions.
  • Pods are great – Each meeting rooms has a selection of pods which each perform a specific role: Share, notes, attendees, video, chat, files, web links, poll, Q&A, Twitter feeds. These pods can be moved around, hidden, shown to only certain people (moderators) and laid out how ever you chose. As the organiser of a meeting you can use the selection of templates to have the desktop customised in which ever way you like. It’s clear that there is a lot of customisation and extensibility available. You could have also have a lot of control over a meeting.

Over the next month or two I hope to take a better look at Adobe Connect so I’ll be asking a lot more questions and hopefully finding out a few answers.

Of course one of the big stumbling blocks with Adobe Connect is that you need Adobe Flash to get it to work. I’m not fully sure of the implications of this, I guess that this will cause problems for many mobile users. I know the battle between Flash and html5 continues, I don’t really have any answers here…

I have no idea about cost but as Adobe Connect would be likely to implemented at an institutional level and I’m assuming it’s a highly competitive field I’d say that the price would be worth it providing it can be rolled out to fill many niches. I can see it having great e-learning potential, huge remote working potential and lots more uses inbetween.

At the moment I’m a novice at using Adobe Connect, no doubt as I become more experienced I’ll start to see the limitations a little more but I definitely got a warm feeling the first time I had a go.

GoToMeeting Time

So we are all trying to save money, and one of the easiest ways of cutting costs is by slashing the travel budget. If people need to get together there are plenty of ways they can do it that don’t involve travel, or even leaving the office.

Although I’ve been involved in lots of webinars and have participated in many Skype meetings I’m still a relative novice when it comes to large-scale online meetings. I’ve been tasked with facilitating a 2/3 hour online meeting for up to 16 people so have been looking at some of the options out there. The first service I’ve looked at is GoToMeeting.


GoToMeeting is a part of a suite of Web-hosted services created by Citrix Online. It is a remote meeting and desktop sharing software. I’ve talked about Gotowebinar before, which is a very similar service to Elluminate. Having used webinar software more than online meeting software I was surprised at how simplistic Gotomeeting was – but I think that’s the point. Why have all the bells and whistles if they distract from actual communication. It turns out that GoToMeeting took the remote access and screen sharing technology from GoToMyPC and GoToAssist and have extended it for their collaborative meeting software. The idea is that GoToMeeting accommodates larger audiences. This is something I’m particularly interested in as I feel Skype really doesn’t scale up well and Elluminate (and other webinar services) is ineffective when more than one or two people need to talk.

Getting a free 30 day trial version of GoToMeeting was fairly easy and the whole thing is easy to download and set up. You can connect by VOIP using a mic and headphones or using your phone and dialling in. The meeting is lead by an organiser, who schedules the meeting, and a presenter, who can share their desktop contents, they can also allow others to share their desktop, use the mouse and highlight or draw on what ever desktop is up using the drawing tools. The presenter can change during the meeting.

Although I only had myself to talk to (I set up 2 laptops and a PC to try the service out) and would need to do some testing with others I found the service really intuitive and straightforward. It is easy to invite people and easy to record all that happens. My twitter friends also rate it. On the downside the standard edition has a 15 attendee limit (you can go up to 25 if you are a corporate customer) and there is currently no video conferencing option. I also believe that some features are disabled for the Mac – which could be a problem.

There is a useful introductory demo available from the GoToMeeting site.

There are a number of GoToMeeting plans and you can purchase the service for just one month at a cost of £34.80 – if you compare this to the cost of travel and room hire it is an appealing deal.