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Enhancing Online Communities with Voice and Webcams

Week 2

A TESOL Online Academy session
October 27 to November 23, 2003

Workshop Leader: Vance Stevens, Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates:
Our YahooGroup:

Portal: Meet the participants | See where we are in relation to one another's time zones | Session overview | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Scheduled meetings |

Week 2 Oct 30-Nov 5, 2003: Meet the community

On Oct 29 I sent a message to the list suggesting that participants examine and possibly enroll in the following communities:

I send out a message on Oct 31 to try to organize how we could meet online. Obviously in order to use voice and web cams with one another, we have to find each other online. This is also one purpose of joining communities: to find others in cyberspace with whom to interact. I stated when I am free, and I put it in a chart, the idea being to find when we overlap in time available and schedule regular meeting times. During the second week Laine also set up a World Clock for us where we could see our different time zones, Wayne in Japan was able to meet with me, and Luis and Linda found times to meet

I also said I would be available at Tapped In Oct 31, 11:00 GMT and invited anyone to drop in. I submitted a report of the outcome at

Report on Week 2

YahooGroups traffic picked up, with messages from all participants. The transparency and ease of use of YGroups as opposed to Blackboard led all participants to gravitate to Yahoo, so that the instructor set links in the latter to point to this portal and to our YGroup site. Group interaction began in YGroups with an introspective message entitled "How doth the notion schema theory so perfectly fit our case!" which led to postings from some participants on how the course proceedings differed from expections (and doubt as to what schemas were being called into play to cope; one excellent question: "Lots of trees, where is the forest?"), and an explanation from the instructor relating the course more closely to dive instruction, where a skill was being developed than to an academic course with readings and lectures (and how the fact that we were all on different systems obviated creation of a single set of instructions). There was also a thread started on the impossibility of being a 24/7 student, from a participant who could only get on line from work in Australia, which was late evening for North Americans. The instructor suggested we have two weekly meeting times, but by week's end, apart from some individual successes and a growing consensus within the group that meeting synchronously would indeed facilitate group goals, the group was still only tentatively overcoming the logistical barriers to that.

It took a few days for the group to respond to setting meeting times. Wayne and Laine met me at Tapped In Friday Oct 31 and Laine followed that up with a visit to the regular Webheads meeting at 12 noon GMT Sunday Nov 2. During the session she participated in the chat portal set up for Webheads at She had trouble getting her mic to work but was able to hear the discussion. We then moved into web cam on Yahoo Messenger. Laine was not able to broadcast but she did pick up the cams of others in the group, so she had voice and web cam communications going at once in Alado and Yahoo Messenger, as well as text chat in Tapped In. Later one of the participants Venny contacted me and mentioned that he had helped her get her web cam working.

November 4: Wayne was online earlier and we tried out a few of the chat areas. We met at Tapped In and proceeded to Yahoo Messenger, but Wayne is on a Mac and it seems that YM is still not on speaking terms with Macs so I suggested we try Learning Times, which is. Wayne was game and quickly registered with the site (you have to be registered to use the facilities there; it's free and professional). The first time you visit the Meeting Room in LT you have to download the plugin, which can take a few minutes. It turns out that Wayne is not only on a Mac but it's a Japanese operating system, so he managed to lose the download in a morass of Kanji and Hirigana. Then he lost his connection with Tapped In, and we lost touch altogether, except he sent a follow-up email promising to try again. Meanwhile Venny had come on line and asked me to help him troubleshoot a problem with his voice. Buth was online too so we went to the meeting room to wait for Wayne to join us. While we voice chatted, we each uploaded a picture to the whiteboard (Venny and Buth had to explain to me how to do it and I figured it out with their help). Finally we took a group photo and uploaded it to our YahooGroup website.

Peter, Nov 5: "Some reflections ..

Luis, Nov 5: "This is Luis from Pataskala, Ohio. In fact, I am now in Columbus where I work (20 miles from Pataskala). I had a night class today (it is now here almost 11PM) and had just come back into my office and I was reading Yahoo news when one of our classmates, Laine, popped in and we were able to talk a bit but then I disconnected. Another colleague of mine and myself, share same feelings as you do. We have felt that we are also somewhat behind. To tell you the truth I have not had the time to finish that first article we had as an assignment. I decided to do the requirements about setting up accounts and all that and then try a bit with chatting. I have not been that successful completely. But yesterday and tonight was exciting to see that we can talk online although not perfectly but I hope we can reach a level that we can talk and listen to each other more clearly. I agree with you too that these GTM times are not conducive to meeting together. The only times we can meet here in Ohio is either 5 or 6 in the morning! What I will do is to meet other groups who chat on Sundays so I can practice more. Also, I realized I did not have a microphone at home with my computer so I can communicate only from school so far. I am planning to get one. It is overwhelming but I think we can manage to do some work. I hope we can "talk" one of these days."

Linda, Nov 5: "As Luis already posted, he and I were able to make contact with Laine via Yahoo Messenger. Luis and I were fumbling around in our respective offices, and suddenly the magic box appeared on my computer screen stating that Laine was ready to chat. Because I'm somewhat of a technological neophyte, I really appreciated the help from Laine. She walked me through step by step on how to use the voice chat. Of course it was really simple once I understood--COIK-- Clear Only If Known-- Before that understanding comes, a task can seem overwhelming. Don't I understand more now how my own students feel at times!! Luis and I are going to practice really basic stuff this afternoon. I have to say that it is really nice having a comrade in arms to work with. I feel less anxiety ridden having Luis here to talk to than I did when I took an online course with colleagues I couldn't see or talk to. I'm still not comfortable with online only interface. However, I am so grateful for Laine's help. I guess it's the social part I miss somewhat. In one article I read, the course platform had a discussion forum for social/personal stuff. If you aren't interested, you don't have to open that forum, but if you want to complain or tell some great news, etc. it's there. "

Vance, Nov 5: reactions to the recent emails. First, congrats on the success of Luis and Linda in hooking up with Laine. This to me reaffirms the power of the community, and it's ok if it's blended community (with Luis and Linda in the same office block). The important thing is that the community scaffolds one another, just as Vygotsky said they would do. I'm interested also in Luis's comment that he hasn't had the time or inclination to read the one reading that has been 'assigned' to this group, but I don't think that matters. I have been calling into question in recent papers and presentations the educational paradigms that have served well in the past but which don't now seem wholly appropriate to the new learning environments in which we find ourselves. I'm not suggesting that reading has reduced place in what we learn in distributed or online communities of practice, but that the way in which knowledge is presented, experienced, and learned in the future will not necessarily coincide with what worked well when knowledge was distributed mostly in print media. Do a Google search on 'Myron Tuman' to see what I mean, and notice how a web search might replace in the future what we once quaintly called a 'bibliography'. What I mean to suggest here is that a traditional course might possibly start you on a series of readings and 'guidelines' but the online environment can be managed more like a workshop. Especially where we only have a little more than a month together, it seems prudent to plunge. Penultimately, on the topic of Peter's points, this is illustrative of another given of online environments: you learn at your pace, what you want to learn, when you want to learn it. We are all facing information overload. Information can be fed to us online at such an overwhelming rate that none of us can absorb it. How to deal with this? First of all, don't feel guilty about it. Everyone is in the same boat here. Just take what you can and discard the rest. I'm reminded of an article by Ron and Susie Wong Scollon back in the 70's of information being dealt with linearly or in the manner of a 'berry bush' so this idea of random access of information and its relation to learning is not at all new (for an article from around this time:, and the Scollons' website is worth exploring:

Luis, Nov 6, writes about a "quite exciting practicing voice chat. We got even our chairperson involved. We have been wondering about this Tapped In place. I have been a couple of times, but just today I learned it is only text-based. This lady (who always seems to be there when I log in) told me about this Alado portal, which will be part of the Global Learn Day on Nov 16. I am pasting part of our text chat so you can have the Alado portal website (perhaps you already know it) and the name of one of the developers. I am happy that today we accomplished a bit more than yesterday. Well, Linda will tell you more. ... Linda and I intend to join the voice chat on Monday evening (Nov 10?) so we will be back to school since it will be 11pm here in Ohio. Good thing next day is a holiday here. It is almost 10pm here in Pataskala, Ohio so I will stop here. "Talk" to you later. Luis

"I decided to check that portal out and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get into a voice chat in which they were discussing in general equality of men and women. It seemed to me that they were discussing a book on the subject since the person who I thought it was the moderator referred to pages. In general, I could hear perfectly. The voices of those participating sounded very clear. You could also read what those without sound wrote about their opinions and comments. I felt like I was in a regular class participating in a quite productive discussion."

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Last updated: November 23, 2003, 2003 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0

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