Meet Vance | Vance's CALL resources page | esl_home index| links for ESL students | Internet workshop | Recommended Communities - Webheads in Action (and Writing for Webheads) | Learning Times | Real English Online | Tapped In | Time conversions - | fixed | participant time zones | ChatsTapped In | Homestead text chat or leave a message | Discussion forumsOur BlackBoard site | Enhanced_Online Yahoo Group | Instant MessengersYahoo! Messenger | MSN Messenger Service

Enhancing Online Communities with Voice and Webcams

Week 4

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 4 Nov 13 -Nov 19, 2003: Webcams

Vance kicks off Week 4, Nov 13, 2003

Speaking of blogs, there are some interesting articles on the page; e.g. Blogging as a Course Management Tool, . Comments?

Maybe it's time to revisit blogs. Why not get the feel of it by posting your thoughts on what you're learning or wish you were learning in this session in your blogs. The blogs are linked from our participant profiles here: vstevens/files/efi/papers/tesol/academy/portal2003.htm#profiles

So let's give it a few days and then go read what each other has said. If you like I can show you how to add pictures and links to your blog page. My students love playing with these things. I think it gives them a feeling of ownership and empowerment with an instant communication tool. You can see examples by following the PI links from

I have updated the portal page with more of your insights and with my comments and a picture from our voice chat last Tuesday. We have decided to try again for the same time 4 a.m. next Tuesday. How does that set with Wayne, Peter, and Ananthi. For those of you in Australia have you met Maria yet? Her pic and bio have been added to our portal and she is nearby in Melbourne and is ready to help. Wayne what can we do for you.

We are also gearing up for Global Learn Day next Sunday. My colleague Michael Coghlan and I are presenting our webcast before both live and virtual audiences at 1000 GMT Nov 16 and we would be pleased if you could join us. I realize that is late Sat night verging on Sunday morning for those in the states, but if you can tune in, welcome. More info here: vstevens/files/efi/papers/tesol/academy/portal2003.htm#chats

After that I'd like to start looking (literally) at web cams, if you're interested, suitably equipped, and so inclined. Let me know who has web cams and would like to try them out.

There is a history of first use of web cams with Webheads in Action here: vstevens/files/efi/vcommunity.htm#video

I look forward to your comments on the course and will be happy to assist anyone with voice and webcam trials.


From Laine, Nov 15, 2003

Luis and I were talking on Thursday night about our difficulties with audio and I suggested to him a place where I had done some troubleshooting with my audio, but I couldn't recall exactly where it was or how I got there.

Well, here is the answer. Go to LearningTimes (one of our recommended communities), login and then click on VoiceBoard. Then select Compose and you can record and play your voice over and over. Each time it records over the old one and you can listen and see how it sounds. When you are done, click Abort (not Post!) and the message will never actually go on the Board. I like this because it was really hard for me to work on the audio without being able to hear myself. I realize that the Board is not designed for this, but in any case, it is useful. By the way, among the posted messages on the VoiceBoard, I noticed Buth and her students, so I listened to their messages while I was there!

What did I find out about my audio? Well, I learned that with my home computer, the external mike makes it worse, not better; there must be some built-in mike that has plenty of power. At work, it is the opposite, so with that computer, I plug in the external mike for the best results. So, I am learning more about the ins and outs of audio.


Vance replies:

Thank you Laine for writing us once again with the results of your experiments. The program that sets up voice discussion boards is Wimba, at . It used to be that anyone could create such a board for free and at that many of us online communicators had them. The program works well and voice discussion boards can be compelling in a foreign language (I used to get hooked on the French ones). But now the Wimba server supports only authorized customers. I have no idea how Learning Times has acquired the right to store voice messages onWimba's servers (whether they pay for it or have managed a reciprocal arrangement among educators) but it is also possible to get Wimba products as an add-on to BlackBoard and (I believe) WebCT.

That's an interesting idea to use it to figure out how you sound online (and you could always post your message if you wished).

There are a number of factors that affect sound quality and I don't know if what you hear of yourself at Wimba would necessarily be what other people hear. People have been telling me lately that I've been sounding very slow and baritone. Other people in the chat sometimes sound (to me) like chipmunks. Also, recall in our chat last Tuesday that when I played my video my sound dragged and was incoherent. When I turned my video off the sound returned to normal clarity. What do you think are some of the things that account for this variance?

I'm tempted to venture to answer the question but I'd like to give you (all) a chance first. Also I'm prepping for Global Learn Day VII, tomorrow. I hope you will have a chance to tune in to some part of the event. It goes for 24 hours so unless you are out of town all day it should be accessible to most of us. I am expecting Michael Coghlan to arrive shortly at my house as he's flying in from Adelaide for the occasion, and Buth has also decided to join us and fly down from Kuwait. That is dedication and effort and I hope to meet her first time face to face at my workplace tomorrow, where she, Michael, and I intend to present on how we form communities online and get members communicating, voice and video being two of these ways..

We'll provide pictures and a description later, but for now, you can ...

All the best,


Dafne checks in, Nov 16, 2003

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to be with Sus on a virtual field trip to the Webheads in Action Community. Sus is participating in a workshop on Communities of Practice, and she was introducing Webheads to participants of the workshop at Alado. I recorded the session and thought you might be interested in the session. You will find a link to the session from this url:

In this week there is Global Learn Day, a big annual event in CMC

From Vance, Nov 16, 2003

Michael Coghlan has arrived safely in Abu Dhabi and Buthaina Al Othman should be on her way from Kuwait via taxi from Dubai just now. Tomorrow we will all meet at the Petroleum Institute (where I work) for our live webcast of our Global Learn Day presentation from 1000 a.m. GMT to noon. The URL for the schedule is here:

You will be patched into our presentation if you visit our Webheads Alado portal which Andy has configured for us

I hope you can join us any time between ten and noon GMT, and at noon we continue with the regular Webheads weekly gathering.


Vance sets up for Global Learn Day, November 16, 2003

I arrived at work today and went directly into the Global Learn Day presentations at (that's the direct url). Right after that I rec'd a Yahoo Messenger request from Luis to join his voice chat, but I couldn't because my voice was engaged at GLD. What's more I'd lost Luis because I couldn't recover his Yahoo ID luislatoja. I got that information from Laine who happened to be online at GLD despite late hour in Long Island and who was in my buddy list (I've added Luis now :-). Meanwhile, they were both in the GLD chat and sending me private messages which were hard for me to see until Laine told me about them in Yahoo.

Laine went soon to bed after a brief chat and after promising to write a brief report on a Really Good Presentation she had just attended. Luis and I dropped out of a presentation on the hazards of the Internet for children and had a voice conversation on Yahoo. Luis said he had offered to present at GLD VII because the organizers had indicated they still needed presenters but had not heard back from anyone (those people are scrambling right now, recovering from server crash yesterday). I invited him to join the Webheads presentation from 1000 to noon GMT today. He said he'd sleep on it but sounded like he might try to get up for the end of that presentation. So if you can make it as well, you might hear Luis say a few sleepy words through sips of coffee.

Hope to see others of you online at some point today. As far as I know Laine, Linda, Luis, and I are planning to meet also at 4 a.m. GMT on Tuesday. We would love to include Wayne, Peter, Ananthi, and of course our helpers / associates and would even be willing to change the day / time or set another. Let us know.

Must get back to my daytime job for a while, until Michael and Buth arrive at the PI,


Laine's report:

XiaoXi Dean of School of Foreign Studies, Huanggang Normal University, Beijing spoke about Learning English in China. He said there were 2500 English majors at his school alone! There is a tremendous surge in interest in English in China. He stressed the need for materials, software, and teacher training. He pointed out that anyone needing a good job in China today needs three things: a driver's license, a working knowledge of technology, and English proficiency. He noted that the reasons, other than jobs, for an interest in English, included the bid for the Olympics 2008 and the fact that everyone is "English crazy" -- that it is cool to know it. A GLD participant mentioned that perhaps, in addition, many students believe that knowing English increases their chances of getting a visa to study abroad. Xaio Xi's ppt slides will be archived at the GLD website next week. There was a great deal of data but that give you a general idea. They offer a lot of online courses. This is the web address for his university: Warning: it is mostly in Chinese.

From Linda, Nov 17, 2003

Hello Vance, I'm sorry I wasn't able to attend any of the sessions for Global Learn Day. I have been having terrible back pain and the idea of coming into work and sitting in a chair was unbearable. I am taking some medication, but I will not be able to come into work tonight to chat online. I'm sorry for missing the opportunity as I thoroughly enjoyed it last week. I'm planning to experiement a bit with the blogs. I must admit I really don't know much about them, and I know the only way to learn is to experiment. Thanks for your support. Linda

Vance responds to messages from Laine and Linda that they won't be at the next online chat meeting of our group, Nov 17, 2003

I'll pop by at 4 a.m. GMT at, and on Yahoo Messenger and MSN, and see who's there.

I requested that participants write in their blogs what they are learning and I think I mentioned also what you wish you were learning that you aren't. I'm curious about people's expectations for the course. Blogs are a medium conducive to personal observations.

The class champion on Blogging so far is Wayne. I'm sorry I didn't read his Nov 12 (and before) postings till now but I'm not 24/7 either and I was away for the weekend and then engrossed in GLD VII on return. But Wayne has obviously been trying. Maybe it's time to get another Mac user in here. I'll summon Susanne Nyrop. She's been there with the Macs. Alternatively, Wayne could join the Webheads in Action and contact her and other Mac users there.

I'm talking about Mac users who have been trying to communicate online with a world of PC's. Learning Times is Mac compatible, so you could register with them at and check out the meeting room. iVisit at is an interface designed for Macs that lets in PC's for voice and video. We could all download that and try it.

The most important thing if you really want to learn this stuff is to find nice people like ourselves to practice with. Just let us know when you can meet online and we'll make the effort from our end.

Maybe see you in the morning. I'll keep a web cam handy in case anyone comes online. Perhaps we can discuss what's motivating and demotivating people in this small community to experiment more with the tools. Meanwhile, keep on blogging,


Wayne checks in, Nov 18, 2003

Thanks for the advice about how I can get more info and support as I use my Mac(s). I saw at the beginning of the course that there are many people out there who are willing to help out in the web world. I had too many other technical problems to sort out before I could really use the advice that I was being given.

I'll just add more comments to my blog.

Thanks again.

Laine took the initiative to set up a test of her webcam, November 18, 2003

Ran into Dafne today and we agreed to meet at GMT 2:30pm Wednesday to work with web cams. I know this time is only good for some folks, but the other times are too early or late. So Linda, Luis, and Vance, if you are available, we will meet in tapped in. (it is 9:30 am EST btw). I would like to finally see if my web cam and audio can both work OK.

From Vance, November 19, 2003

Thanks for setting up another event. I won't be able to make this one due to a prior engagement. I could make it an hour later. I'll look for you online in case you're still there. I've noted the event at

Luis and I met this morning Tue at 4 a.m. GMT. We talked in Yahoo Messenger and got good reception until I started my web cam. When the voice faltered I paused the cam and the voice returned more or less to normal. This is a good technique for using video: let the audience see you move and then pause the cam and as the voice interaction continues the fact that your image is frozen on the screen becomes irrelevant.

Working with Dafne, Laine will probably succeed in getting her web cam working. Anyone else? If you'd like to arrange a meeting with me or anyone else in the group, please propose a time.

Luis was working on his blog. One way to personalize your blog is to add pictures and links down the sidebar. I've developed an explanation for my students on how to do this:

Buth told me that it wasn't clear to her how to link to my students' blogs from my website. In my students' blogs you can see how they've personalized them with pictures, links, and even javascript code. The students get a real charge out of putting stuff up on the Internet. In my computing classes they learn how to code in HTML by doing in this way, and in my English classes, projecting personality via the Internet is a great way for them to express themselves creatively and to an audience of someone (i.e. the whole world) besides the teacher. If they receive feedback on their blogs from strangers they are motivated to do more. I find my students will work on their blogs and web pages after class even when I haven't expressly told them so. If you want to see their work you can meet them in these places:

Speaking of Buth, she made a great record of our Nov 16 GLD VII session here:



November 19, Chat with David Nunan, a special treat for Online Academy participants

Early morning 4:00 a.m. in Abu Dhabi, and a reasonable hour for most others, Laine and I joined the online text chat with David Nunan. We had all been asked to read David Nunan's article: "A Foot in the world of ideas: graduate study through the Internet" at . As the chat commenced we tried to follow the protocol (described in the article) of signaling when we wanted to comment or ask a question, but in one of the long lags where most of us were chafing at the bit to chime in, David suggested we do away with the protocol and the conversation jazzed up almost immediately. Up to that point the conversation had been so slow that Laine and I were carrying on a commentary in a Yahoo Messenger window and I was checking my email, but with the floodgates open the cats emerged unherded. At the end of the session we were asked which format we preferred and the unanimous choice was free-for-all.

Use the navigation at the top of this page or your browser's BACK button to return to a previous page

For comments, suggestions, or further information on this page, contact Vance Stevens, page webmaster.

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

(C)opyright 2003 Vance Stevens