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Enhancing Online Communities with Voice and Webcams

Week 5

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 5 Nov 20 -Nov 26, 2003: Wrapup: Using this with students

From Laine, Nov 20, 2003

Today Dafne and I met online and tried out web cam with voice chat. It was partially successful. Both web cams worked. I learned that I can increase clarity by decreasing speed of transmission and that I can set the preference for large or small size image, which, I believe, also affects clarity. I was able to hear her but she could not hear me due to technical issues at her end. Still seeking that two way communication with both voice and web cam, not voice or web cam. My goal is to have done it by Nov 23.

I also learned how to archive Yahoo messenger chat logs for future reference, such as retrieving URLs mentioned in chats.

I have not been able to focus on teacher/learner applications because I have been focused on the process, the hardware, the software, the applications, the sites, the time zones, and all that jazz. Maybe after the course I can reflect on pedagogy more.


From Maria, Nov 21, 2003

Hello Everyone,

Sorry for not being in contact asynchronously, but I've been really busy with the submission of my thesis. Last night I just finished it all. Now I'm waiting for my supervisor to send me his feedback and then after I make the necessary modifications (I hope not too many ;) I will have print 3 hard copies and hand it in on Monday! yahoo! Any way, I just wanted to share with you a 'strong' reason (nah!) for missing all this great evolution you are having in the course. I have just caught up with the email thread and I'm happy to see how Laine has made progress in her use of webcams and voice. I hope you can achieve your goal of testing both by Nov 23, Laine... I'm ready now for testings if you need me. Linda, I hope you are feeling better from your back pain and can soon enjoy being on a chair... not much fun I tell you... yesterday I was on a chair for almost all day! of course with breaks... during which I dance here in my room:-) I also have a blog I created for my TESOL class this semestre. I would like to share it with you..

It hasn't been updated lately, and I don't think it will, unless one of you sends a comment there. I'll send you invitations. And will check on your blogs too. I would like to learn how to add pictures to it. so I'll check Vance's url about that. Oh, I have a question, How do I see previous postings that are not listed on the links to the left where the previous posting are supposed to be accessible... any one got a clue? Btw, congratulations Wayne on you blogging!

There's another blog for that TESOL class... one that you can send comments without having an invitation : Also if you want to see a presentation on blogs I made check my office at Tapped In...don't know how to access that, but if we meet online and go together to Tapped In, I can show you. c u soon


Vance's first attempt at wrapup, wee hours, Nov 22, 2003

Hi everyone,

I'm up in the wee hours in Abu Dhabi updating our class portal at

I've had a look at everyone's blogs. Wayne has thrown in the towel on his Mac though he seems to retain his will to crack this nut regardless. Wayne, you must join Webheads in Action and meet Susanne Nyrop. She struggled with connecting her Mac in voice and web cam and finally moved to PC. But she can advise you. Mac is a great machine for multimedia and graphics, but it has been neglected by some CMC developers. Try though. That's a Mac friendly environment, and as I mentioned earlier.

Laine has written in her blog that the purpose of having one is not clear to her, but Laine has a healthy penchant for questioning whether a tree here and there doth a forest make. This is the great enigma with computer mediated communication in general. It's purpose is not clear at first until in the course of conducting one's business one wonders how to crack a certain nut, and suddenly one recalls, ah yes, I have a blog, or I can just speak to the person, or show him/her on my web cam. The marvelous things about blogs are that suddenly anyone can put stuff up on the Internet. In the time it takes to open an acct with Blogger anyone can have this capability. Previously, the shortest route was to create a web site with Geocities or Tripod, but then there was the problem of creating web pages and uploading them. Blogging has cut through all that. You just open an acct and post, and wham you are on the Internet. Laine questions whether this capability is most appropriate for personal or professional postings and concludes it's not suitable for either. For personal logs I enjoy blogging occasionally (I can make statements in a blog I can't make elsewhere) and this might appeal to students as well (we ask them to write personally but for what purpose? With blogging, there's an audience). Professionally I like the idea that I can happen upon a site or concept I want to record no matter whose computer I'm on and I can make a note in my blog and retrieve it later at home.

I've put some pics up at the portal of Buthaina and Michael presenting from Abu Dhabi at GLD VII. Meanwhile, Laine and I met on Nov 19 for David Nunan's session with the Online Academy participants. And we've all rec'd word that we can evaluation this course, URL at the end of our portal page.

I was hoping to steer the conversation our last 'week' (four days actually) into use with students. Laine has said she doesn't feel she can make that leap until she's had a chance to get more conversant with the medium, and this is a point I've been making in recent and forthcoming publications, that in order for teachers to utilize these tools, they have to USE the tools themselves. Text chat, voice chat, and use of web cams have to become second nature before they can be used with students. You in this course have made an effort to do just that, become familiar with the tools. You have a leg up already on your teaching peers who are only conceptualizing how these tools might be used without having had any first hand experience.

In order to gain the needed experience, you have to become active in communities whose members will experiment with you. Again by virtue of taking this course you have an advantage over others. You have contacted such communities. You know where you can go to find people. These communities have been around a long while and they will wait for you to become ready to trial your budding expertise with them. Take advantage of them. As Wayne says, there are nothing but friendly, helpful people out there.

Finally, if there is one thing I could change in this course, or improve on, it would be to focus more on the paradigm shift required to operate in a world of multiliteracies. I didn't know what to expect of the participants in this course, or what was expected of me. I saw a hands-on course from the start whereas I feel that there was some expectation that there would be a more measured startup with readings and explanations. In my philosophy of education as articulated in recent writings and presentations, I speak of this paradigm shift where traditional ways of conducting classes in brick and mortar institutes do not appear conducive to the self-paced, self-evaluating structure inherent in continuing education online. I think if I were to do it again I would start the course mulling over the consequences of changing zeitgeist on what is appropriate in how education transpires, and try to sell participants more on my methods. I think we all came in on widely divergent points on the continuum on that issue, and I can see that it would be necessary next time to try harder to find common ground on what the course is about and how its goals should best be met.

It's not quite time to say goodbye. We still have a couple of days in the course to try and get those webcams working and on the far side we have a much longer time if you choose to travel the road of interacting together in one or more of the communities which I've suggested are good for getting people involved with voice and web cam communication.

Hope to see you there. And let me know any time if you want to meet online.


After sleeping, Vance views the past month's proceedings as completion of a mandala in which trees focus into forest, November 22, 2003

Hello everyone,

This session appears to be coming full circle in a mandala consisting of trees which when looked at with greater perspective are seen indeed to be a forest.

Some of you may recall when we began meeting online the presence of someone named Batnasan from Mongolia. At the time Batnasan was as new to the Webheads and Tapped In communities as you were. He has continued to stay in touch.

This morning Batnasan organized a conference of his teaching peers in Mongolia and invited Aiden, a Taiwanese member of the Webheads community, to join his colleagues in voice and web cam discussion. Aiden recorded the event and quickly knocked off a set of web pages which you can access here:

Aiden's pages surprisingly reflect what went on over the Internet just this morning between Taiwan and Mongolia.

One point I made in email yesterday was that in order for teachers to realize the potential of voice and web cams they have to gain experience with these media in their own teacher training (as you are doing, and as Batnasan is encouraging his colleagues in Mongolia to do).

There are many teachers in remote locations who are eager to make use of web-based communications tools since they are often the only means for their students to have any access to native speakers of the target language.

One such teacher is Yaodong in Liuzhou China. I wrote an article about him here:

If you continue to interact with groups such as Webheads you might get to know these people and perhaps gain greater insight into how voice and web cam can help your students interact with others in the target language you are teaching them.

All the best,


Laine secures her A in the course, Nov 22, 2003

OK! Finally, I was able to conference with distant colleagues using both audio and webcam in a two-way real time communication. We met online by chance at about 20:00 GMT on Friday, November 21. Venny and I had clear audio chat, text chat, and each others' webcams going strong and buth had muffled audio, streaky web cam, and text chat. I count this as a conference and they taught me how to do a screen shot of it as documentation, so I added that as a file in the online encounters folder for our course. This appears to be a rather superficial goal, but I feel as though it represents a concrete, measurable learner objective for this online course, given its title. Laine

Maria sets us off on a final round of experimentations, Nov 23, 2003

Hello everyone, I would like to test an online platform for video. It's a new one and it's at

It's worth looking at. We had a chance to quickly test it in an online class, but my computer crashed. I would like to test it again.

Let me know if any of you would be available next Thursday so we can set up a time to "meet".

Another thing I want to share with you is regarding two projects about language teaching using video. You may already know about them, but here they are:

  1. ReLaTe (Remote Language Teaching)
    "ReLaTe is developing and testing video conferencing software for use in language teaching. It is a joint project between the University of Exeter and University College London. Used since 1995."
  2. Leverage (LEarn from Video Extensive Real Atm Gigabit Experiment):
    "A three-year (1996-1998) collaborative research project partially funded by the European Commission's DG XIII ACTS programme 1, set out to demonstrate how the use of multimedia broadband technology can support rapidly expanding language learning needs."

I hope after the course I can be of some more help and that we can keep learning together. I really didn't have much time these days...Today, when I was expecting to enjoy a sunday afternoon I had to do some last minute changes to my thesis, but anyway, I hope I can catch up with you soon.

Saludos, Maria

Laine makes it an A+ , Nov 22, 2003

This morning as I happened into a new audio/video chat format at the invitation of maria elena and vance, I noted for the first time what it is like to be a language learner online. How? Well a native French speaker came in the chat and I began speaking French, so did Vance and Maria. By practicing my French and also hearing some Spanish spoken as well, I experienced first-hand as a language learner what this is like. I do see value in it as a way to interact with native speakers in a private, supportive setting. It was totally different from speaking English online. The shift was a shock to me; it suddenly seemed like a worthwhile communicative endeavor, not just an exercise in technology. I also noted that when vance spoke English I "heard" it better -- not understood it but the actual sound seemed better and I think this is because in English I am tuning out noise and filling in meaning without realizing it; whereas with French, I think I am relying on the actual audio data only. Just a thought. BTW, is this really a blog entry? I still do not get the posting in group vs. the blog. But, there's always the next insight, just around the curve. no?

Vance, Venny, Maria, and Laine at Nov 23, 2003

Vance responds about blogging, Nov 25, 2003

Toward one final insight in response to Laine: Blogs and Yahoo Groups can be similar in that both provide a means of putting stuff on the Internet. Yahoo Groups have the advantage of notifying everyone in the group when you have 'posted'. However, blogs are more public than YGroups. No one but group members can access our files here. However, anyone in the world can look at your blog. There is also a third forum, our Blackboard site, which I noticed no one used after an initial foray. On a spectrum of exclusivity and accessibilty, Blackboard is most exclusive because only invited members can have a password, and our YahooGroup is similarly exclusive as the moderator will only let in certain members (but less exclusive in that anyone can set one up and then set rules on who can access the group). Blogs are not at all exclusive. They can be reached by anyone and they turn up on search engines (so be careful what you write in them!). Accordingly blogs are more accessible through search engines, but it is hard to find information by browsing in them due to an unfriendly archive structure, and it is to me hard to find information in a threaded Blackboard discussion too (have to read it all). I find YGroups to be slightly more accessible.

The main thing is, from the standpoint of the writer of the message, if you write on our Blackboard site, there's a good chance no one will ever read it. If you send a YahooGroup message it will at least be pushed to all group members. If you write to a blog anyone can theoretically see it.

As far as the hassle of getting published, Blackboard and YGroups require you to join a group and limit interaction to within that group. Blogs can be set up in minutes, and the message is out to the world in the time it takes to type it. They are the easiest way of going from no website at all to presentable online presence in minutes. As such they have great appeal to students and to anyone who likes the idea of casting messages in bottles in such a way that they may actually wash up on a shore somewhere.

Why are they a part of this course? Because with voice and webcam they allow learners to project their essence and personalities. They facilitate communication. Maybe as with voice you need to try writing one in a foreign language.

All the best and hope to see you in our ongoing communities soon.


From Buth, Nov 25, 2003

Hello all, Thank you Vance for your last message. The links including web pages, such as Aiden's vConference with Mongolian teachers, and websites are really useful. I'm sad as this session is to end soon. Although I wasn't very active as I expected myself to be due to work and family circumstances, I have learned a great deal reading comments, questions, and feedback posted by most participants and Vance.

Assisting in this session is another new learning experience, which is indeed an eye opener. I learned a lot from Laine's questions on technical problems encountered during our online meetings to test with voice or web cams. Those questions helped me learn about my level of knowledge on such technical issues. This of course motivated me to learn more about hardware on my pc and other matters in order to be able to help my students once we are ready to use voice, in the near future. Thanks Laine for your enthusiasm and dedication.

Furthermore,observing Vance's teaching method and approach used in this session taught me more about e-learning, organizing an online learning group, and how to effectively utilize some CMC tools, such as blogs.

For example,I used his students' blogs to motivate some of my students to develop their blogs, posting more entries and adjusting their previous ones. Showing my students what Vance's have done with their blogs really worked. My students liked the idea of adding images and links to their blogs. Some of them were embarrassed about their self-intorduction paragraphs after reading the introductions of the UAE students, and promised to edit theirs. We agreed that we shall do these amendments during our next c-lab session.

Finally,I hope to meet with other participants to test and experiment together with other vedio and voice tools.If you are interested in trying a videochat and a Webcam chat tool, which I learned about from Real English Online community, please feel free to contact me whenever you see me online, or send me an email message to set a meeting.

Vance thanks everyone, Nov 25, 2003

Hi Buth,

Thanks very much for your kind message. It's great to be able to learn from each other.

Buth and I met for the first time during this course, on the occasion of Global Learn Day. Before that meeting we had enjoyed a fruitful online collaboration since early 2002. Venny likewise I met for the first time in Taipei just before this course started, but again had enjoyed an online collaboration for several years before that. I met Dafne soon after our first online encounter in 2001 because we both attended the TESOL conference in March 2002 in Salt Lake City. I haven't met Maria Elena yet, but I now owe Michael Coghlan an visit in Adelaide and Maria is not that far away in Melbourne.

I mention all these kind people because I want to say a special thanks to them for responding to my call for help on the course. I know that all of us have been quite busy, Daf with her dissertation, Maria with her degree studies, Buth with her daytime job in Kuwait (like mine in Abu Dhabi), and Venny ... he told me about the admin load he bears in Taipei, so these are not people with time on their hands. They are however people with a keen commitment to the power of professional development through online communities and I know that their energy and enthusiasm has greatly enhanced what we have been able to accomplish in the last 5 weeks.

And of course I'd like to thank those who signed up for the course and I hope you have benefited from it as active hands-on participants or as passive recipients of our emails. Not everyone comes to the fore in our communities but many write and tell us that they absorb and appreciate our emails, longtime silence at their end notwithstanding. And we also see colleagues suddenly take wings and fly with us, so hope to see you 'up there' one day soon.

And back to Buth, let's try out this Sunday noon GMT at Webheads ... will you be there? Also, let me know when your students have overtaken mine in their blogs as I'd like to embarrass a few of my lads as well. Maybe the competition will provoke further creativity. My guys are doing pretty well, incidentally, when you consider that they're coding from scratch using Notepad. I'm teaching computing, remember? I used to be in computer assisted language learning, but now I'm into language assisted computer learning (inside joke).

Looking forward to seeing you in our online communities.


And so we did -- This wasn't the last we heard from Laine. Click here to see her pleasant surprise for us next March 2004.

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