Welcome to a New World of Virtual Communication and Teamwork
Following feasibility studies as well as experimentation in continuing education, the concept of a virtual colloquium, the e-conference U.R.on Line, was born. The development team led by example and profited from telecommunication and virtual teamwork. After experimenting with software, the telecommunication programme VIA was selected as the framework for the event.
Since February 2006, we have offered on-line continuing education to college teachers supplying the required peripherals (webcam and headsets) to permit computer based audio and video communication. We originally tested the functionality and pertinence of this formula with occasional 1,5 hour long sessions as part of our continuing education teaching curriculum. These activities not only dealt with technical and procedural subjects but touched upon pedagogical concepts such as problem-solving and analysis.
Afterwards, we undertook a detailed impact study to determine the effectiveness of various interfaces in order to make a long term commitment to a technology. Among the criteria used were
- ergonometric efficiency,
- communication effectiveness,
- platform stability and
- the quality of technical support.
Real time on-line classes required simplicity of use as well as high technological performance. An interface with icons that were understandable and procedures that were intuitive enabled a quick learning curve. Additional features such as offline review where recordings of past sessions could be downloaded in Flash format enriched participants’ opportunities for reflection and critical analysis during the learning process and offered the user the possibility of consultation at a later date. This resource can be used for one-on-one communication as well as in a seminar or conference environment. It not only can be used for formal presentations but can facilitate group discussion and decision management.
VIA has numerous other features to facilitate virtual interaction. Users can transpose scenarios and pedagogical strategies as required to create various theoretical models and illustrations. The presentation of alternative versions of proposals can be done by any member of a group as long as the software is installed on the moderator’s computer.
We have observed that not all colleges and universities maintain the technological framework to optimize the use of communication software which requires broad bandwidth for video and audio transmission. This resource can compensate for inadequate bandwidth when combined with efficient management of information transfer. VIA is a particularly stable platform which can adjust to maintain continuous communication. This flexibility is particularly advantageous for teachers working at home and has been enthusiastically received by those profiting from this capability. Home use has proven that commercial servers can rise to the challenge of multimedia communication with adequate bandwidth provided that intermediate and high speed users are equipped with the necessary tools.
Finally, it must be mentionned that efficient technical support constitutes one of the deciding factors for teamworking software selection in a leading edge environment where complications are unpredictable. In our current context, as well as that of the colleges, such technology must be solidly supported if it is to be comfortably integrated, as potential users, teaching and non-teaching personnel alike, are currently in the process introducing these resources into their regular practices. Complications are unavoidable, and the service provider must be available to deal with emergencies, large and small, as they arise.
APOP is actively promoting virtual collaboration in the postsecondary environment. After numerous live training sessions, the orgainization is positioning itself at the avant garde of the virtual teamworking environment in order to demonstrate the advantages of meeting in a context where organisational, geographical and financial limitations are at a minimum.
These tools already appear to be the wave of the future. The future seems bright for virtual teamworking as the technology and tools that create it are mastered by educators and professionals. There will no doubt soon be further progress to permit college teachers to make the use of these resources an everyday reality.