In my work with educators who are new to planning and facilitating online learning community events, I often see activities which disappoint participants because of simple problems with the technology. Some community members are positive and accepting, others are not so forgiving and lose interest if the facilitator doesn’t seem well prepared.
Make sure the technology will work
In my experience, most of the technical problems that new facilitators encounter are avoidable. Many can be avoided if you:
- Check and check again that the technology works before a synchronous event. First, before you publish the activity details so you know that what you have planned is feasible. And again just before the event – with enough time to repair or work around any fault that occurs.
- Before the event, tell participants clearly what they need to have and do to be ready. eg will they need a headset with microphone? And advise them to check beforehand it’s all working. Establish a fallback position – eg if their webcam doesn’t work, can they just use audio?
- Do a test drive to make sure that participants can access the event – but be aware that what you can see and do with a ‘teacher’ account is not always the same as what ‘student’ or guest account can. Log in using a dummy student or guest account and check that what you planned is possible.
Have a contingency plan
No matter how well you are prepared, technology can still cause problems, especially with synchronous activities. So you need to be prepared:
- Have a plan B on what you will do if the technology goes wrong. How will you facilitate the event if the chosen technology fails?
- Have a plan B for participants who can’t take part. If it’s an asynchronous forum they can access it later, but if it’s a synchronous activity you should create an archive for those who missed the synchronous event. eg in Wimba, click on the archive button as soon as the discussion gets underway. In a Skype chat, you can save the transcript as an HTML file and upload it to a web page.
Effective online facilitators:
- Avoid many technology problems by making sure it works beforehand
- Have a plan on how to continue when unavoidable problems do arise
Image source: Wikimedia Foundation
It seems that the latest version of Tweetdeck (0.30.3) for the Mac does not appear to work properly with Greek characters. I have a simple ‘Greek verb of the day’ service set up using the Twitter API. It automatically posts an entry each day from a database of 1400 Greek verbs, including the three main tenses and with a translation in English.
In Seesmic Desktop or a browser it appears correctly:
But in Tweetdeck all Greek words are replaced with a ‘pi’ symbol (∏) like this:
Trying to diagnose the problem, I found when using Tweetdeck to compose an update that Greek characters are not recognised at all. That is, you can’t type anything on the keyboard when in Greek text entry mode: this is most unusual for a Mac application. It’s not a problem with AIR as Seesmic desktop seems to handle Greek characters perfectly well.
Whether this is a problem with all non-English characters sets I don’t know: this needs some further investigation. But anyone wanting to use Twitter for language teaching and learning will need to check whether it works with Tweetdeck. If you use the Twitter API to send automated updates, check that these are readable in Tweetdeck. And check that students can use Tweetdeck to post updates. I’ll be posting a note on my rimata homepage advising users that the ‘verb of the day’ may not be accessible using Tweetdeck on the Mac.
I’ve been keen to use Twitter with devices such as my mobile phone – it’s not that I’m a Twitter addict, but I do need to demo this to participants in my professional development courses as part of a broader discussion of learning technology. But until recently this hasn’t been properly supported by Telecom, my provider here in New Zealand. What was most disturbing was that there was no mention of web 2.0 tools such as Twitter on the Telecom website, and no prospect that it would be supported in future.
So I was pleased recently to see that a local number to access Twitter was now available in New Zealand. But the local number has made no difference – it seems Telecom support for Twitter is still not available for the majority of customers. And although I was pleasantly surprised to see a simple help sheet on the Telecom site on how to set up Twitter access, it’s unclear who can and who can’t access Twitter.
The New Zealand government recently announced major spending on broadband infrastructure to enable high-speed access. But how will education be able to plan for effective use of emerging technologies if network providers are slow to acknowledge these technologies exist, provide patchy support and fail to communicate with customers? If we are to implement sustainable changes in using technology in education, we need reliable, open and consistent access to networks.