Where I work we have a really nice collaboration suite of software called Wimba. Wimba allows students faculty and staff the ability to meet online (synchronyously) and communicate using chat, voice, video item and even desktop sharing. There is a classroom (browser based) client as well as a installable verstion (Wimba Pronto) similar to Skype. I have been using both for quite some time now and I wanted to make a quick guide and list of tips if you are going to be using it in the future. Most of my time training Wimba revolves around showing how the software works. This guide is for people who have had some experience using Wimba, but want some more ideas on how to make their Wimba experience better.
For the purposes of this guide I am going to assume that you have already created a room in Wimba and that you have a basic idea of how Wimba works.
1. Practice, practice practice
Teaching online is an entirely new and completely different experience than a classroom setting. You do not have your students in front of you to see what is going on. You also have to work in conjunction with your computer to communicate with your students. The more you use Wimba the more it will become second nature. At my place of employment we have groups that get together every few weeks for the sole purpose of practicing Wimba. We have found this to be of great benefit for faculty who just need a few chances to try things out. Once a classroom is created in Wimba you can log in at anytime and work. I would recommend before a teaching session to go into the room and literally rehearse. Get used to the concept of clicking to talk. Get used to the idea of desktop sharing and moving the wire frames around.
2. Try a script
When teaching through Wimba, you are going to have to be worrying about talking, sharing items and managing content. You also have to monitor the chat room and any feedback coming from your students. You will have a lot on your hands and the last thing you want to have happen is to lose your train of thought. Even if you do not enjoy or use lesson plans, writing out a brief outline or script to help guide your lesson will go a long way towards making a smooth lesson.
3. Get everyone familiar each session
I always felt that each time I taught in Wimba about 80% of my students were able to follow me. The other 20% inform me, usually after the session, they had no idea where to click to talk, where to type to chat or what window I was working on. I recommend taking some time to go through some exercises at the start of every session. Go through your list of participants and have them say hello, or type where they live in chat, or ask a question that they can answer with the approve/disprove button. The more familiar and comfortable your attendees are the smoother your session will run.
4. Plug in
Wimba relies on your internet connection for everything. While you may have a very nice wireless router at home or a great wireless connection at work, a stable wired connection will always perform better. Whenever I am doing anything in Wimba I always connect a network cable. The better the connection, the better the experience. This also goes for your students. If you have a group of students who do not have access to high speed internet you can already expect problems with them using Wimba
5. Desktop sharing is desktop sharing
First and foremost when you begin a screen sharing session do NOT every try to share your entire desktop. Doing so requires a tremendous amount of bandwidth and will most likely crash your Wimba session. Another thing to keep in mind is what is within the shared area everyone can see. It’s something to be aware of if you happen to store sensitive files, or you have another browser window open with an email.
6. A second monitor is very helpful
One thing you learn very early on in your Wimba use is that you become very aware of how much screen real estate you have to work with. Between the room window itself and all of the secondary windows open for experiencing other web pages, your video feed, and the screen area being shared you can quickly run out of room. If you have a way to connect a second monitor to your computer I very highly recommend it. My typical setup is one monitor for the Wimba room/browser and the second for desktop sharing and video. The more space you have to view the less likely you will get lost in the session.
7. Alt+tab/Windows Key+tab or Function =F9/Mac+tab
If you press any one of these key combinations (The first 2 are for Windows the second 2 are for MAC OS) you will be able to fast switch between what window is on the top of your screen. This is a very important tool for moving from window to window. Especially if you are sending out a lot of web pages. This will allow you to keep focused on your task at hand.
Above all else relax and have fun! Wimba can be a great experience with practice and patience. After a while many faculty members prefer it to the classroom setting!