E-learning, Google Chat, and Innovation

E-learning, as I wrote in an article for the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions Magazine, is growing rapidly both in innovativeness and through its unique contributions to the entire field of training-teaching-learning. And it is becoming easy to try even for those with the fewest possible resources and only the most limited knowledge of how Web 2.0 (online social networking) tools work.

An experiment with University of Nevada, Las Vegas Learning Technologies Specialist Michael Wilder and his “Interactive Media Design” course for aspiring journalists in October 2009 offers just one example of how we can more effectively use Web 2.0 tools which are right in front of us. I had, throughout the year, been experimenting with colleagues and interviewees to use Google Chat as a way of conducting interviews for articles and academic research papers I was writing. What was most appealing to me was that the typed chat format produced usable transcripts of the interviews—a tremendous time-saver and a wonderful way to assure that quotes were accurate. Wilder, who had been impressed by the results after completing one of those interviews with me, later contacted me about the possibility of interviewing me via Google Chat for his onsite students so they could see and incorporate the technique into their journalism toolkits.

A brief chat about the project led us to carry it one huge step forward: we decided to treat the session as a formal e-learning lesson for the university students while demonstrating the ease and efficacy of online chat in reporting and other forms of writing. With a copy of the course syllabus in hand and with access to online postings made by students and some of the other guest lecturers Wilder had attracted, I worked with him to create a brief, prepared written introduction to the topic.

On the day of the class, I sat at my desk in San Francisco and arrived, via chat, in the Las Vegas campus classroom a few minutes before the session began. Wilder let me know when he had finished his face-to-face introduction, and that’s when I began transferring the prepared text, paragraph by paragraph, into the live chat window and sending it in a way that gave students a chance to read the words, piece by piece, on a screen in their classroom. That part of the process took less than five minutes, and we then opened it up to a live question-and-answer session during which Wilder typed in the students’ questions and they saw my responses as quickly as I could type and send them back. What was meant to be a 20-minute experiment lasted nearly an hour.

What followed was even better: Wilder posted the transcript of the chat and encouraged the students to post reactions on the class blog. Our online synchronous learning session continued asynchronously for several days, and one of the most encouraging responses came from a student who said she had already used what she had learned to complete an online interview via Skype.

It’s clear that we are moving far beyond the days when e-learning was comprised of little more than the posting of face-to-face lessons and learning resources onto a static website. With a little creativity and a lot of planning, we can easily use resources including online typed chat, Skype’s conferencing (and typed chat) capabilities, and even a LinkedIn discussion group created especially as an asynchronous online meeting place for learners in a particular course or workshop—an idea explored by my colleague Pat Wagner—to deliver learning that is creative, engaging, effective, and memorable.

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