What is Web Conferencing?
While Skype provides audio and video conferencing and a chat tool, web conferencing software provides a broader set of synchronous communication tools. Some of these additional features include:
- Multi-point audio and video - You can have several people in different locations using cameras and microphones.
- Desktop sharing - You can give live demonstrations of software, go over an assignment in real-time with a student, or even control a participant's application remotely.
- Whiteboard - Participants in multiple locations can work together on the same whiteboard
- Import presentation - You can import a PowerPoint file right into the tool, which is useful for giving presentations to remote audiences.
- Classroom management - You can control the privileges of participants in a session.
- Ability to record sessions - You can record part or all of a session for later reference.
There are several web conferencing tools available on the market, including Elluminate, Centra, Interwise, and WebEx. At NMU we have licenses for a product called Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional.
When is Web Conferencing Useful?
Educational uses of web conferencing range from one-on-one meetings with students to full class sessions. Some specific applications where it can be an appropriate tool include:
- Blended online courses where some aspects are conducted asynchronously on EduCat (e.g., assignments, assessments) and others, such as student presentations, are conducted live via web conferencing.
- Bringing in a guest speaker
- Virtual office hours with students in an asynchronous online class.
- Live distance learning courses that utilize a high level of interaction among students.
- Live distance learning courses where remote students don't have access to ITV tools.
The "7 things you should know about Virtual Meetings" handout from ELI outlines some specific applications and scenarios for web conferencing use.
Who can Use Acrobat Connect? (Licensing)
Most commercial software used at NMU has either a site license, meaning anyone on campus can use it (examples include Microsoft Office and WebCT) or individual licenses, meaning that NMU must have a license assigned to anyone who uses it (examples include Camtasia and Adobe Photoshop).
Acrobat Connect is a little different. NMU has a limited number of "named host" licenses for Acrobat Connect, which are only assigned to faculty. Named hosts have the ability to create virtual meetings and invite other participants to them. Participants (such as students) in meetings do not get a license. There can be up to 100 people in any meeting session. The named host can create as many meetings as he or she wants, but only one can be in session at a given time.
Adobe Connect is web-based and cross platform; it runs through a web browser and the Flash plug-in, which are both standard on NMU laptops. A free add-in is needed to do some functions, but to install it you just need to click "yes" when prompted to install it. It will then install in just a few seconds - no trip to the Help Desk needed.
Signing up for a Free Trial of Acrobat Connect
Because each named host account costs NMU a licensing fee, we only assign them to faculty members who have definite plans to use web conferencing.
Adobe offers a free, 30 day trial of Acrobat Connect Pro that allows faculty to "test drive" the software before requesting a named host account. For the purposes of the workshop, each of you will sign up for the trial. If, after becoming familiar with Acrobat Connect, you decide that want to use it with your classes in the fall, contact the CTL to request a named host account.
Here is the URL for signing up for the free trial:
Follow the steps on-screen. Your account will be active within a few minutes. A representative from Adobe may contact you within a few days of your registering to see if you have questions or if you want to buy a license. Just explain to them that your university has a limited number of licenses and that you are evaluating the software before deciding whether to request one.
Adobe has a nice set of tutorials, documentation (some of which is provided in your handouts), and tips in their Acrobat Connect Pro Resource Center, at http://www.adobe.com/resources/acrobatconnect/
Please be aware that in addition to Acrobat Connect Pro information, there are some references to companion products (e.g., Adobe Presenter, audio teleconferencing) to which NMU does not subscribe.
You can also reach the Resource Center through the Help menu of any Acrobat Connect meeting.