Does the tool really do the job?

I’m up to my eyeballs investigating options for running a live, online launch. It’s interesting that once you take the wrapping off the box of some of the web conference products you quickly find out just what the strengths and limitations are.

The marketing hype promises seamless use of video and application sharing. But during a recent trial of Webex Event Centre we spent an hour viewing barely a single moving image. Somehow the formats uploaded didn’t work (mainly because I was uploading from a Mac), then there was a problem from down the line when somebody didn’t have all the right browser plugins or Java updates.

It was frustrating and pre-figured some of the difficulties participants may face.

Our fears about the likely difficulties of running an online event in the way we envisage were realised. For all the convenience all-in-one web conference software might offer (ie integrated presentations, whiteboards, VOIP, chat, recording, registration, etc) it seems sharing pre-recorded video is not a strength.

The lesson in all this is not to take the claims of marketers at face value (who is surprised when I suggest this), and really drill down into the specifics of what is offered. I’m realistic to know some trade-offs are inevitable, but it’s best not to sacrifice the most important type of interaction or content to be shared. In this instance it’s all about wanting to share high quality video.

The matching of technology to audience, event goals, and processes is actually a complicated business. It’s something we’re all having to grapple with in the #FO09 course. In November students are jointly running an online mini-conference. Each is choosing the way to deliver each conference sessions, as well as the topic, with initial ideas being shared through the course wiki.

Facilitating learning in an online setting, raises some alarm bells for my classmate Willie Campbell. She says:

I am conscious of the constraints and affordances of any platform you use to work with others in an educational way. Doesn’t matter whether or not it is digital or manual. SO choose wisely- is this piece of digital technology able to be accessed, understood, interpreted by your group of learners? If not, then why are you choosing it?

With my recent experiences and Willie’s words ringing in my ear, I actually think it is very relevant to delve into methods and practices that help community leaders and teachers get the balance right between activities, processes and technology choices. In a few words this seems to be about stewarding technology for communities, as described by Wenger, White and Smith in Digital Habitats.

The mini-conference is open to the wider public so I’m keen to hear about the level of interest in a session exploring these sorts of issues. Two options present themselves: hearing from someone who has studied in this area, or inviting two or three local practitioners to share their insights and then have a conversation.

I’ve got a month to get organised, so let me know your views.

BTW: I’m not one to be put off, so we have begun exploring another avenue to host the live website launch. The goal is to remove any impediments to people joining in, particularly any software constraints that mean people walk away dis-satisfied and potentially bearing some sort of a grudge against the website being launched.