Elluminate, owned by Blackboard, an American company, is used in the course to discuss synchronously (in real time) with fellow students and the tutor. Time and date are fixed, and participants are asked to read the paper and study some questions beforehand.
The session starts with a 10-minute intro by the tutor, highlighting the main points of the paper. Next, participants form small breakout groups to discuss the questions. After 15 minutes all get back to the plenary session to present and discuss their ideas. The software has a white-board screen for notes and a chatbox.
Unfortunately, my first session was pretty much ruined by continuous technological problems, probably caused by a lack of bandwidth. This made that I missed part of the presentation and discussion, and couldn't use the microphone. I was therefore limited to the chatbox, and even then, I dropped out a few times.
Nevertheless, if technological problems can be solved, the tool offers potential benefits:
- It carries a higher status than posting on the course forum. You need to book the session explicitly in your agenda, it becomes a shared event. This also reduces flexibility, and some may regard it as an intrusion.
- Peer pressure is higher. You don't want to be the only one who hasn't read the paper or prepared the questions.
- Sessions can be nice for social bonding. Hearing each other's voice makes the learning a bit less "distant" than merely working asynchronously. You get more "social statements" during a live session than in the forum discussions. This feeling was shared by several participants.
However, there are some criticisms:
- One student remarked that due to all kinds of technological issues, only a fraction of the originally planned lesson could be finished. Often, it was the group work part that was dropped, since that caused the most technological problems.
- Technological problems may offer an easy "excuse" for less motivated students.
So, the jury is still out, next session is planned for March 1. Hopefully with fewer hiccups.