Adobe Connect: Expanding the Reach of the Classroom

I recently received the following email inquiry, “What is Adobe Connect, and how can it support my faculty?”  Great question. I’ll start with an anecdote.

The Mystery Guest

Adobe Connect with the Mystery Guest

The Mystery Guest makes his appearance via Adobe Connect

Last Spring, I took the graduate course Teaching and Learning Online with Judi Harris, Pavey Family Chair in Educational Technology, in the School of Education.  As a course requirement, we read The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education by Curtis Bonk, Professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University.  Dr. Bonk’s survey of education in the wake of Web influences is far-reaching in scope and at times shocking.  From his overview of the democratizing nature of MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses like Stanford’s course on Artificial Intelligence) to his outline of the growth of OERs (Open Education Resources like Coursera), Dr. Bonk paints a picture of education that is drastically different from my own insulated experiences as a former school teacher and adjunct instructor.

After reading the text, Judi posted a discussion board prompt in Blackboard asking what we’d like to say to Dr. Bonk, given the hypothetical opportunity. In the safe confines of a Blackboard discussion, we questioned some of Dr. Bonk’s observations: What about the need to credential learning?  What about the digital divide?  What about implications in the traditional face to face classroom?

Judi scheduled a follow up real-time discussion debriefing in Adobe Connect, a Web conferencing tool.  About halfway through our discussion, an unknown Mystery Guest appeared during our discussion.  (By now, you’ve probably guessed where this is going).  Judi had invited Dr. Bonk, the author of the very text that we were critically responding to, to meet us in Adobe Connect.  At that moment, we were impelled to voice our critiques to a very present author.  What resulted was a lively conversation about the implications for teaching and learning in a world of learner customization and self-direction.  At one point during the conversation, Dr. Bonk jumped up on his kitchen chair.  Later, my impish three year old broke into my physical study space, and streaked naked, post-bath, past my webcam. (Note: this is a consideration for those who may be interested in using Adobe Connect instructionally.  If you are not fond of cats on couches or of skulking family members, you may need to set some parameters with your students.)  Luckily for me, Judi found that the ‘natural’ settings of her graduate students’ family and professional lives added a ‘humanness’ to our online meetings.

A few short weeks after our online discussion in Adobe Connect, Dr. Bonk was in town for a meeting.  He contacted Judi asking if the students from that online session would like to have dinner in Williamsburg (minus the rogue three year old).  We met and dined at The Blue Talon.  Our online discussion in Adobe Connect opened the door to this “real life” connection.

The Virtual Coach

Last August, I met with Gail Hardinge, Clinical Associate Professor of School Psychology, who was looking for a solution to promoting community building and instruction for her School Psychology Internship course.  This course, taught mostly at a distance, supports 12 school psychology interns working through their practicum experience in schools across the Commonwealth.   Gail decided to use a mix of Blackboard tools, WM Wikis, and live Adobe Connect sessions.  New to the web conferencing platform, Gail spent some time testing the waters by running a couple of mock meetings. In her first live session with students, Gail devoted 10 to 15 minutes helping her students get comfortable with the technology.  By the second session, Gail’s students were comfortably engaging in discussion to the point that, according to Gail, the technology just seemed to fade into the background.  At that session, students elected to continue the discussion 20 minutes past the scheduled meeting time. For the next time around, Gail has decided to initiate virtual office hours in Connect, to provide both real-time one to one consultation and to build students’ comfort with the conferencing tool.

Take a Test Drive

Adobe Connect is a web conferencing solution that allows folks in separate locations to meet, text, chat, discuss, share and present material in real time.  If you’ve ever attended a webinar, you’ve used a similar platform (for example: WebEx, GoToMeeting, Blackboard Collaborate).  In the School of Education, some faculty have used Connect to support blended (part face to face and part online) instruction, to bring guest speakers into the classroom, and to provide outreach and professional development.

If you’re interested in exploring a tool to support web collaboration, I’d recommend taking one for a test drive to see if it’s a good fit for your needs.  Adobe Connect is certainly not the only web conferencing tool out there.  Skype, Facetime, and other web conferencing platforms like WebEx and Blackboard Collaborate provide other platforms for hosting online meetings.  And, there are some considerations.  It’s best to run Adobe Connect on a wired connection rather than a wireless connection, for example.  Some Connect users experience an echo loop, although this can generally be remedied by connecting a headset mic.

I hope this post answers the question raised at the beginning of this post.  The goal of any web conferencing tool is to bring people together in real-time when a face to face meeting may not be possible. Ideally, the choice of platform during a Web meeting should fade into the background so that the interaction, collaboration, and presentation are center.  If you’d like to demo Adobe Connect, just let me know.  For those interested in purchasing a license, the cost is $150 per academic year.  Please feel free to send any questions my way.  Happy connecting.

About April Lawrence

April Lawrence is the Academic Technologist for the School of Education. A high school English teacher for ten years, April also worked in online course design and development before joining the AIS staff. April is a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy, Planning & Leadership at William & Mary. Her research interests include exploring the intersections of culture, technology integration, and learning.