Tech Platform for Online Classes

This October, Creating the Future will launch the first of a whole new series of online classes. These classes will provide the opportunity for participants to learn and especially practice the Catalytic Thinking framework that was previously taught only in 5-day, in-person immersion courses. Our goal is that students have the opportunity to go just as deep, if not even deeper into this set of practi than time permits in the in-person class.

The curriculum is anticipated to be 5 courses, each taking 2-3 months, with a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning time.  (You can find more information about that curriculum here ) The first series of online classes will be BETA classes, as we refine both the content and the format for teaching this material as effectively as possible.

One of the most important aspects of that exploration will be the technology that supports this online immersive experience.

As we have considered the digital class environment and what we want it to make possible, here are some of requirements that we see as important.

  • The ability to create a safe environment for small cohorts (The classes will have no more than 8 learners plus 2 co-instructors/facilitators.)
  • The ability to have seamless live video between everyone in a specific class at the same time, preferably with each person’s image being the same size (unlike Google hangouts where the person speaking is large and everyone else is tiny).
  • Video breakout spaces where the class can break into (for example) 3 groups of 3 for more intimate conversation during the synchronous class time
  • Ability for students to connect in the “classroom space” via video outside of class time, to allow access to the other resources they might need during their call (see below re: whiteboard etc).
  • The ability during the class to text chat in real time with everyone and also in private streams between individuals
  • The ability to play videos and listen to podcasts and other multimedia presentations during the synchronous class time.
  • A whiteboard that can be used by everyone in real time, and the ability to save the boards for future reference.
  • A digital library space that will be both private for a specific cohort (class) and open to all the participants in future classes
  • Simplicity of operation with intuitive features. Reliable. Expandable based on future needs.

Looking at the requirements has raised a whole bunch of questions:

  1. What else might it take for an online learning platform to be immersive and engaging for the teachers and the students in real time and between real-time classes? What other attributes have we forgotten in this list, that you have either found helpful in existing online environments or wish existed (and you haven’t found it yet)?
  1. What platforms currently exist that accomplish all or some of this, in both institutional and non-institutional settings?

Which raises the question:

  1. What are the good aspects and not-so-good aspects of those existing teaching / learning platforms? How well do they accomplish complex educational objectives in highly interactive environments?

Our dream is that such a platform exists and can be easily adapted for our needs. If that is not the case, in the short term we’ll use what might be 2nd or 3rd best.

In the end, Creating the Future cannot accomplish its mission without such a rich and agile platform, which means we cannot make do with 2nd best for very long.

So please, help us find what does exist. And if it does not exist, stay tuned. Because the next blog post you see on this topic may just be an invitation to join in creating an open source, community built platform to facilitate 21st Century educational online experiences, not just for large institutions but for the rest of us.

4 Responses to Tech Platform for Online Classes
  1. Troy Alford
    August 25, 2015 | 10:00 pm

    Dimitri –

    Of the various conferencing softwares which I’ve used, GoToMeeting (http://www.gotomeeting.com/) and WebEx (http://www.webex.com) are definitely the best. Both allow for nearly everything you’ve listed – I’m just not sure about the break-out groups. Both are also widely used enterprise-level software – so they will scale nicely.

    Unfortunately, along with the great background, my understanding is that both can be somewhat pricey – though perhaps they have “non-profit” accounts which are discounted? Even if not listed on their site – it’s almost certainly worth asking a customer support rep about.

    Troy

  2. Annette Sandberg
    August 26, 2015 | 4:46 pm

    I agree with Troy that gotomeeting and gotowebinar would be good places to start. I haven’t checked lately, but techsoup.com has in the past had deep gotomeeting discounts for non-profit organizations. Skype would also be a great option for people to meet between sessions, since their group feature is now free for up to 25 people. I’m very excited you’ll be offering training online.

  3. Debra Beck
    August 28, 2015 | 7:15 am

    If I understand what you want to accomplish here, you need not only a video platform but also an LMS for the asynchronous interactions and file sharing. Depending on how far you want to go, you may be able to pull something together from free sources (Google products can provide many of them and would be accessible to most). Or you may need a dedicated space.

  4. Judi Piggott
    October 5, 2015 | 8:13 pm

    I have access to use Adobe Connect through my employer, a public post-secondary institution, and I like it. But for the community benefit sector, and others who need solid options that are affordable, there have been some interesting new options come into being lately that i have begun to try, and encourage you to go see if they might be the answer for you.

    Only a few days ago, I attended a demonstration webinar of a new platform that blew me away as a facilitator (they used it to deliver the webinar, so it was experiential) – designed specifically for dialogue and open space and breakouts, with video and/or audio, among other tools. Go see it at http://www.qiqochat.com. It occurred to me that as a person aging with decreasing mobility myself, this was a platform where my skills as a facilitator and coach working in the sector could still be offered for online versions of Open Space. It was awesome.

    So I did sign up and am playing with it – so far so good. They have an affiliate program so I signed up for that – all of this really with the aim of testing, but at some point if I develop some working courses or dialogues on it, who knows?

    Next: if you are familiar with using Moodle for online courses (it’s open source, and the software is free to download and host on your own site) you may not know that very very recently, the Moodle community has started hosting it for you in the cloud. See http://www.moodlecloud.com for more info.

    Thinkific.com:
    And last but not least, I live in Vancouver, which is also the location of Hootsuite, which has a great community engagement strategy and makes its office available to community groups for events and meetings. NetSquared often holds awesome NetTuesday events there, focussed on social media and technology for/with non-profits. But that’s by the way, they have also just launched an online series of courses for knowledge enhancement in the area of Social Media/Digital Media. They call it Podium. Free and really good stuff (and fun to see local examples used in the videos and workbooks for a change). https://education.hootsuite.com/collections#sign_in

    But Podium is built on a platform called Thinkific.com Which I am also testing. So thats the long and short of it.
    Happy hunting.


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