I first got involved in audio-graphics in 1980 (yes, that’s right, 31 years ago – I’m very old, and so is audio-conferencing). Paul Bacsich and colleagues at the U.K. Open University had developed an audio-graphics package (with a stylus and pad) that worked over telephone lines with a specially designed computer. It was called CYCLOPS. We got a $100,000 grant from British Telecom and piloted it on the UK’s regional network, delivering through the Open University’s local learning centres, to enable tutors to provide back-up to the printed correspondence materials. Cyclops was also used to teach French and for helping children with learning disabilities.It worked pretty good (Media in Education and Development, 1983). Unfortunately, the university in its wisdom decided not to patent it or find a commercial partner, so the experiment died. (Sigh – I could have my yacht parked next to Paul Allen’s).
Fast forward to 2011, and many of the features we had in CYCLOPS can now be found in the new Blackboard Collaborate 11, including a stylus and whiteboard that can be shared between participants. Collaborate 11 is partly the result of merging Wimba and Elluminate, both of which were bought recently by Blackboard.
I have to say that Blackboard Collaborate is a big advance on Adobe Connect in terms of the range of tools available (and the big advantage over CYCLOPS is that it is full colour and works on any computer). Collaborate has the following features:
- full desk-top sharing, application sharing, and web sharing for all participants.
- everything is recordable and can be archived.
- it allows up to six simultaneous audio participants for more natural discussion.
- it can operate in six languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Spanish) with automatic translation (presumably it will also handle English).
This allows end users or students to fully participate, create and share materials in real time, making the learning experience much more closely resemble a normal classroom.
And that is my criticism of all synchronous technologies: they attempt to replicate but not to improve on the classroom experience. Although Collaborate gets rid of the fixed place limitation of a classroom, you still have to be there at a fixed time if you wish to participate actively as a learner. Although the technology itself is much better, the teaching remains almost the same as it was in 1983. Furthermore, it will need some time and training to master all the features to get that sense of presence of a good classroom, even with the new and improved Collaborate.
Nevertheless, if synchronous teaching is your bag, this is definitely a big step forward. Unfortunately I was unable to find any pricing information.
If anyone has used Blackboard Collaborate 11 or has information on the pricing, please let me know – it was the cost of telephone lines in the CYCLOPS project that made the Open University withdraw from the experiment.
Media in Education and Development (1983), Vol. 16, No.2