Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More on Echo360

Because I posted on my blog about Echo360, I have been contacted by a marketing person from Echo360 who is interested in what I have to say. Here is what I told her about my experiences so far.

I think Echo360 is a very useful tool, but there are some other features that would help. One thing I think would be useful is to integrate a discussion forum with the lecture capture. The way I would envision this working is that when a student is watching the lecture online, if he has a question he can click a button and type his question in, then the question would be tagged with a timestamp indicating what point in the lecture he asked that. And there would be a way to link to a particular timestamp in the lecture. Then the instructors/TAs can log on and look at the questions, and when you looked at a given question you would have a link to the associated point in the lecture. Or an instructor could answer by pointing the student toward a particular place in the lecture. This would be useful to me because oftentimes when I talk to students, they say the instructor told them something which doesn't sound right to me, but it's hard to clear up the confusion without the lecture in front of me.

Another problem, which is a little more technical, has to do with the sound. The way our setup works is that there are two microphones, one worn by the instructor and one "shotgun" microphone. The one the instructor wears has much better sound quality but only captures what the instructor says, while the shotgun microphone can capture everything in the room. So one of the things I have to do is when the instructor pauses for students to ask questions, switch to the shotgun microphone, and then switch back when the instructor starts talking. This often isn't very reliable and you don't get all the questions. So a useful tool would be to have two or more audio channels going into the system, and it would automatically switch between them depending on who is talking.

I'm also taking a TA training seminar where we are reading the book "Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors" by Linda B. Nilson. That book talks a lot about how traditional lectures aren't very good at promoting student understanding, and has lots of suggestions for how to improve lectures. For instance, one way of improving lectures is to periodically stop and give students a question to answer and discuss in order to keep them engaged. Something like this could be incorporated into Echo360 - if you had a system like the one I described in the first paragraph, then the instructor could put a question on the whiteboard and ask students to answer it by posting something. It might even be possible to set up a system where the instructor can set the lecture to automatically pause and ask the student a question, and not to continue until the student gives an answer.

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