Our Maths, Computing and Technology Faculty has been running trials with Elluminate, a suite of synchronous collaboration tools, on a range of mainly maths courses. Ben Mestel reported last week on the work he’s been coordinating on this with colleagues Tim Lowe, Gaynor Arrowsmith and Gareth Williams. Elluminate, is being deployed for a range of purposes, primarily scheduled e-tutorials. So what do the students think of it so far?
86 students have completed a survey and show the following on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 5 (very good)
Please rate the technical quality of the session:
Ease of logging on to Elluminate (4.4)
Continuity of connection (4.1)
Audio quality (3.7)
Text chat (4.4)
Whiteboard (ease of input) (3.9)
Whiteboard (legibility) (4.3)
Application sharing (if used) (3.4)
Web tours (if used) (4.0)
File sharing (if used) (4.3)
Webcam (if used) (3.9)
Break-out rooms (if used) (4.1)
Overall technical quality (4.1)
Please rate the tools in this session as aids to learning:
Use of whiteboard (4.2)
Prepared material (4.4)
Text chat (4.1)
Application sharing (if used) (3.7)
Web tour (if used) (4.3)
Polling (if used) (4.5)
Webcam (if used) (3.9)
Break-out rooms (if used) (4.2)
There were many positive comments such as the following:
As the course has no face-to-face tutorials or day schools this was an excellent alternative. It overcame the feeling of isolation that I experienced on previous courses. The tutor had prepared well and I found it very helpful to be taken through examples. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of getting started and I hope that these sessions will become a regular feature of courses which do not have scheduled tutorials.
Many students mentioned that this helped to reduce their sense of isolation as distance learners. There’s also the avoidance of travel, with added benefits for the planet as well as the learner:
Being able to be at a tutorial in the comfort of my home
Tutors involved in the trials have also been surveyed and are on the whole similarly positive about the experience. One student showed just how useful she found the increased contact with her tutor:
It was lovely to have real time access to my tutor as I am unable to attend the usual tutorials. This was very immediate and I could ask anything I liked.
There are some caveats to the generally very positive comments. First of all, no matter how good the software and preparations are, some users will have problems with hardware, microphones etc, and internet connections:
I thought the session was excellent. My computer let me down a little going to screen saver too frequently. My dial-up connection was slow so I am resolved to get broadband. The charts and accompanying voice explanation were first class and I am lookinf forward to the next eTutorial!
A number of students mentioned audio quality being an issue at times. The use of a hosted service from Canada may explain this.
at some points the audio did break up, but not to any real detriment,to the lesson,also the white board became cluttered up with so many inputs i.e. typing over the top of other type.
The lag that occurs when different people talk was the main problem. Another, issue was heavy breathing!
Despite the technical glitches, the use of such tools in the future will surely have benefits for student retention:
The fact that we could have a tutorial at all overrides any of the technical problems. This gave me a boost to continue studying.