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April 23 2012

eCoaching Tip 97: An FAQ on Getting Started with and Using the Live Classroom

Note: This tip was written specifically for the live classroom tool, Wimba. Wimba is now Blackboard Collaborate.  While Collaborate differs in some respects from Wimba or Elluminate, another live classroom tool, the functions and purposes of real time communication with your students is the same.


In the last weeks of any course, we are often looking for ways of hearing our students’ voices in real time. We also want see evidences of their newly acquired skills and perspectives. For hearing and seeing from your learners, be sure to consider the Wimba live classroom in your list of tools. Interacting in real time is a great way to gather your students for sharing learning discoveries and inquiries.

With the new Blackboard, the Wimba classroom is now very easy to set up and use.  So if you have ever wondered how to use the Wimba classroom or wondered how to get started with it, this tip is for you. This tip offers frequently–asked questions about effective planning and uses for events in the Wimba classroom. This FAQ aims to demystify the process and have you saying, “Yes, this looks easy!”  And “ I want to try this!”
The first question asked is usually something like the following:

1.  Why, for what instructional uses, would I use a Wimba classroom gathering?
This is a great first question because we don’t want to use technology just to use it. Here is the absolutely best feature of a Wimba Classroom — students can talk with you and each other in real time. Think of it as a group phone call with visuals.  This phone call is further enhanced with a chat room for commenting, suggesting or asking questions. With a Wimba “call” you can talk to your students and they can talk to you in real time, gathering together across distances large and small.
Here are some of the top teachings and learning uses of the Wimba classroom:

  • Question and Answer Review. The Wimba Classroom is ideal for having question and answer reviews on the core concepts. It is great as a module or forum summary. Discussions in real time work well for these kinds of learning activities:  brainstorming ideas, clarifying concepts, generating new relationships and connections, and reaffirming discipline ways of thinking. All these discussion activities complement the asynchronous discussion forums.
  • Virtual office hours.  These are another way of using the classroom.  Rather than exchanging a set of emails with small groups over 2-3 days, the Wimba classroom is an efficient tool for discussing proposals for projects, for generating ideas for projects, and for questions, such as “what if” or “what would you think?”  It can be a boon to supporting the social and teaching presence dimensions of your course.
  • Discussion of major project assignments. The Wimba classroom can be a great tool for a discussions focusing on clarifying goals and expectations of a significant project, or for sharing completed or almost completed course projects in the last weeks of a term.
  • Process Demonstrations.  The Wimba Classroom is invaluable for demonstrating the steps in a process such as working through complex math problems, for demonstrating scenario analysis tools, or for demonstrating discipline processes, such as clinical reasoning. If fact, any time content calls for modeling process skills, the Wimba Classroom is a good tool choice.

Another frequently asked question is:

2. With spontaneous real time features, the Wimba Classroom sounds like a great tool for giving a lecture that I have missed from my days of face-to-face teaching.  How about using it for lectures?  
Well, yes, you can, but is this a recommended use? Not really.  Here is what we want to do with this synchronous — at the same time — tool. We want to hear what the students are thinking. We want to hear their questions and their ideas. It is a tool designed for spontaneous exchanges, of meeting mind to mind.

3.  But I could use it to create concept introduction and demonstrations with mini-lectures, couldn’t I?   
Yes, the Wimba tool can be used for creating mini-lectures that you might want to re-use. In fact, since many faculty are hesitant to use YouTube or VoiceThread to do their welcomes or their short concept introductions and overviews, this can be an effective tool for these types of teaching communications. Creating short — 5 to 7 minute — demonstrations or mini-lectures might be a good practice strategy for you as well. But remember, mini-lectures are best used asynchronously. When scheduling Wimba gathering events it is best to maximize interaction, discussion and spontaneous exchanges. The goal is to hear voices.

4.  I worry that I would have to do a lot of planning for meeting the students “face-to-face.”  How much planning do I need to do?
First of all, planning is always a good idea. You do want to have a clear purpose for why you are gathering your students together. Sometimes the purpose can be as simple as creating a time dedicated to questions, answers, thinking aloud, and hearing what your students are thinking. It can also be a time for students to hear you confirm or challenge their thinking in real time.
For getting started, though, keep your first Wimba meeting informal and risk-free for you and your students.  Your first Wimba meeting can be just an informal gathering to “meet and greet” and check out the use of the classroom. You could hold a meeting a week into your course and just ask students how everything is going, for example. Also, it is good to know that more and more students have experience with Wimba or similar tools and can support everyone else getting up to speed. Ask your students to help set up and run the first session.

5. How do I get started? How do I access the Wimba Classroom tool? What does it look like?
Here is the very good news. Using the Wimba classroom is now one of the ten “Interactive tools” options in your course menu. All you need to do is select that item and follow the instructions for setting up your classroom.

Wimba in menu

By the way, don’t worry about having to know “everything” before getting started with the Wimba Classroom. Start and you can — as we do with so much technology — “learn as you go.”

6.  Do I need to worry about my students being intimidated by the technology? 
Worry, No. But it is always a good idea to remind students about where help is. Your newer students actually have an added resource, as they have access to a Blackboard Orientation site that lets them practice using some of the newer collaborative tools, such as blogs, wikis, and the Wimba Classroom in a totally risk-free environment.
For your “older” students and for you, too, there is the Bb Help section within Blackboard. On this Wimba Help page are sections for both instructors (middle column) and for students (the right column). The sections that I find most useful are called, Live Classroom Basics. 
Some of the link questions include: 

FAQ questions on using Wimba

7.  Could I do a “pilot” event with just 3 to 5 students? 
Absolutely.  And that is a very good idea. In fact, you could make an announcement that you would like to hold a pilot event and ask for 4-5 volunteers. The practice event could include volunteers trying out the tools, such as posting a discussion question, a graphic program, using and hosting the chat room, demonstrating or sharing a web site, or uploading a PowerPoint. Some students might be “Wimba experts” and volunteer to help others get started.

8.  How do I select a time to hold a Wimba event?  Students are busy and finding a time to gather synchronously, at the same time, might be difficult.

First of all, finding a time that will work for everyone is generally an exercise in frustration. Simply set a goal of finding a time that works for many, then record the event. The most important decision in scheduling an event is to make certain it works well for you, so that you are fresh. So, identify two times during a week that would work for you, possibly a day option and an evening option, and ask students to respond with a preference. You can also set up a Doodle survey, as we have done for scheduling the SLPA faculty webinars. After some feedback from students, just make a choice and go for it. You can refine your processes as you go.

9.  What about the students who can’t make the live event?
This is one of the real benefits of the Wimba tool. There is no need to anguish over those students who will not be able to make it, because you will archive it — by pushing a button — and those who cannot participate in real time can view the archive. Listening to the archive of a synchronous event is similar to watching a talk show, but focused on the core concepts or core content. Such live discussions are usually more exciting, current and personalized than watching a “canned” packaged content resource.

10.  OK, I am ready, what do I do?
Depending on where you are in a term, you can set up a classroom and do a small practice session with yourself and one or two students or friends. Or you might go into your new course and create a short welcome and course introduction for your next group of students.
Then the next step is to plan for using the Wimba classroom for one of the uses described earlier.  A discussion forum wrap-up conversation is a good way to start.
If you want to set up a totally volunteer session, ask for 2-3 students to hold a session on a topic, such as their proposed project. Then, find a time that is good for the volunteers, schedule it and set it up. There is a link to a pdf for student presenters in the Wimba Classroom that is part of Bb Help. 

11.  Is there a good learning activity for the end of the term?
Yes, here is another activity that helps to wrap up the cognitive work of a course.  Open up a discussion board and ask the students to post the top 2-3 knowledge facts or insights from the course that they believe will serve as foundation blocks for their next courses /or next phase in their life. Then hold a Wimba event that asks students to share their most important insight and what difference it is making to /for them.  Another fun thing to ask is for your students to share a piece of advice to future students.

12. I hear from other faculty that it can be difficult to monitor the audio stream of the conversation and also to keep track and monitor the chat room questions and streams of thought.  Is there a way to manage these multiple channels?

My favorite strategy is getting the students involved. Monitoring the chat room is a great way for students to take charge and assist in making the Wimba event work for everyone. Here are some of the duties of the “chat host.”

  • Meet and greet the participants
  • Acknowledge comments, questions and encourage other students to comment
  • Judge when questions, comments should be addressed by the webinar leader.

 A Contact Person for Help, if Needed

By now, you are probably brave enough to try the Wimba Classroom. However, it is always good to have the contact info of a great resource person. Ask around for the best person for your campus.

Also if you like learning new skills via online webinars, check out all the archived and live event webinars available at the Wimba site at http://www.wimba.com/company/events/wow/


College of St. Scholastica (2009). Success with Wimba Classroom.  Retrieved 10/30/2012 from http://resources.css.edu/it/atc/bbupgrade/wimbafiles/success_wimba.pdf.  This is conference material from a Wimba webinar. It is a set of short but valuable tips and hints about getting started with Wimba, with examples of announcements to students.

University of Massachusetts (n.d). Wimba Live Classroom Student Tips. Retrieved 10/30/2012 from http://www.umassd.edu/media/umassdartmouth/cits/pdfs/wimbastudentquicktips.pdf

Welcome to Learner-Centered Teaching Blog (2008). 10 Tips for Your First Experience with Wimba Live Classroom. Retrieved 10/30/2012 from http://learnercentered.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/10-tips-for-your-first-experience-with-wimba-live-classroom/ This is a great set of tips as well for getting your feet wet with the Wimba Live Classroom from a blog created by a group of faculty at Georgia Southern University.

Wimba (2008). Wimba Classroom: Five Teaching Tips and Trouble Shooting Guide.  Retrieved 10/30/2012 from http://www.wimba.com/assets/resources/WC_Success_Guide.pdf

These E-coaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized and updated through 2010 in a book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached at judith followed by designingforlearning.org.



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Revised May 20 2013
Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 1997-2013