Virtual Attendance, Part II

Purpose: Have a student at home view me lecturing in real time
Tools: Tinychat, computer with webcam

I did not expect this to become a series, but I keep trying new things. My students at San Elijo are wonderfully willing to help out with ways for their sick-at-home colleagues to participate in class, so we’re experimenting.

Last time, we used Chatterous and Skype to have two students participate with their group.

Today was a lecture day, and a student wrote to say she had a yucky cold (I have a firm policy against students attending when sick). I had already planned to record the lecture with my mp3 player and post it with the slides (Slideshare’s audio sync is now working again). But she mentioned she’d be available online all through class time, just like on a lab day. I thought, why not let her attend in real time?

I asked about Skype, but she didn’t use Skype (she replied from her iPhone). I remembered that Tinychat has something broadcast-y with audio and video — we had tried it just as a chat room once in class. I opened that Tinychat room I’d created before, surprised it was still there. I tested it briefly in my office, but couldn’t tell whether you needed to log in or not. (Students in the room last time told me some couldn’t enable their camera unless they were somehow logged in.)  Then there was the issue of sound. I wanted to use a real microphone, since the classroom’s computer is about 15 feet away from where I pace and speak at the front of the room. I grabbed the big microphone on my desk and my mp3 player and went to class a few minutes early.

In the classroom, I plugged in my fancy schmancy Snowball microphone into the iMac, opened Tinychat, and just entered the chat room as me without logging in. I clicked Broadcast. It showed me, very clearly, with the front of the room, also clear, behind me. My student was there, and typed that she could see.

I needed to test the sound so I looked around and one of my students was using his laptop. I asked if he’d mind coming into the chat and check if he could hear me. He came into the room, his camera coming on instantly. He couldn’t hear me, but the student at home said she could. WTF? It turned out my voice was coming to her through his computer – we couldn’t get the Snowball to work, even though I quickly tried all three settings. The whole time, another student helped us test, having me turn off the room audio to prevent feedback, etc. Everyone was very laid back and it was  no big deal. At 5 minutes after the hour, I wrote to the at-home student we needed to start. She could just use the slide links I posted and she could hear through her colleagues’ in-class computer.

But instead, the student with the laptop got up and put it on a desk at the front of the room facing me. Now the student at home could see me, see the slides, and hear me too. I went ahead with the lecture. At about 40 minutes, my mp3 player died (low battery). When my students were in groups working, I unplugged the Snowball and tested sound with my at-home student by using the iMac’s internal mic. She could hear me from 15 feet away, no problem.

So this is what we could do next time. If I don’t have someone with a laptop (I could bring mine), I can open Tinychat on the class computer and use its internal microphone, clicking broadcast. If I do have a laptop, we can do the same thing with a laptop in front of me.

And this Snowball is going out to pasture.

2 thoughts to “Virtual Attendance, Part II”

  1. This sounds like a great learning experience! I was never given the opportunity to participate in classes while I was home sick, it was always up to me to catch up once I was feeling better. I think that you are doing a great job by providing a learning experience for students who want to participate in class even if they are unable to physically be in the classroom.
    I have also never heard of Tinychat, this is definitely a tool I will have to look into.
    Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Thank you for sharing this!
    It is great to know that there are other ways of getting students learning and involved! Great ideas!

Comments are closed.