Sunday, May 11, 2008

The good, bad and ugly of a midwifery web conference

As part of the celebrations of International Day of the Midwife I hooked my class of midwifery students up with a class of midwifery students in Nashville, USA via web conference using Elluminate. This was a joint venture between myself and Mavis Schorn, who is the midwifery educator in Nashville.

The ugly
Despite taking every precaution possible including having a trial run the previous day and having a very supportive technician to hand, getting the technical side of things working took some time. The main problem appeared to be the configuration of the headphones and microphones. I have never had any problems using my lap top at home, but the computers at work appear to be a little more difficult to manage. Even though I thought I had given myself enough time to sort these issues out, it still took longer than I had imagined.

The bad
I found the session to be quite stressful. Because I felt I was trying to sell the concept of web conference to my students and to the people in Nashville, I wanted everything to work perfectly. Unfortunately, because the technical aspects of things took so long to work out, we did not have as much time as we needed to actually engage with each other. Mavis and I presented our slides which talked about how midwifery differed between the two countries, but we ran out of time to discuss things in any greater depth or answer students' questions.

The good
It was fabulous to be able to talk to midwives in another country and once we had sorted out our technical difficulties, the actual running of the Elluminate session went really well. We all worked out how to speak and text each other, and there was some text interaction going on between students as Mavis and I gave our presentation.

I think this has wonderful potential for collaborative teaching sessions and would work especially well when thinking about midwifery in the international context. What I think web conference does is open up possibilities to interact more with key midwives, researchers and educators that students would only get to meet if they went to major midwifery conferences. The barriers to this happening are time constraints for the key midwives, and payment. But ways around this could include reciprocal arrangements eg I'll run session for your students if you do the same for my students.

Reflecting on my goals for the session
My goals included introducing students to web conference and improving my skills of facilitation. I believe the students enjoyed this opportunity, although I don't think they got as much benefit from it as they could have because we were unable to have a full discussion. However, if nothing else, this session did show that web conference has potential which I would like to explore further.

Once the technical side of things were sorted I was able to relax and enjoy the session. I do believe my skills are improving and I am feeling a lot more confident about the actual use of Elluminate. As with anything, the more I do it the better I will feel about it.

Lessons learned

  • Give myself plenty of time to sort technical issues
  • Do not assume that people find Elluminate as easy to manage as I do, especially when working with institution computers that have not already been configured to Elluminate
  • Try to trouble shoot as much as possible before the session
  • Have someone on hand to help support with facilitation and the technical aspects
Finally, a very big 'thank you' to Mavis and all the students who participated. I hope that this will lead to further collaboration. Please feel free to leave any comments or feedback about the session here, or email me.

Here is a recording of the session:


Lisa Barrett said...

This sounds a really interesting way to get different points of view from around the world. I'm sure the students would have gained more from it than you think. Don't forget they didn't have the stres of making it work.

I get excited chatting on msn so I'm sure they were thrilled.

Anonymous said...

Just watched this - looked like a lot of fun - really like the way you can type while people are talking - so efficient and typical of multi-taskers (listening and speaking all at once!)
It seemed like the participants found it quite enjoyable - once it was up and running. In yr 1 we do a session on International midwifery in M101 - just a quick glance/overview at midwifery around the world and I think this would be a far more authentic (although time consuming) way of doing this - and at the same time building networks and familiarity with midwives in other places. With the session I do currently - I have only what I have gleaned from books -to share and find I can't easily answer questions that pop up - but this way we can ask the actual people - which would be much better.
Go Sarah.

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Rae & Lisa, I think this is very exciting and once I got past the stress, I really enjoyed myself. The other thing that will reduce stress is for students to have their own headsets. I got bogged down with looking for headsets. As we all get experienced with web conference, the time involved setting up will be reduced.

Mavis Schorn said...

The midwifery students from Vanderbilt thought the time went very quickly. They seemed to adapt to the Elluminate format quickly even though they were a bit intimidated at the beginning. They were more comfortable with texting than speaking, but found the dual activity of listening to someone while also texting a positive thing. The immediate response was "when are we going to do it again?" I think the session met the goal of exposing the students to group conferencing as well as having a brief discussion about midwifery in another country. They were very excited about it and shared with the classmates that did not make it to the session. I also thought it was very successful. The time to get things set up took a little longer than expected, but the pre-session trial that Sarah and I did made the difference. The whole thing would have been a bust if we had not met ahead of time. Issues we ran into during the test session included me figuring the time difference incorrectly (!) to headset/audio difficulties as Sarah mentioned. Doing the trial run made getting the real session go much easier. I would encourage others to give this technology a try!

Sarah Hanawald said...

Hi Sarah,
I really enjoy your blog, and I would never have *met* you without the comment challenge. I'm not a midwife, but I have two children and wanted to work with a midwife. My girls are twins, and the birthing center/midwife practice kicked me right out when we found that out!

I am going to cite you as a example of why someone in a non-technical field might want to be web 2.0 literate in a meeting I am going to Monday about 21st century literacy and teachers. I never would have had such a concrete example before the comment challenge! thanks for participating!

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi Mavis: great to get that feedback. Obviously, as we become more confident the easier using it will become. I have to say that I am getting used to speaking and reading the text at the same time.

Sarah: Thanks for popping by. Yes, I can imagine the reaction. I have a wonderful video of a twin birth in water here on this blog somewhere!

Let me know how your meeting goes - great to meet you on the challenge.