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Interview: Virtual Classroom Reviews

Karen Hyder has been teaching about technology using technology since 1991 when she began offering applications-software courses for Logical Operations/Ziff-Davis Education in the middle of the Windows and Microsoft Office explosion.

She founded Kaleidoscope Training and Consulting, which offers courses for technical trainers and subject-matter experts to improve delivery and presentation skills, learn online training strategies, and prepare for MCT and CTT+ designation.

Q. So Karen, what do you do?

I teach people to teach. It used to be that I would teach about technology and now I teach about how to use technology to teach. My clients are usually trainers or subject matter experts who want to deliver a clear, engaging session to learners who are with them face-to-face, or online in a virtual classroom.

I started out teaching English as a second language in the late ‘80s. Then I worked in a public training center during the PC boom in the ‘90s where I taught about 50-60 new students per week.

I’ve been teaching using virtual classrooms since ’99 and I was instrumental in developing CompTIA’s CTT+ certification for online trainers.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m thrilled when my learners don’t need me anymore.

I love watching the people I coach become confident and capable presenters! They come to me with unique content, not believing they can be successful, but they trust me.

By the end of our time together, they understand what it takes to use the tools available to co-create a learning environment with their students. They come to realize, while it’s not easy, taking the time to prepare and practice makes an incredible difference in their training.

I also like that I don’t (normally) have to commute or work in an office. It’s ok once in a while, but my place is much nicer!

Q. Have you ever had any really difficult students/unwilling participants? If so, how did you deal with that situation?

Yes. The way I respond depends on the duration of the program.

  1. For multi-day sessions, I ask participants to complete surveys after each session. I then check in with people to find out what’s working or not. I can then adjust course or method for the next session.
  2. In a one-shot session, I just continue to invite people to participate. I thank them for participating and validate their responses. I would never advocate begging, nagging or belittling. I also never call on people randomly.

Better to start with a low-commitment question like “Have you experienced this?” Then ask those who agreed to volunteer to speak up and describe.

Q. You said that you’ve been “teaching using the virtual classroom since ’99,” how has the virtual classroom changed since then?

My entre into this was with a tool called Placeware—it’s now called Microsoft Live Meeting. I used to do face-to-face train-the-trainer courses with a investment bank that had employees all over the world. Their trainers were already using the tool without much success.

They brought me in to develop and teach the TTT course remotely. I found out what worked and paired the software resources with my instructional content and a new career path sprang forth.

Placeware was a dog. It was even brown. Or think of how the Space Shuttle looks up close, like some kid’s effort with salvage from an ancient camper van and some gold Christmas wrapping paper. It had contortions such as, in order to “chat” with another participant, you must change the row in which the icon that represents you on screen is in the same row as the other person’s icon.

Also, all chat’s are 1:1. If a trainer asks a verbal question and then asks participants to type responses, each response shows up in a separate chat pod so the trainer is pelted in the face with little boxes. Then she has to close each one to see the slides again. Handy!

On the other hand, Elluminate was an early tool that was excellent. At The eLearning Guild, we used it in the early 2000s to do regular webinars and it supported us very well.

It had a good set of features like open chat, a much better system for polling than Placeware and very good VoIP audio. It bugged me that PowerPoint animations didn’t animate. I use a lot of animations in my online session files. It helps me keep things in bite-sized pieces.

We didn’t use VoIP for the project Placeware project, everyone was afraid of it. But as network infrastructure improved for end users through the next decade (note: post-9/11), software tools also improved bandwidth management.

Consistency in audio quality improved while users expectation of quality leveled off as more people used Skype, mobile phones, and VoIP phone services. There are still issues with streaming media, but loading media in advance is a great option.

I’ve been using Adobe Acrobat Connect for years and it is nothing like Placeware. It’s functional, it’s flexible, it’s elegant. It’s made up of moveable, sizeable pods that support features like polls, chat, media files, notes, ppt or pdf files and photos.

I can pre-create layouts (workspaces) of pods and move my whole audience to that layout with one click. Session rooms persist so that everything I create there stays the way I left it (right down to the chat messages from the last session), but can be changed or cleared anytime.

All participants have permission to broadcast messages to the group, or can send private messages. All permissions can be turned on or off at any time. WebEx and Go-To-Training are also excellent tools, but neither has that flexibility of moveable, sizeable pods.

Q. How do you see the field of professional changing in the next 5-10 years?

Which field? People like me who support online presenters?

To some degree, we will be less important. Software will become more user friendly and users will become more skilled. As network infrastructure improves globally, there will be less need for troubleshooting user access problems (I hope).

That said, there will STILL be a lot of people who can’t do it or can’t use virtual classrooms well. There will be a continuing need for instructional design and coaching on best practices for engagement and delivery.

Heck, for almost 20 years I’ve been teaching people how to improve their face-to-face classroom training skills and there are always more people who need to learn.

We will be required to integrate tools and methods more. Imagine Tweeting and the tweets show up in the WebEx chat. Or typing in WebEx chat and the question gets posted on the course discussion board and stays there well after the WebEx session is over.

Tools like Adobe Connect make it possible to have participants interact with Flash interactions independently of the trainer or each other, so trainers and designers will need skills to develop asynchronous components that are used in the synchronous event.

More of her interview can be found at on Interact YX’s blog.

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