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Audio-Video-Textual conferencing (AVT) options.

In a recent Kairos article, "Expanding the Space of f2f," Melanie Yergeau, Katie Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg make the case for online synchronous tutoring. Though arguments for online tutoring, synchronous or not, have been made frequently over the last fifteen years, what is different about this piece is an emphasis on what they called "audio-video-textual conferencing" or AVT tutoring. Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg argue tutorials that include these elements, through video chat and digital document exchange, come closer to replicating what is good about face-to-face tutorials than asynchronous tutorials do. Though asynchronous tutoring has its own appeals, there is no arguing that AVT tutorials will look more like face-to-face (f2f) tutorials. Many writing center professionals, for this reason, might prefer AVT over asynchronous tutoring, yet find themselves with one stubborn question: How do we do that?

For their part, Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg encourage readers "to engage the processes of digital design as you mix and match various applications of technology and the semiotic practices they make available, writing and rewriting the possibilities of the writing center." One reason they refuse to endorse a particular program is that they do not think there is a single product appropriate for all centers. Another reason, perhaps, is that it is actually difficult to find one product that does A, V, and T; many centers that provide AVT tutoring now must mix and match.

Thus, for this month's Geek column, I decided to investigate different programs that might enable AVT tutoring in writing centers. At my center, we have conducted AVT tutoring for a couple of years now, yet I was curious about the mixing and matching we've been doing and if there were options I wasn't aware of. I looked to find programs that would allow tutors a way to chat with audio and video and to view "live" documents. Though a center could provide synchronous tutoring by having students e-mail a document and then using the phone or instant messaging to chat about the paper, that approach misses the visual element of being able to see the person and to see how the text evolves as the conversation does. Thus, there seem to be many, many ways a center could do synchronous tutoring, but fewer platforms for AVT tutoring.

From my investigation, I settled upon six possible configurations for AVT tutoring to compare: WCOnline, Adobe Connect, Wimba Pronto, WizIQ, Elluminate Live, and Google Docs (see Figure 1, on page 13, for a side-by-side comparison). By no means would I call this list inclusive; many other programs are available publicly, and many schools have in-house custom programs as well. (1) However, each of the programs on the list could enable AVT tutoring by pairing video chat with an ability to see "live" documents, and these have all been adopted by different writing centers already (with the possible exception of WizIQ, a relative newcomer). In the chart, I describe the different ways that users interact with the digital texts, whether a program requires a user to download software before using, and the cost for operating each. As you can see, most of the programs have a free version; however, the paid versions are typically more robust and would likely provide better technical support.

Though my center has used only two of these six programs, I was able to try out the others in the process of researching for this column. On program websites, one can find overview and how-to videos and immediate, free, online demos. I recommend that a director or designee try out the demos, talk to representatives, and then do a brief pilot with the staff from the programs that look most promising. I would not recommend signing a contract or paying for a year upfront without testing the programs with real tutors and real students. This testing will alert you to any user, interface, compatibility, or campus security issues. I do know from experience, though, that short pilot programs cannot indicate long-term buy-in of users.

Also, I think it is wise to look at your campus resources before adopting an AVT program. It is possible that your campus or school has already purchased an enterprise version of one of these programs or a similar one. Wimba, for example, can connect with Blackboard, so campuses that use Blackboard may have also purchased Wimba. Further, each of these programs will require material resources: computers, webcams, speakers/headphones, and microphones. Beyond that, each will have slightly different system requirements that should be taken into consideration, not just for the writing center in-house technology, but also for tutors who might engage in AVT tutoring offsite and for all of your users. It would be wise to check your campus statistics on student technology usage beforehand. In designing your AVT tutoring protocol, it would be useful to know, for example, how many students own their own computers and have regular access to high speed Internet.

I find myself convinced about the possibilities of and for AVT tutoring. If the history of writing centers reveals anything though, it is that there is no one way of tutoring that works for every center or for every student. It makes sense to think both about how AVT tutoring comes close to being f2f and also about the ways it differs. Those differences are not failings, necessarily, because those differences might just appeal to users in unexpected ways. Twenty-first century writing centers will likely be marked by the plurality of approaches to support writing, not just in how they use technology to replicate established ways.

Author's note: If you have ideas, comments, or suggestions for future Geek in the Center columns, please e-mail me (jrmckinney@bsu.edu) or find me on Twitter (jrgmckinney).

Work Cited

Yergeau, Melanie, Katie Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg. "Expanding the Space of f2f." Kairos. 13.1 (2008): n. pag. Web. 1 April 2010.

* Jackie Grutsch McKinney

Ball State University

Muncie, IN

Notes

(1.) I browsed web-conferencing applications such as DimDim, WebEx, and GoToMeeting; each would offer some of the features on this list, but the textual element is less central in their designs. Scribblar and ShowDocument have nice platforms for meeting and collaborating on documents online, but lack the video component.
Figure 1: Comparison of AVT Approaches

                                     WConline         Adobe
                                     Online           Connect
                                     Tutoring
                                     Module

desktop or application sharing:                       x
this feature allows for users to
give others access to view their
desktops (to see what is on their
screen) or to view and use an
application with them.

whiteboard: this is a box which      x                x
both users can view and add to;
text or images can be uploaded or
copy and pasted; includes drawing
tools for marking or sketching.

shared document editing: document
is online and users can view/edit
simultaneously, seeing changes
instantly

audio and video chat                 x                x

text chat (important if user does    x                x
not have webcam)

download required for users?         Users may        Users
                                     need to          need Flash
                                     download a       player;
                                     plug-in for      to share
                                     video chatting   screen,
                                                      they will
                                                      need to
                                                      download a
                                                      plug-in

cost                                 $35/month        Connect
                                     for WConline     Now is free;
                                     users (total     Connect
                                     cost for         Pro is $45-
                                     WConline and     55/month
                                     the OTM is
                                     $100/month)

                                     WizIQ    Wimba
                                              Pronto

desktop or application sharing:      x        x
this feature allows for users to
give others access to view their
desktops (to see what is on their
screen) or to view and use an
application with them.

whiteboard: this is a box which      x        x
both users can view and add to;
text or images can be uploaded or
copy and pasted; includes drawing
tools for marking or sketching.

shared document editing: document
is online and users can view/edit
simultaneously, seeing changes
instantly

audio and video chat                 x        x

text chat (important if user does    x        x
not have webcam)

download required for users?         No       Yes

cost                                 $0-50/   basic
                                     year     version
                                              is free
                                              for some
                                              Blackboard
                                              users;
                                              contact
                                              Wimba for
                                              pricing on
                                              full version

                                     Elluminate      Google Docs
                                     Live            with Google
                                                     Talk or Skype

desktop or application sharing:      x
this feature allows for users to
give others access to view their
desktops (to see what is on their
screen) or to view and use an
application with them.

whiteboard: this is a box which      x
both users can view and add to;
text or images can be uploaded or
copy and pasted; includes drawing
tools for marking or sketching.

shared document editing: document                    x
is online and users can view/edit
simultaneously, seeing changes
instantly

audio and video chat                 x               x

text chat (important if user does    x               x
not have webcam)

download required for users?         Yes             Yes: Google
                                                     Talk and Skype
                                                     both require
                                                     downloads

cost                                 vRoom is        Google
                                     free; vOffice   products are
                                     is $499/year    free; Skype
                                                     incurs a per
                                                     minute use
                                                     charge when
                                                     calling to a
                                                     phone number
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Title Annotation:Geek in the center
Author:McKinney, Jackie Grutsch
Publication:Writing Lab Newsletter
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
Words:1471
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