April 28, 2006
eCoaching Tip 11: Sharing Your Virtual Presence with Audio
This e-coaching tip is the first in a new series of shorter tips. This tip focuses on just two thoughts — a reaffirmation about the value of being “present” to your students, and some beginning thoughts about branching out to the use of audio in your courses.
I was fortunate this last week to be talking with some colleagues at another university about their programs for teaching awards for online faculty. Apparently in some online master’s programs, the students vote for their favorite online teacher. (A process fraught with its own problems that we won’t go into here!) When asked why these particular teachers get voted as “their favorite” by cohorts year after year, the one teaching strategy that makes the most difference in student satisfaction is the fact that the faculty member is “there” online regularly and frequently. The frequent interactions and “presence” of the faculty apparently make students feel as if the faculty member really cares about the students and provide a sense of “being there” for them. One of these faculty with a smaller class regularly sets up synchronous meetings with the students as well — providing two opportunities each week so that students can work around most scheduling conflicts.
Many of our tools for communicating synchronously are still a bit clunky, but they are getting better very quickly, with huge improvements in the last 12-18 months. This brings us to the second thought for this week — Branching into Audio.
You and your students are probably already making good use of audio for talking about projects — by using an excellent technology called phones and telephone conferences. The new use of audio — and also video — lets us use the Internet for making these calls, making it possible to do larger groups of students. Many of the newer computers come equipped for doing video as well!
One of the most frequently-asked questions when using audio over the internet is what type of microphone— for capturing your speaking voice and sending it — and what type of speaker and headsets for listening — are recommended. This is an excellent question as good audio makes or breaks audio conversations! And it does take some testing and fiddling to get the audio working well. We’ll go into more recommendations on this in later messages, but for now, the first question is “What is the first step in adding audio to a course?”
A good first place to start is to add audio to your picture and bio — in your introduction to the students. Our voices are another dimension of our personality and add that feeling of getting to know someone. Think about how CNN uses audio. When their correspondents are in far-flung and sometimes-dangerous places where it is difficult to send video, they use the correspondent’s picture in an inset with the audio — often with a picture of the geography or terrain where the correspondent is. So we hear and our mind almost “fills-in” the missing video.
Other places to begin using audio might be in sending announcements or comments. As we get better at this and the technologies get better, the use of audio can save us time as an additional benefit.
One of the most frequently asked questions — when we start talking about headsets and microphones is how much do they cost. Very inexpensive models are available; and of course, more expensive models are available. The best approach is to find a friend who is happy with what they have. A 4/23/06 article in the Wall Street Journal called “Sights and Sounds” (online.wsj.com/article/SB114548034669930363.html if you have access)mentions a number of models from Jabra, for example starting at $29.99. One of the models mentioned is a wireless model that is a great idea! I often forget I am hooked up to something and start walking away, leaving destruction behind me!
These headsets can also be used for listening to your favorite music or audio books or podcasts, so they can be a good investment overall.
The next tip will provide a few more hints about expanding into more media with your courses.
Note: 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 2016 in the second edition of the book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips coauthored with Rita Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached judith followed by designingforlearning.org