One of the many opportunities COSEE-West offers our educators is online workshops, where people from all over the world can interact with each other, as well as with our scientist speakers. It is also a great way for a scientist to broaden their outreach without ever having to leave their city.
Over the years, some of our online workshop participants have been asking for live chat capability. It’s one thing to post questions and read answers, but there is still nothing like a real-time, face-to-face interaction. During our Spring 2009 online workshop on the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), we tried out a live chat via Adobe Connect.
One of our speakers, Phyllis Grifman, Associate Director of the USC Sea Grant program, agreed to come online and talk to our participants about the MLPA process and her role as one of the stakeholders. The audience was small, since we were not able to advertise this chat in advance, but it went well. It was encouraging to “watch” people who were hundreds of miles apart interact and have a meaningful discussion right in front of me.
This isn’t to imply that online posts and written answers are not meaningful, but we are creatures of instant gratification and feedback. Although there are other programs out there that enable live chats, Adobe Connect is quite versatile in that it allows participants to share their desktop (one at a time), edit documents in real-time and see each other via webcams. It allowed our speaker to identify misunderstandings and address them right away, without having to wait for a question and then write something back.
Although our experiment with live chats was small, it was quite illuminating. Chatting with someone live brings a different dimension to our online workshops, one that not only improves the quality of education, but makes for stronger connections. When you can put a face to a name, you pay more attention to what they have to say, which can only be a good thing.
Contributed by Jane Lee