Problems and Solutions
Below I have tried to outline my objectives, what problem the traditional classroom posed, and finally my solution.
Many of my solutions required hardware and software that I personally owned, but I have tried to supply free solutions where able.
Obective #1: In order to blog and engage in audience response, the curriculum required students to learn several technologies (RSS, blogging, podcasting) in order to engage in the level of writing and discourse outlined by my course goals.
Problem: To utilize these technologies (blogs, RSS feeds, etc.), I needed to be able to offer technology tutorials to my students. Ideally this would have been done synchronously in a computer classroom where students could experiment with blogging and RSS feeds. Additionally, I would be able to field questions from students as they came up.
At a minimum, I had expected to have access to a live internet connection and projector to demonstrate these technologies live during class.
For example: I had planned to demonstrate building a blog live during class using Blogger (a relatively quick and easy process online). I hoped that this would show students the process of designing a blog and then how to build/publish a first post.
Without an LCD projecter and/or a live internet connection in the low-tech classroom, this was not be possible.
Solution: I created technology tutorials in video form and then moved them online so that students could watch them and experiment with the technology asynchronously.
During class periods, I discussed the pertinent vocabulary and the theory behind Web 2.0 applications, blogging, podcasting, and new media. Students engaged and experimented with the technology outside of the classroom either on their own computers or in one of the open labs.
I built video tutorials on how to use Feedreaders (such as Google Reader), Blogger, and Audacity for podcasting (all free software). All of my tutorial videos were created using Camtasia Studio, a robust screen-capture software.
The students were now be able to view my tutorials asynchronously, try out the software for themselves outside of class, and then refer specific questions to me via email or during face-to-face class periods. This was not the ideal solution and numerous issues probably could have been resolved with direct, in-class oversight. Some students ended up frustrated with the technology, but ultimately only four students required phone support from me.
I recognize that Camtasia Studio is not an inexpensive license. Not every instructor will have this resource widely available to them. Without previously needing it for instructional design work, I likely would not have had it either. There are also free software solutions such as CamStudio and Hypercam. Although they lack some of the features of Camtasia, they would still get the job done.
After creating my instructional videos, there was still the additional question of where to host them. The institution offered faculty web space, but it wasn’t nearly enough to hold everything. In hindsight, I did not explore the option of using any institutional distance learning software (none was freely offered) and that might have been a viable option.
Luckily, I had my own private hosting and could host the files there.
Even without independent hosting, Youtube remained an option. Additionally, there are free resources such as RapidShare (unlimited hosting) and Megaupload (which allows free hosting of up to 2 GB of data) which could be used a storehouse not only for video files, but also for other documents and files.
Granted, there are some significant limitations to Rapidshare and Megaupload (particularly download limits), but they can still be used in lieu of other hosting options.
Objective #2: In tandem with getting students to author their own blogs and podcasts, I needed to be able to show sample digital texts (multimodal projects, blogs, podcasts, etc.) in the classroom.
Problem: Without a projector and stable wificonnection (or a convenient LAN nic), I could not project anything from my laptop.
Solution: The course clearly suffered in this area. I could not show web sites live in the classroom; however, I could print out individual pages of blogs and photocopy them. Like Charles Moran (2005), I noted the significant amount of extra time spent photocopying these pages and passing them out in class.
I also wanted to show new media art projects as prompts for writing exercises, and eventually resorted to caching web pages and bringing my laptop into the classroom. I still provided photocopies of these sites where able, but also passed around the laptop so students could experience the cached site live.
Caching a webpage allows you to save the page (images, links, and code) for view offline. I have found this process to be particularly useful in situations where you might have a projector, but no available internet connection.
Caching is a relatively easy process in most browsers. Below I have provided a tutorial on how to cache individual webpages using Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 (note: this tutorial was created using Camtasia Studio).
If you need to cache an entire website, I suggest using a program like HTTrack. HTTrack is a tool that automatically caches an entire site (including directories, pages, images and links) on your hard drive in directories using relative paths. I have provided a brief tutorial on how to use HTTrack below.
Additional Problem: Playing podcasts in the traditional classroom would be far more complicated without a classroom computer and a stable internet connection.
Solution: In truth, playing podcasts in class was relatively easy with the right hardware.
In defense of the institution, I was not expecting a full-featured multimedia system to support my audio and had already planned to bring my laptop and a relatively inexpensive PC speaker setup to class; however, I did expect to have wireless internet access.
In hindsight, I could have positioned my computer at the back of the room (the location of the LAN port), facing away from my students, but it would have been awkward at best.
Luckily, I did not need live internet access to play a podcast. I downloaded them as MP3s ahead of time and played them in class over a relatively inexpensive PC speaker. Many commercially available external speakers can fill a classroom with clear audio. I personally played a number of This American Life podcasts over my laptop using small speakers similar to the ones shown in the photograph below.
Complication #3: I wanted students to blog live in the classroom as a storehouse for their freewriting and to respond to videos and/or to each other’s blogs live in the classroom.
Problem: Without a computer classroom and an internet connection liveblogging was not possible.
Solution: All blogging had to be completed asynchronously, outside of the classroom. I could find no way to truly rectify this situation in class.
I was able to have students freewrite in class with the expectation that their writing would later be transcribed onto their blogs (and used as a posting). This was beneficial, in that many students stated that it provided another layer of revision before their blog posts went live. Additionally this prompted discussions of the relationship between authorship, publishing, and the internet.Primarily, students responded to each others’ blogs outside of the classroom as well; however, I was able to print student blog posts and have students write responses to those during class, with the understanding that the responses would be posted to their blogs at home.