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Question: What is webconferencing?

The IT Guy says:
Webconferencing is a close relative of instant messaging, videoconferencing, and other online messaging systems. There are a number of flavors of webconferencing, but an element central to all versions is that people in different locations can see the same shared screen on each individual computer. Most also feature a chat window so you can type in messages about what you are viewing on the screen, and have mark-up tools to highlight items on the shared screen.

From here out, the options start to vary. Some webconferencing systems have voice options; some require you to use a phone conference. Some have videoconferencing built in. Some have education-specific tools, such as quiz functions or flags to "raise your hand" to ask a question.

Costs range widely as well. The most well-known system is WebEx, which has been around a number of years. It uses phone conferencing for the audio. A newer system is Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional, which features voice and video built in. An education-specific system is Elluminate, which has a free system for hosting up to four people at a time called vRoom. (Their goal is to get you hooked so you'll buy the full system!) They have voice included.

The main drawback of most of these systems is that they are very costly. I have been using a service called GoToMeeting which is the most affordable I've seen yet. I actually did a presentation last year when a family emergency prevented me from traveling to the conference. I sat in my office and shared my PowerPoint remotely through GoToMeeting, using Skype to narrate the slides. It was easy, and I received many positive comments from the participants!

I have found that having a voice discussion while viewing a shared screen is a very natural and productive means of collaboration. I am certain we will see more use of this kind of tool in professional development and classrooms.

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