The third annual Wimba Connect 2010 conference was held on March 21-24 at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resort in sunny Orlando Florida. This year’s theme focused on the magic of collaboration and offered sessions focused on the many ways the Wimba community is utilizing the variety of Wimba tools in their respective distance learning programs. The conference was also a time to showcase upcoming features to existing Wimba tools and to announce the inductees of the 2010 Wimba Hall of Fame for excellence in collaboration.
Wimba Connect 2010 officially opened on March 22 with an opening keynote from Wimba’s CEO and Chairman of the Board, Carol Vallone. The keynote opened with light hearted humor where the audience was asked to tell your neighbor what Disney character you would like to be. As the ball room filled with answers of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto the CEO replied that she would like to be Cruella De Vil. With laughter and half hearted smiles the keynote went on. The CEO then told a story focused on a future that is right around the corner. The story greeted the audience from a future only 5-7 years away. In this future, technology and digital content prices have fallen to more affordable levels and students of the day are masters of the social network and utilize a variety of technologies from smart phones to e-readers as utilities to get the job done. Also in this future, universities are competing for the best students and faculty while emphasizing cost savings. The classroom is now a common place for utilizing distance learning tools for not only delivering content, but also building relationships. Finally, towards the end of the keynote it was mentioned how Wimba can play a part in that future and shape it at the same time. The CEO then mentioned how Wimba’s products has helped York Saint John University achieve financial sustainability while helping West Virginia University recruit international and out of state students. The keynote set the tone for the rest of the sessions to come.
The sessions provided a range of speakers mostly from higher education with a few coming from K-12. All sessions focused on a particular Wimba product that has been used in their respective distance learning programs. The vast majority of them focused on the Wimba Classroom and Voice Tools. One popular use of the voice tools was language learning. One in particular, was a language learning and cultural project between Western Ontario & Barcelona University. It gave 122 students taking English and Spanish a chance to speak and learn from a native. The partners in each country established close relationships using the voice tools and helped one another write and speak in their partner’s native language according to the guidelines provided. Overall, the partnership worked well and students improved in their oral and written language skills. It was even found that more students went to visit each other’s country because of the partnership. The downside was that the whole process took too long and the class will need to be split in the future. Also, not all partners worked well together and some felt let down as their partner would answer infrequently.
Another language learning session, this time in the K-12 arena, came from the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools (NCVPS). They presented on their Culture Café concept, which provides their World Language students throughout the state a chance to join with teachers and special guests from around the globe to learn about world cultures. The Culture Café is based on the Wimba Classroom, which is integrated into a blog. The blog serves as a marketing tool for the Cultural Café and to attract potential speakers. The Culture Café is also a way for students to practice the language with teachers and other students and helps to minimize the costs of having to use a face-to-face conversation coach. The Culture Café is open to everyone and a Google Calendar is posted on the blog showing future topics. The NCVPS Culture Café blog can be found at: http://ncvpsculturecafe.blogspot.com
Besides language learning, other presentations focused on other areas such as learner support. One such presentation came from Central Texas College whose learners come from the military and as such are at a distance most of the time. In the process of supporting their students at a distance they came up with the concept of creating a virtual professor, Professor DETS, who is the face of their support. Professor DETS has his own email address, monitors all discussion boards 24/7 and offers other resources such as study tips, contacts, tech tips, etc. In reality, Professor DETS is made up of 19 faculty who split up all the support tasks. In addition, a live 30 minute orientation is also conducted that covers Blackboard training, student services, study aides and tutoring. The live sessions are recorded as an mp4 file and posted to viddler.com for those who could not attend.
Finally, there was also a session by Wimba to announce new features to their existing products. It was announced that Pronto will be getting two new features called invitations and universal integration. The invitation feature will allow admins, instructors and students to send Pronto invites. An email is then sent to the invitee with a registration code. This simplifies the procedure by not having to go into Blackboard to start the process. Of course, you will be able to disable the invitation feature for students if desired. This feature will be available in Pronto basic as well as the paid version sometime in late April or early May. The other feature announced was that of universal integration, which will enable an institution to use Pronto even if their LMS is not supported. This feature is scheduled to be released in August. On a side note, it was also mentioned that there would be a “Wall in Institution” feature where no student will be able to text, call or add contacts of anyone outside the institution. This would be great for the K-12 environment, but no specific date was given for its release.
The conference was also a time for Wimba to hold its customer appreciation party and induct educators who have shown exemplary innovation and creativity in their use of Wimba Tools. This year it was a great honor to have our own distance learning instructor, Kelly Cua, recognized for her outstanding work using the Wimba tools to teach the Hawaiian culture and language. Click the following link to see the Wimba Connect 2010 Photo Gallery
All in all, Wimba Connect 2010 was a great conference to learn and share in the innovative ways that Wimba products are being used by clients worldwide. It will be interesting to see how this conference grows and diversifies itself in the future to attract a broader base of those in the distance learning industry. What’s innovative today is commonplace tomorrow.