Thursday, 18 October 2007

Inactive Interactivity

At the beginning of October I attended the AMEP National Conference in Mooloolaba, Queensland, where I was to give an interactive workshop on our Learnscope project “ITube, YouTube, HeSheItTube” in particular and accessing online ESL videos in general. I had prepared a PowerPoint wondrous to behold for the 90-minute session so was fairly confident the session would go well especially as I had made sure that the technology would work by informing the organizers that I would need Elluminate and YouTube access and even telephoning the IT section in Mooloolaba to confirm there would be no hindrances to the smooth running of the session.

Wednesday: I arrived in Mooloolaba and having checked in and checked out the beach and the spa I thought I had better inspect the lab too and it was here the problems began. The lab had about twenty five computers but the IT company that had been contracted to look after the technology at the Conference told me that they had been given only twenty logins for the whole Conference which meant that only about fifteen would be available in the lab. This was not such a great obstacle as on examination, only about fifteen PCs were actually functioning and in complete possession of all their facilites (viz. mouse, screen, keyboard). Okay, then fifteen can participate and others can lurk over the shoulder. Most important of all is that they can look at the videos even if they can’t explore them themselves so just check “YouTube”: and what should come up but the message: “This site is blocked”. However, after a few calls to Brisbane to the TAFE Internet Directorate (or someone), the IT guy managed to unblock it and it was ready for the session. (Did you check to see if the videos actually worked, Philip?). Onto Elluminate and yes it opened up very nicely, so I could go to bed, calm and assured that no technogremlins would put me off my stroke in the workshop the next day.

Thursday: the day of the workshop; up at the crack of dawn, quick swim in the sea and a relax in the rooftop spa before breakfast to meet the demands of the day.

T-1h and I thought I’d go and look at the Lab again just to make sure; enter and yes this day it opened, no problem; but had just better click on the video to see how it runs and…”Flash is not installed on this computer”. Now as you may not know, Flash is the little program that lets the videos play and without it there is no Youtube and no videos to see, so I, as you do when a program is missing, tried to download the Flash program. Message: ”Downloading of programs prohibited”. Once again I called in the IT guy who then had another go at ringing up the Director-General of TAFE (or someone) in Brisbane for permission to download Flash and while he was fiddling with the teacher’s computer, the participants for the "interactive" workshop started to stream in. “Only fifteen computers are working and you won’t be able to view anything anyway… . but if I can’t show YouTube vids then at least we can play with Elluminate, it was working last night." So I logged onto Elluminate while the IT guy was on the phone to the Queensland Premier (or someone) and of course Elluminate refused to make a connection. So for my interactive workshop presented through Elluminate we had thirty-five participants, standing room only at the back and crouching room on the floor (why stop them coming in when their computer doesn’t work?), no YouTube videos, no Elluminate and no Powerpoint, because the IT guy was once again attempting to get Flash working and seemed to have stripped the PC down to its component parts. The good teacher is a flexible teacher and so improvisation back to memory and board, while I gave the introduction to my session following those time-respected methodologies unchanged since Wackford Squeers. After about fifteen minutes of improvisation I felt myself flagging as I thought that the photos of the Learnscope team on the Powerpoint would be better to show than my rough sketches on the board and I asked the IT guy to give up on his phone call to the Federal Minister for Communications (or someone), re-assemble the computer and let me get on with my Powerpoint. Originally, I had intended to show the Powerpoint direct from the Net as this saves having to find the hidden IT office at the conference to get it put on a shared drive but of course when I did try to download it, I was informed that “Access was forbidden”. so it was a good job I had put it on a stick (in fact two).

The lecture (not interactive workshop), then went along quite well and satisfactorily and fortunately I had also remembered to pack a few video samples on my stick, not really expecting to have to use them but which proved invaluable when I wanted to show a few samples of the participants’ work. (However, this did not help Claire-Marie who had assiduously stayed up all Monday night finishing off her video ”Doing the housework” so I could show it at the Conference. Thanks anyway, Claire, your two minutes of fame will come.) That is to say that I was able to show some of the videos; some I had saved as mpegs but others which I was intending to load up into my Elluminate room I had converted to “mov” format. (It doesn’t really matter if you don’t understand the difference). Now MediaPlayer functioned excellently but when I double-clicked the file to open one of these movs, I got the message “MoviePlayer” unavailable” and of course no point in trying to download it (save through a phone-call to the Governor-General himself and anyway the IT guys had disappeared in frustration and despair).

Despite all of the above, I completed the ninety minute session in good time and I believe that I successfully managed to spread the word about technology in WA despite the lack of technology in QLD.

What have I learnt from this?

  • Never trust the technology, despite assurances that everything will work.
  • Always take back-ups in at least two forms; in this case I had my Powerpoint on two sticks, a CD and on the Web; I also had it as a print-out although I did not intend to distribute hand-outs. I also had some (but not all) of the group’s YouTube videos on my stick, which I had time-consumingly downloaded from the Web and converted using the file converter “Zamzar”. I should have taken more and then all in at least two formats to anticipate that one type of player was not going to work.Of course, maybe I should also have had the Powerpoint presentation on OHTs but, there didn’t seem to be an OHP in the room anyway, so it wouldn’t have helped - you have to draw a line somewhere.
  • IT help desks are notorious for their lack of celerity when it comes to fixing bugs but these IT guys at the Conference were extremely helpful and accommodating and really made an effort to get things up & running. My thanks to them.

What I don’t understand:

  • The roots of the problem lie in TAFE policies. Why do TAFEs block access to such a wide range of resources? yes, okay some of the students may download inappropriate materials and programs with possible viruses, but how can we implement and promote online learning and teaching if videos and downloads are completely unavailable? This does not seem to be the case just in Queensland alone but all over Australia.


Claire-Marie Cluzel said...

Mmm, sounds like TAFE has the same approach as the builders who installed lightswitches in remote community houses without linking them to electrical cables! Good on you for having plan B, C and D.

sonia said...

Poor you - what a nightmare! Glad your sense of humour plus resourcefulness rose to the occasion.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like nothing has changed in the last 10 years in TAFE land. A few things have chnaged in the real world though!

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