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Not all the world's a stage
hi-def video will only revolutionize e-learning when students get comfortable on camera

By Lisa Neal / August 2007

TYPE: OPINION
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Does anyone remember Jeane Dixon, whose well-publicized predictions included that President John F. Kennedy would be assassinated? According to Wikipedia, the "Jeane Dixon Effect" is when "people loudly tout a few correct predictions and overlook false predictions." John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, probably makes a lot of predictions, and being even more well-known than Jeane Dixon was in her time, he is often quoted. One of his most widely publicized quotes originally occurred in The New York Times in 1999: "The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error in terms of the Internet capacity it will consume." I don't believe that prediction has come to pass, but that hasn't stopped Chambers from issuing fresh prognostications. His latest is a provocative one that also relates directly to the future of online learning.

Chambers has been touting TelePresence, Cisco's new high-definition video-conferencing technology, as a way for businesses to reduce travel and thus "improve their carbon footprint." Chambers went on to call video the new killer app. Combining his "killer app" predictions (or at least these two—à lá the Jeane Dixon Effect, I suspect these are just two of many), what impact can high-definition video-conferencing have on e-learning?

Long ago, when I piloted the first online course for EDS, I used video-conferencing along with a number of other technologies, including—I know this dates me—the beta version of NetMeeting. EDS had a worldwide videoconferencing network and I took advantage of it to have my students "meet" once a week. My training session consisted of how to initiate multipoint calls, pre-set camera angles, and the like. While I quickly mastered this material, I struggled with how to make my class interactive and engaging. My students liked seeing and hearing me and each other—their feedback was that it made me seem like a "real person" and the class seem like a "real class"—but I soon discovered they didn't like to be on camera themselves.

Perhaps that's why video-conferencing has never achieved the growth predicted for it by analysts (alas, not by Jeane Dixon). Today, certainly more people have webcams than ever before, and more people watch videos online. But does this also reduce their discomfort with being on camera and increase video's potential as a viable communication medium?

I imagine there are a lot of people who want the sense of being in a classroom, complete with classmates and an instructor, but who don't want to travel to a campus. And even though Al Gore may have never been a close confidant of Jeane Dixon, his notion of reducing our carbon footprint may increase the appeal of video-conferencing for educational purposes. But even the most gifted clairvoyant must look beyond what is logical or possible and figure out how to get instructors and students comfortable using this technology adeptly. My prediction—sorry Mr. Chambers—is that video-conferencing will not revolutionize workplace communication or education. There are just not enough people who love to be on camera, notwithstanding Oprah, YouTubers, and most CEOs we know. The rest of us will wait until they perfect teleportation.



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ADDITIONAL READING

    Lisa Neal
  1. "Spot Learning"
  2. Q&A with Saul Carliner
  3. When will e-learning reach a tipping point?
  4. Online learning and fun
  5. In search of simplicity
  6. eLearning and fun
  7. Everything in moderation
  8. The basics of e-learning
  9. Is it live or is it Memorex?
  10. The Value of Voice
  11. Predictions for 2006
  12. Five Questions...for Christopher Dede
  13. Five Questions... for John Seely Brown
  14. Five questions...for Shigeru Miyagawi
  15. "Deep" thoughts
  16. 5 questions... for Richard E. Mayer
  17. Designing usable, self-paced e-learning courses
  18. Want better courses?
  19. Just "DO IT"
  20. Five questions...
  21. Formative evaluation
  22. Senior service
  23. Blogging to learn and learning to blog
  24. My life as a Wikipedian
  25. Five questions...for Elliott Masie
  26. The stripper and the bogus online degree
  27. Five questions...for Lynn Johnston
  28. Five questions...for Tom Carey
  29. Five questions...for Karl M. Kapp
  30. Five questions...for Larry Prusack
  31. Five questions...for Seb Schmoller
  32. Do distance and location matter in e-learning?
  33. Why do our K-12 schools remain technology-free?
  34. Music lessons
  35. Learn to apologize for fun and profit
  36. Of web hits and Britney Spears
  37. Advertising or education?
  38. Five questions…for Matt DuPlessie
  39. Back to the future
  40. Serious games for serious topics
  41. Five (or six) questions...for Irene McAra-McWilliam
  42. Learner on the Orient Express
  43. Predictions For 2003
  44. How to get students to show up and learn
  45. Predictions for 2002
  46. Learning from e-learning
  47. Q&A
  48. Blended conferences
  49. Storytelling at a distance
  50. Q&A with Don Norman
  51. Talk to me
  52. Q&A with Diana Laurillard
  53. Do it yourself
  54. Degrees by mail
  55. Predictions for 2004