Monday, April 14, 2008

Still More Ways to Connect: Talkshoe, Wimba, and Zimbra

Previous posts have looked at some of the programs and options teachers can use to connect their students with the world outside the classroom walls, such as MeBeam, Moodle, Coccinella, WebEx, WiZiQ and others. A few other options are worth mentioning, like Talkshoe, Wimba, and Zimbra.

Talkshoe offers community calls that can be joined in by phone or computer, allowing synchronous discussions. These discussions are automatically archived as podcasts that can be listened to later or downloaded and edited. Users can also use text-only synchronous chats. It wasn't clear from the FAQs if voice and chat can be used together, as in MeBeam and some other tools.

Talkshoe provides the software, Shoe Phone, chat rooms, players for podcasts, widgets, storage, bandwidth, directory listing and technical support all for free. If you have previous podcasts from a collaboration, those can be uploaded. There's no limit on recording. Talkshoe Live! Pro software can be downloaded and offers more options like community call host control of the users, see-who's-talking indicators, access through Skype or VOIP, and the ability to handle up to 250 talkers in a call with the potential for thousands to listen.

If you have a class Ning or blog, a Talkshoe embed code can be placed on it. Community calls can be public or unlisted. Unlisted Group Calls only allow invited users to participate or listen, a good feature for teachers concerned about privacy or potential distractions. As a host, you can also control who gets to chat or talk and you can even remove users from the Request-to-talk queue.

Wimba Collaboration Suite can stand alone or be integrated into a course management system (CMS) like Blackboard, Moodle or WebCT. The Suite adds collaborative tools to CMS that do not have them or have limited tools. The Suite offers:
  • Wimba Classroom, a live virtual classroom that incorporates video, audio, and application sharing.
  • Wimba Pronto, an instant messaging system and voice chat tool for synchronous communication. If you are using it with a CMS, Pronto will automatically add students in a class to a joint list that they can access with ease.
  • Wimba Voice which allows live discussions between teachers and students. It is promoted as a great tool for language instruction because it combines oral and written work like an in-the-flesh learning environment.
  • Wimba Create, a tool that converts Microsoft Word documents into online content and includes interactive features for the online content like hyperlinks, self-test questions, tables of content and streaming of audio and video.
Wimba is not free but if a school or district is already using a CMS, Wimba can extend the uses of that system to allow more and broader collaboration.

Zimbra offers a Collaboration Suite for educators, too. The Suite includes email, address books, calendars, document sharing and other collaborative tools like VOIP, tags and RSS in an easy-to-use system. Documents can be collaboratively written and edited. Another great feature of Zimbra is its adaptability; it can be used with email programs teachers and schools may already be using like Outlook, Eudora, Apple Mail or Thunderbird. An open source edition is available, as is a version for Blackberries. Zimbra allows administrators to customize the Suite, control spam and viruses, store information more efficiently and economically, and has "favorable educational pricing."

At the Zimbra site, you can find Flash tours of the features. The Flash demos mostly point out business uses, like incorporating orders and meetings via email and a shared calendar. A PDF lists all available options and the packages in which they come.

So what tools do you use with your students?

SOURCE: "Frequently Asked Questions" 2008
SOURCE: "New to Talkshoe?" 2008
SOURCE: "Wimba Collaboration Suite" 2008
SOURCE: "Zimbra Collaboration Suite 5.0" 2008
SOURCE: "Zimbra for Education" 2008

photo courtesy of Larsz, used under this Creative Commons license

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