Of all the features that are currently available on Moodle, one of the most exciting for me is the Open Source Big Blue Button module, which brings the ability to stage webinars or hold meetings online. I say this because to my mind the greatest affordances of the new digital technologies is their ability to facilitate communication which would have been difficult or even impossible previously.
I have used Elluminate quite often, taking advantage of their free (up to 3 people) service. I have also attended numerous webinars hosted on Elluminate. It is a pretty impressive technology considering that it enables meetings between numerous people on different continents effortlessly. In most video-conferencing webinar type platforms there is a chat window which allows participants to chat in text messages synchronously. There is a participant list which shows who has the microphone, ie. the ability to speak at that moment, and there is a shared desktop window which allows the presenter to share a powerpoint or document(s). Participants can usually take the mike and ask questions aurally or via the chat window, The potential for education is great, but what is equally exciting to me is the ability to host a meeting between a group of people from the same classroom, but outside of class hours.
Blended Learning is often seen the other way round: the ability to bring the outside world into the classroom via a YouTube video or twitter conversation, for example, but it is the ability to bring the classroom into the outside world that really excites me. What that opens up is the ability to structure a course, indeed a curriculum, in entirely new ways.
For example, some subject areas, such as Latin or Italian, which are not generally offered in many schools, or attract only small classes where they are offered, could benefit from a hybrid arrangement which saw a large online component, shared across a few schools in a district, supplemented by in-class time, or shared weekend or afternoon lesson slots.
Or perhaps some course units could be taken largely online. I know the English teachers in my school often talk about the impossibly large syllabus. By offering parts of the curriculum online much of the pressure on precious face-to-face contact time could be relieved. Not that the webinar format is not contact time, it is as much so as the traditional classroom, in my view.
I would want to go further and say that much of the outside the classroom video-conferencing functionality could be utilised by students themselves as part of their study routines. Study groups could “book” a virtual room at particular times to talk about the unit of work they were doing.
I have not yet used Big Blue Button, but the demonstration video below shows huge potential. The main advantage of having the module sit inside the Moodle platform is the seemless experience of accessing all content and functionality via the same interface.