One-way conferencing in a two-way world

Yesterday I gave a presentation to a couple of dozen people using Adobe Connect Pro. I couldn’t see them. I might as well have been blindfolded.

Most web conferencing software is set up for one-way lectures. I’m more into conversations. The assumption is that the speaker will lead the audience through a linear set of slides; I prefer to jump around. With some systems, screen sharing fails due to bandwidth limitations. On others, screen sharing works great but you forfeit the opportunity of reading comments because sharing blots out the other pods on the screen.

It wouldn’t be hard for WebEx, Adobe, Centra, Elluminate Blackboard, or their peers to provide a default conferencing environment that mirrors best practices for interactive meetings instead of mimicking what went on in yesteryear’s boring one-way workshops and classrooms.

Before you guys tell me you can already do that by jury-rigging your set-up, show me a recording of this being done. Most presenters I’ve watched never go beyond the default settings.

I’ve found it easier to present things in Skype. My image is projected on the big screen while I watch a cam trained on the people I’m talking with. Twitter provides a fine back-channel.

Here’s an offer to the Abode’s of the world. Hire Internet Time Alliance to blueprint an ideal default conferencing set-up for you. We’ll accompany our work with an article you could use to tout your new configuration. For a smidgen more, we’ll write a companion white paper. We could circle our wagons, put our six heads to work on it, and do the entire task in three days. And in time you’d sell more software.

If you, dear reader, have an inside track to the appropriate product managers at _____________ conference software vendor, please send them a link to this post.

If you’re a vendor of web conferencing software, leave a comment below if you buy any of this. Or tell where I’m wrong.

And if you’re going to be in Sao Paolo this coming Monday evening, join Paul Pangaro and me for a live, face-to-face session on informal and social learning.

“Como as conversações informais estão transformando o entendimento e as práticas de aprendizagem nas empresas e comunidades?”

Este é o tema a ser explorado por Jay Cross (USA), Paul Pangaro (USA) e Ignacio Muñoz (CHILE), com mediação de Luiz Algarra (BRASIL), no encontro panamericano da Rede de Conversações Informais, que acontece no Auditório Berrini da Fundação Getúlio Vargas, às 19:00h do dia 13 de setembro, com entrada franca.
Todos os palestrantes trazem cases de sucesso nos quais grandes grupos humanos passaram a conversar de modo breve e frequente para solução problemas, construindo conhecimento ou produzindo inovação.

A Rede de Conversações Informais surge a partir de pessoas, profissionais, empresas, associações, entidades e coletivos que pesquisam, aplicam e propagam conversações como um modo humano espontâneo e potente para a ampliação dos horizontes de aprendizado, incentivo à formação de redes e estímulo à emergência da inovação.

Why are we doing this? It’s not for the money. Rather, porque eu penso em mim como um Johnny Appleseed da aprendizagem informal, espalhar a palavra sobre como as pessoas realmente aprender a levar vidas produtivas, cumprindo. A escola é muito superestimado. A maioria de treinamento é ineficaz. Estou ansioso para falar com você sobre essas coisas.

3 thoughts on “One-way conferencing in a two-way world

  1. Michael Hanley

    Salient points, well made.
    In my (extensive) experience in this area, using platforms like Connect (equally Webex, GTM, Wimba, but let’s stick with Connect since you mentioned it) in “broadcast mode” is frustrating, because we as educators & presenters can almost taste the potential for duplex or even multiplex communication that these applications support. Equally, the single most frequent complaint I receive from participants in such events typically feel that their capability to communicate with the presenter is “just out of reach.”
    When I explore further, it seems to boil down to one or two constraints; first among these is the hardware – either (as you mention) bandwidth issues, as well as the unintegrated nature of reliable A/V communications channels – that is, a decent mic and webcam.
    Secondly, learners/users invariably mention these applications’ unintuitive UIs. Connect, for example, if a very powerful tool but there are about three ways to “do” anything with it. So once you’ve sorted out your webcam wires, and installed the drivers and updated the Connect plugin, and sound checked your mic and rebooted your machine, and resolved the port issues with your ICT dept, you finally get to the Connect UI… and there’s all those pods and buttons!
    By this point, most participants are so knackered getting the thing configured that they’re just about capable of passively sitting back and allowing what the presenter is discussing to drip down into their brain.

    Is there an easier way? Of course there is…


  2. Jay Cross Post author

    Internet Time Alliance (six of us, four time zones, iffy bandwidth at one node if not more), we experimented with a variety of free or cheap conferencing platforms for our internal meetings. Zorap enables us to see one another and share things we pull on screen. Occasional glitches but generally works well for us.

    Last year at Online Educa, we did well running multiple Skype sessions within Adobe Connect. This made individual sign-up as simple as Skype but let up display six simultaneous video feeds on screen — and share them with the world.

    It’s a pity that people who enter large corporations (Cisco, Adobe, etc.) immediately think they know better than their users.

    I promise to report back if any of the vendors makes any response to my concerns. Like you, I’m skeptical. Not to toot our own horn here, but the Internet Time Alliance offers them the considered judgment and advice of half a dozen of the top thinkers in social learning who have more than a century of experience, have launched numerous new products and services, and have worked with the leading information and networking companies in the world, not to mention a PhD in cognitive science/UX, a Harvard MBA in marketing, and running the virtual LearnTrends conference (a good place to show off one’s conferencing software to thousands of potential buyers and recommenders). Blah, blah, blah. It’s getting late here.

    If any of you have an insider track to whoever’s running Cisco WebEx, Adobe Connect, Blackboard whatever, or any of the other significant virtual online conversation servers, get them involved. It could be Michael and Jay, or you and Jay, or you and Michael. Que sera sera. Just do it.

    What’s it worth to a conversation server (as I call them) to get a blue-sky gameplan that might make them king-of-the-mountain? I’d be happy with a tiny fraction of what our suggestions may be worth. Spend $5K – $20K for the first of a number of steps on the path to market dominance and doubling your income in three years.

    Ho hum. Long day here.

    Anyone game? Contact jay at

  3. Jacov Mostovicz

    We build an online school using web conferencing After extensively testing the various web conferencing providers , we decided to go with WebEx. While expensive, we found it to be the most reliable and of a decent quality.
    I have clocked over 1000 WebEx teaching hours and actually find it to be working quite well. In my opinion, the ability to see the students is imperative in order to deliver an adequate teaching experience.
    We also got WebEx integrated with our LMS, facilitating class scheduling and login.
    i would be very interested to hear about people’s experiences using the Elluminate-Blackboard integration, especially from the conferencing quality point of view.

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