The future of #adobeconnect looks exciting for interactive sessions, #lecturecapture & more #uoleeds_tech #edtech #lrnchat #elearning
Why this may be relevant to you: If you are in need of one solution which will do a lot of things, like enhanced face-to-face teaching, but also online conferencing with a whole bunch of bells and whistles such as mobile and tablet support, interactive voting, slide and desktop annotation, session recording and post-editing to name a few, you will be interesting to hear about the future of Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro.
Those who know me or have visited this space before will already have gathered that I have quite a soft spot for Adobe Connect and its use in Education. This soft spot dates back about five years ago, when it was the only tool that supported multiple webcams, and also had the good sense of being Flash-based, which meant the numerous Java updates that its competitors were plagued with didn’t really affect it. Having worked with it for a bit, I then looked after a pilot project at the University of Leeds and did quite a few cool things with it (I was told) which you can hear more about from this Adobe Connect recording of a joint session at the ALT-C 2011 e-learning conference in the UK.
Now then, I am not going to say that Adobe Connect is perfect, although there are lots of things which I like (some I even love):
- it can’t get much easier than this: anywhere you are, on pretty much any device, type in a URL either in a web browser or in a dedicated app and you’re connected to your friends/colleagues/students/clients/etc.
- its modular structure and the possibility to create countless custom online room Layouts which have as many or as few interactive areas as you need and between which you can switch as needed;
- the fact that the whole interface is pretty self-explanatory;
- it’s not expensive: £80+VAT/year for an educational account;
- it has lots of interactive features such as:
- slide annotation;
- desktop sharing, snapshot, and annotation;
- collaborative whiteboard;
- break-out rooms;
- chat, and the big brother of chat, which is the Q&A pod;
- Multiple Response, as well as Multiple Choice Questions with response broadcast features
- the iPhone, iPad and Android apps (although the Android app does not work for Android v2.4 and earlier, which is what an HTC I know and have access to is running on)
- the pinch & zoom functionality on the mobile apps which makes slide/presentation viewing even more accessible
At the same time, there are a few things which I think the company needs to keep working on:
- the size of the standard online room is limited to 100 (although bigger ones can be purchased).
- at the moment everyone’s equal when it comes to webcam sharing – it would be very good to see the voice-activated sound feature (or even a manual override button, too) drive the enlargement of the webcam of the person speaking, to give them prominence and make it easier for participants in a webcam session to follow who’s talking (especially if they are a lot of them in the online room).
- the video quality is not super-amazing (it’s decent, but compared to what competitors such as Mediasite showcase, it’s a bit behind – unless, of course, there is some amazing hardware behind Mediasite demos to make things look that good… to be investigated 😉
- the sound quality can also be improved – I was quite impressed with the voice-activated sound features of GoToMeeting, but I’m afraid that was pretty much the only thing I found appealing about GoToMeeting… (at the time of writing this, of course)
- Smart objects embedded in PowerPoint 2010 presentations seem to confuse Adobe Connect at the moment and it will leave them out (unless, of course, you buy the Adobe E-Learning Suite or maybe just the Adobe Presenter PowerPoint plug-in if you’re strapped for cash, and then your objects will fare better.
- Slide Masters also seem to confuse Adobe Connect – I had a colleague who was sent a presentation with content as bullet points embedded in the slide master (not just text placeholders, but also content – I think someone got confused at the other end big time or *really* didn’t trust their employees with PowerPoint…) Anyway, the answer from Adobe Connect in that case was … “Meh!” and no content (or comment) 🙂NB: I am aware that there is a way around these last two points: just share the computer desktop and run the presentation as normal from within PowerPoint rather than import the presentation into Adobe first, but at the time I did not want to do it for the following reasons:
- the user wanted to drive the presentation from a tablet while walking around the lecture theatre;
- secondly, we wanted to keep the size of the session recording as low as possible because sharing the desktop equals essentially to doing a screen capture in Adobe Connect, and that will not be easy on the MB
- thirdly, we wanted an automatic menu in our recording enabling the students to skip from slide to slide when reviewing the session rather than fiddle around with the playback bar
- The Adobe Connect Mobile app is rather limited from the presenters’ and room host’s point of view:
- no option to switch to other layouts available in the room, or add interactive areas (‘pods’ in Adobe speak) on the fly
- no functionality to allow session guests in, either, and, most of all,
- no option to share the tablet screen – presenters are stuck with sharing PowerPoint presentations which had already been uploaded to that particular online rom
UPDATE: scratch my pointing out aspects that still need development, folks (though, historically, it may be useful to keep them in the post to see the evolution of the tool).
Adobe have just released fuller news of the features in Adobe Connect 9 and they’ve pretty much dealt with all of the above (except sharing tablet screens just like sharing PS screens – however, they’ve made progress there by allowing sharing of images on the tablet (so think of a combination of tablet screenshot-taking which is very easy to do both on Android and iPads + sharing, and you’re back in business ;)), and more:
- recording Pause functionality (YEY!!!)
- recording editing functionality with Chat anonymisation or deletion
- powerful recording menu editing functionality
- better audio functionalities
- webcam of speaker now stands out visually
- much more functionality on the tablet for the lecturer, including annotating over slides from the tablet! (I know! How exciting is that?)
- powerful features for audience engagement and session sign-up and tracking
Check out the full release of Adobe Connect 9 features here, and see below for some of the changes and my thoughts about them.
Much more functionality for editing recordings
This will be the most exciting development for educators, I feel. The current Adobe Connect suffers from very limited recording editing features (not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as not all educators want to be working with Premiere-like features). However, it IS rather limited. The next version will enable a few very cool and extremely clever things:
- the ability to exclude interactive pods such as Chat, Q&A, and Attendees list from the published recording – maybe you want the world to know what you said, but not what people were discussing in the chat while you were saying it
- if the chat discussion is valuable to the recording, but you’d like to protect the identity of the contributors, with one tick-box check you can anonymise all discussions – so that instead of participant names, the viewers see User 1, User 2, etc.
- the recording menu shows automatically on the left-hand side (much like the menu in Articulate Studio resources), but, and this is super cool, the instructor can edit it, and even include his/her own bookmarks into it – this is particularly awesome as, if your session was not based on go through a pre-uploaded PowerPoint presentation, but rather on sharing your desktop and working with several applications, you could not add bookmarks to enable students to jump to individual relevant points. Everyone had to fiddle with the playback bar. Now that’s fixed and is looking excellent!
What is not clear whether Adobe has addressed is the impossibility of generating several distinct recordings from the same source recording – it would be a neat feature to be able to do that, and split a session into several bite-size elements. In any case, a little bit more info on this upgrade can be found here, but I’ve also embedded the main video below for your convenience.
Enhanced event registration
This is an exciting development for those who would like to take full advantage of the functionalities tools offer. Apart from using Adobe Connect for live lectures (engaging face-to-face and online participants alike if the lecturer wants to), Connect is a great tool for additional activities, such as online open days, course taster sessions, pre-sessional live meetings with faculty, etc. It is therefore brilliant to see the new functionality allowing event organisers to create very funky event registration mini-websites by dragging and dropping interactive elements to customise already good-looking and comprehensive templates. I already know a few people in my University who will be very excited about this! More information available here.
Monitoring participant levels of engagement
For this particular enhancement to take the face-to-face application of Adobe Connect to a new level, it would also need to be integrated in the mobile app. Having a presenter panel on a tablet would do presenters a world of good – let’s see what Adobe come up with. Basically, Adobe is using algorithms which include information on, for instance, how active participants are in the chat, or when answering questions and polls, in order to produce an overall figure which indicates how “engaged” they are in the session.
In the academic world, face-to-face sessions have long benefited from lecturers using personal response systems of various natures, as well as the mere act of looking at their audience, to estimate the extent to which participants are following them. Soon, with this functionality, online presenters already having to cope with the strange feeling of talking to themselves, will take some comfort from keeping an eye on this score. Adobe gives a tiny bit more information on this page.
Enhanced event reporting
While most lecturers may not bother with this too much at first, school administrators, organisers of online open days and publicity and outreach events (not to mention the big business community out there) will love the possibility of finding out how effective their marketing channels have been (e.g. has the Twitter campaign worked better than the Facebook or Linked In one?), as well as how effective their session registration questionnaires have been (e.g. has any particular question put people off?) and how keen potential participants have been (how many people clicked to register, actually signed up, and then actually attended the online sessions?)
Without a doubt, such information is extremely useful, and when you consider it in the context of the enhanced event registration functionalities which I have already mentioned, event organisers really don’t have much more to ask in terms of integration – except, perhaps, the integration with e-commerce engines, which would allow events organisers to easily capitalise on their online work (but who knows, maybe Adobe is already working on this and will update us on it soon). Anyway, here is where you can find a bit more info, and here is the official sneak preview video below: