My company has invested in Microsoft tools as the common platform for all of us to use. We have been using software packages such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access for years. Fairly recently, we've add Outlook (for calendaring and time management), Live Meeting (for virtual meetings), Sharepoint (for project collaboration) and the newest addition, Communicator (for instant messaging and instant meetings). The idea behind this strategy is that all of these tools work together and integrate seamlessly to allow virtual work groups to collaborate effectively. This also creates many new possibilities for synchronous (real time) distance learning.
I decided to run a project team meeting through Communicator this week as a test run to see how this might work for learning. It was a three-person meeting in which we were scheduled to revise a training proposal that we are scheduled to present to an internal client group next week. My intention was to invite my two team members to share my computer desktop through Communicator so we could discuss and edit the document together.
One of my team members was able to connect right away. The other, had difficulties. We could get him connected inside our virtual meeting, but every time he tried to take the final step to view the shared document he would get bounced out of the meeting. After 15 minutes of the three of us trying to troubleshoot, we decided to try another meeting approach. My second approach was to launch Microsoft Live Meeting from inside Communicator (since we were already there) and collaborate that way. I was excited because the team member who we could not connect with got right into the meeting, but my other team member, who had no problem with the desktop sharing in Communicator, was being blocked in making the jump from Communicator to Live Meeting. Again, we spent 15 minutes troubleshooting before we abandoned this approach as well.
After wasting 30 minutes of our meeting time, we went back to our usual meeting approach which was for me to set up a meeting directly in Live Meeting and send them email invitations to join me. This worked just fine and we were able to complete our proposal.
While I am encouraged by the promise of these collaborative tools, right now it is just a that: a promise. I can't imagine trying to use these tools with a training group when we can't even get a three person meeting off the ground. That being said, I am excited and encouraged by the possibilities. I know, one day soon, we will be designing learning activities that involve these tools and conducting learning sessions through them. In the meantime, we will just keep practicing so we will be ready when they are.