Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Microsoft Lync and Online Collaboration

Today was another very productive day for me. I always define a productive day not in terms of what I get done but what I learn in the process. Today it was using parametric equations to draw arcs to label congruent angles with dynamic ExamView questions. But this blog post has less to do about parametric equations and more about how I learned about the use of parametric equations. 

My colleague Dean and I are both learning so much about creating dynamic questions with ExamView software. Last year, when first discovering the power of Examview and its use with Learning Management Systems, we were in the same office area. This year, while I work out of St. John's, Dean is working out of one of our distance education schools in central Newfoundland. So... all our collaboration is virtual. Initially we were using Polycom and Blackboard Collaborate to communicate at a distance but that has since changed. 

Late in the fall our organization purchased access to Microsoft Lync. When we piloted its use a couple of years ago it caused so many technical issues that impacted my teaching that I uninstalled it and thought I would never look back. After some convincing from a member of our senior management team, I decided to give it another try.  I must say I am glad that I did.

First of all Microsoft Lync has a videoconferencing feature that, to me, works just as well as Polycom, Skype or even FaceTime. Being able to see the person that you are collaborating with is far better than just hearing them... and far better than simply texting.

What makes Lync so nice is that, in addition to videoconferencing, we could simultaneously share our main/secondary monitors as well as software applications. This allowed us throughout the learning process to see each others ideas as well as debug and simplify the code needed to create dynamic questions. 

There were times when we needed to review the mathematics behind our code. Microsoft Lync has a whiteboard that can be shared that allows for annotations and all the other things that a whiteboard allows. It works quite well. 

As you may be reading this you are probably thinking that it all sounds good but asking yourself... is there texting? The answer is yes. There is a text tool within Lync and, in addition to texting, it allows for the easy transfer of files to/from participants. For us working with ExamView, the transfer of banks and tests were essential. We could email them... but doing so while chatting was so much more efficient.

And all of the features were all really good... but the best feature of Microsoft Lync, in my opinion, is the idea that participants are logged into Lync when their computer starts, and can update their status in real time. Simply put... Dean knew when I was available and when I was busy... and vise versa. 

Microsoft Lync has a 2013 version of their mobile apps. While it does not work now for our organization... it will soon... and that will provide even more flexibility for collaboration. I see great potential for Microsoft Lync for professional development, teacher communication/collaboration and even teaching online. It's a great tool! One I will keep using! 

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