What Sheila’s seen this week: the homogenisation of engagement interfaces

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Spoiler alert this post probably won’t be as good as the title.

Yesterday I was involved in running a workshop for our PGCert Learning and Teaching students on digital learning. One of the exercises we got the students to was to map their “learning and teaching” based on the extended Visitor’s and Resident model (more info here).  An innocent tweet of some the maps provoked a bit of a discussion,

which you can see in this storify.

But that’s a bit of an aside to the title of this post, though it was pleasing to see the engagement with the activity.  We try exemplify a number of different engagement modes throughout the workshop, and indeed my colleague Sam Ellis who is the module leader, is using a variety of different approaches both for f2f and online activities throughout the module.

Thanks to 1minuteCPD, last week I came across Zeetings – a new to me anyway service for “free flowing, ground breaking, swash buckling engagement” which will  “transform your meetings, presentations, lessons and events by empowering everyone to participate from their own device.” It’s even got a friendly beardy hipster on the home page so it must be great!

Anyway, I was intrigued so had a look and it did strike me that it could actually be quite a nice tool to use in f2f sessions for getting interaction/feedback/engagement (pick the one that suits your need).

After a chat with Sam we decided to give it a whirl.  It does have a nice UI, it’s pretty easy to use, it generates a url for you to share with those you want to access your presentation (you can make it private if you want).  It’s pretty easy to add simple polls like this:

and it has some (limited) chat functionality, included a like/start option. Of course it has analytics built in – well all know that “understanding your audience is at the heart of being a remarkable presenter”.  The basic version lets up to 30 people access a “zeeting” and you can’t access all the functionality.  But if you are creative (think groups here people) you could get more interacting with the system.

As we used it yesterday, it did seem to be quite good, nothing extraordinary, but it did allow for some enhanced interaction (group and individual) and feedback. As we were watching some of the group work come through my other colleague Jim said, “it’s quite like Facebook”, which led to this post.

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad thing that UIs are becoming more similar.  Does it mean that everything – even any radical, alternative to the VLE – is just going to become one homogenized user experience? Are we “liking” our way into digital oblivion? Do like buttons really count as meaningful engagement? Are we (and by that I mean me) just sucked in a bit too easily by an apparently friendly, geeky, beardy icon?

I hope not.  Part of being digitally capable is being able to assess and evaluate tools/claims around engagement.  As educators we need to question the appropriateness of any kind of functionality, explore and share more why we find it useful.  Zeetings did allow us to easily create some engagement opportunities for a f2f session that we couldn’t easily, or as prettily,  do within our VLE.  Would I use it again? Probably? Would I pay for it? Probably not. But I bet I will be looking at something very similar in the not too distant future.

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