One of the contributions technology has made to education is that it has provided us with new tools that have allowed us to reconceptualise instructor-student and student-student interaction in our courses. Email is still a highly valued tool for many faculty, who use it to communicate with students individually or through a class listserv. Most faculty have the knowledge and skill to set up an email listserv quickly, but other interaction tools are a little more out of reach. Here at UBC, the discussion forum tool in WebCT is sometimes the only part of WebCT that is being used in conjunction with a face to face class, but it requires going through a process of obtaining a WebCT shell, which then needs to be populated by somebody (here in the Faculty of Dentistry you would contact myself or James Pagnotta in TST. This isn’t difficult, but it is sometimes a few more steps than some instructors would like.
Conversate is a handy tool that can quickly allow an instructor to set up a discussion space for course topics. It functions a bit like email, in that the emails of the students would need to be entered for them to be notified of the ‘conversation’ but adopts some of the nice features of threaded discussions, providing a visual structure of nesting individual replies, allowing RSS saavy students to subscribe to the conversation, and a few other features that allow everybody to stay on top of the discussion through notification.
Instructors might also find it useful to suggest this tool as a place for groupwork and collaboration. In many courses, group work takes place in group section of WebCT forums, and the instructor has access to monitor the process and step in if need. With Conversate, this feature isn’t lost–even though the conversation is located outside of WebCT, as long as the instructor is given access to the discussion as a member, he or she will be able monitor the group work if needed.
Finally, I like tools that don’t draw me into a long registration process–you can try it out without a login, but setting up your own takes less than 30 seconds.