I reviewed Adobe Connect 7.5 last year from a higher education perspective, calling out its ability to co-opt and utilize that wall of laptops that greets too many professors. Monday, I looked at the next version of Connect more generally over on Between the Lines and was blown away by the revamped interface and utter ease with which Connect 8 could be applied in K12, higher education, and professional development. Adobe's latest iteration of its interactive conference and meeting software is so good, I couldn't help but imagine how it could drastically change a classroom as much as it could change a company's business travel or conferencing solution.
As with most Adobe solutions, cost will probably be the biggest issue. Connect can run as a hosted or on-premise application and is licensed in several different ways, most of which key to the number of concurrent users accessing Connect. Very large institutions could spend upwards of $50,000 on a solution with multiple servers, several concurrent hosts, and as many as 2000 concurrent student participants (business pricing is handled on a case-by-case basis; in general, educational institutions should also contact Adobe or a reseller to ensure that they buy an appropriately designed system). Obviously, smaller implementations will cost less and a school district could easily access hosted instances of Connect for under $2000 a year.
That being said, regardless of the cost, if I were running a well-connected school, district, or university, I'd find the money for Connect 8, even if I could only afford to pilot one of Adobe's inexpensive small hosted packages. I've never seen a richer, easier way to share content with users and engage them in ways that other solutions, including the laptops-closed-sage-on-the-stage model, simply cannot. In fact, because Connect actually records entire interactive sessions, I have no doubt that a clever school administrator could find ways to monetize lessons and class activities from the best instructors, significantly defraying the costs of Connect.
There are two major factors that make Connect so appealing in education: Ease of use for both presenters and meeting attendees and complete flexibility in terms of interactivity. Here's a quick example of how a teacher might create a poll before class for a simple dipstick:
This is only one bit of Connect's functionality, but it's a good example of the sorts of simple, effective tools built into Connect 8.
T.H.E. Journal summarized many of its new and compelling features quite well in their feature this week:
Enhanced chat, including separate tabs for private and group discussions and customizable elements, such as color and text size;
New formatting capabilities for notes, as well as support for exporting to RTF;
Improved whiteboarding with new custom shapes and support for using the whiteboard as an overlay on documents;
Integration with existing SIP-compliant videoconferencing systems, including those from Tandberg;
Mobile support for Android- and iOS-based devices; and
Improved security with enhanced access control (and additional controls over desktop and application sharing) and password-protected rooms, among other new security features.
Connect 8 supports virtual breakout rooms where students can interact with each other in small groups and the instructor can moderate and supervise all rooms simultaneously. Instructors can also quickly promote students to presenters, allowing them to take over the presentation or discussion quickly. No switching laptops and projectors for a student to show a PowerPoint or share a video; they simply need to be participating in the meeting.
And the possibilities for virtual or online courses, whether asynchronous or real time, are fairly remarkable with Connect 8. Obviously there are plenty of solutions for running an online course, but the Connect UI is such that any relatively savvy instructor could quickly be up and running with a virtual classroom. If they can project a slide deck and manage their class in Blackboard or Moodle, Connect will be straightforward.
Speaking of Moodle and Blackboard, Connect 8 is now easily integrated with all major learning management systems. Students can access Connect directly from the systems they're already using. Check out Adobe's resources on using Connect in education here or on their Education Exchange.
This technology makes me want to get back in front of a classroom because of the myriad possibilities for interaction with and among the students; it's also going to become a standard part of the teacher training I conduct since since training teachers is like herding cats and they're generally harder to engage than the students. What better way to deliver PD than by using a multimodal tool with built-in capabilities for formative assessment and hands-on learning, and the ability to review content later, on demand? Or, for that matter, to teach any class?