This time it’s real and personal: Making your own realtime learning experiences with WebRTC

One of the themes I expect to see for 2010 is more collaborative real-time interaction web applications.

was my bold prediction at the beginning of 2010 (who would want to be a futurologist ;). Mike Caulfield recently highlighted how the WebRTC specification, which permits real-time communication (audio, video, chat, screen interaction) in your browser with a bit of JavaScript and opens the opportunity for educators to more easily breakaway from learning designs created to fit traditional webinar platforms. As Mike highlights:

almost all of these products are designed for “pass-the-mic” lecture style classrooms, or worse, are sales presentation software that has been “adapted” for the classroom. And hence, all the techniques to which professors normally have access in face-to-face discussion … are not really possible with modern video conferencing software

To see the potential there are already a number of projects using this technology. For video and chat could use in appear.in which allows up to 8 people join a conversation “for free. no login – no installs” . If you’d like to re-create Doug Engelbart’s bug fight from the ’mother of demos’, Mozilla have produced TogetherJS which lets users interact (mouse, chat, audio) with two lines of code. Or if you’d like a bit of both Talky.io lets you do video, chat and screen sharing if you are using Chrome.

The danger is we are recreating “pass-the-mic” educational experiences but it’s worth noting Talky.io is built on simpleWebRTC a library for making WebRTC enabled applications. And lets remember, this is in the browser using only HTML and JavaScript. That means if you can publish a webpage, and there are lots of free ways to do this like Dropbox/Google Drive, you can host your own real-time application. So for staff with access or basic coding skills the problem is flipped. It’s now less about fitting your learning into a mass produced box and making your own box … that is powerful.

PS For developers getting serious in this area one of this library authors, @HenrikJoreteg, has written a book Human JavaScript which I haven’t read but should go on my Santa’s List.

PPS In the comments of Mike’s post Alan Levine (@cogdog) highlights the MIT Media Lab’s Unhangout project. This is an open source project that enables you to link multiple Google Hangouts into breakout rooms. Participants can pre-register or join sessions of their choice. This also allows you to benefit from the features of Hangouts like being able to record and broadcast to many.

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