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About Web Conferencing

In my courses, particularly my upper level Developmental Biology course, students are required to read, analyze, and often present research articles. Professor and student discussions of these articles is extremely valuable, but often questions arise that go beyond the faculty members expertise or are just too personal to the study that only the original investigator could answer. To address this issue, I utilize current technology of web chatting, to directly connect in real time the lead investigators of the research articles with my class.

Students read and present the article in class. After the presentation I arrange a timed web conference with the lead investigator of that particular study.  Typically, using simple video chatting software (iChat) and digital cameras (iSight), we begin a conference in class with the investigator. This has been one of the most valuable experiences for the students.

Through this experience students gain a much deeper comprehension of the article and topic in general, as well as a more informed understanding of the techniques and methodology. Additionally, students uncover the unwritten steps and wrong turns as well as the thought process behind an investigators approach to the problem. These are all perspectives that I, as the teacher, can never provide my students, but are the perfect perspectives of the process of conducting science. Unintentionally, students have also gained a personal connection with the scientist, which has turned out to be a very important point. Students learn that there is a real person behind the article and often a funny one, which has led to a visible growth in student confidence in talking about research to anyone. Teaching at Smith College I am ever cognizant of the barriers that women experience when trying to break into a science career, and this approach is helping to break down some of those barriers. This experience fosters a real connection for the students with the science community.

I have been able to record these sessions using Conference recorder, an add-on software program affiliated with iChat. Each session is based on a specific research paper. Students generate specific and general questions about the work, as well as some big picture questions related to the field. The perspectives provided by the researchers have been extremely enlightening to all. Because these conferences are question based, highly organized, and really focused on a paper, I feel they will be of great use and accessibility to anyone’s syllabi covering similar material.

Each conference on this website is broken down by question so that you can quickly tailor your discussions to those questions most pertinent to your class. Additionally, by clicking on the subscribe to podcast button, you will automatically be linked to these conferences in podcast form, accessed via iTunes. Do enjoy, we certainly have!