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LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

The Teaching in the Community Colleges (TCC) Online Conference

Bert Kimura 
Jim Shimabukuro 
Kapi'olani Community College

Virtual Learning, as a new term in education, helps us define new options in anytime/anyplace educational experiences. More specifically, the Internet is being recognized as a medium or bridge connecting new configurations of instruction with new opportunities for access. Bridging the distance is not new to the faculty and staff of Kapi'olani Community College (KCC) in Hawai'i. For many years, educational leaders have sought innovative solutions to offset shrinking legislative budgets with professional development opportunities. A typical mainland conference experience for one faculty member requires more than 8-10 hours of flight time, on average more out-of-classroom time for faculty members, and airfare costs upwards of $3,000. 

Crunching these figures sparked new ideas for bringing professional development opportunities to the islands through growing developments and uses of Internet connectivity. In 1996, the conference's inaugural year, KCC's James Shimabukuro, Bert Kimura, and Kenwrick Chan envisioned a new mode of conferencing; instead of sending many faculty to the mainland for professional development, they brought the best and brightest to Hawai'i ~ via a virtual route.

What is an Online Conference?

Shimabukuro describes an online conference as "like a traditional face-to-face (F2F) conference, except that it's conducted completely over the Internet." But more telling is his description of how online conferences and F2F conferences are "more different than they are similar," and the distinctive advantages of online conferences. 

Like its F2F counterpart, online conferences run on a real-time schedule. They have starting and closing dates. They also include activities such as chat sessions that begin and end at designated times. However, unlike traditional conferences, online events (1) are not tied to a specific geographical location; (2) do not require participants' physical presence; (3) include numerous opportunities for interaction with fellow participants, presenters, keynoters, and conference hosts and staff; (4) are archivable, i.e., most if not all the discussions in the various media can be recorded for future review; and (5) are not time bound since archives of presentations and forums, including synchronous events, are available, virtually, any time participants logs on.

What is TCC?

Another way to compare distinctions is to describe details and functions of the University of Hawai'i - Kapi'olani Community College's Teaching in the Community College (TCC) Online Conference. Following a pattern of events over the years, TCC begins with preconference/introductory sessions a few weeks prior to the conference's actual opening day. All registered participants and presenters are encouraged to attend these preconference workshops where they learn how to participate in chat sessions and use bulletin board forums. Practice sessions are set up and participants have opportunities to practice logging in and chatting. Conference support staff members are available at various times of the day to answer questions, provide guidance, and troubleshoot. In conjunction with these hands-on sessions, participants have the option to request online help from a virtual helpdesk.

Approximately one week prior to the conference, password-protected webpages loaded with the conference presentations are opened. Registered participants have the opportunity to attend (i.e., read) the presentations that interest them. Each paper is also linked to a special email discussion list, which gives participants opportunities to discuss the ideas presented in the papers. All TCC keynotes, special guests, and presenters post their presentations to conference webpages and are also scheduled for a fifty-minute live chat session on one of the three conference days. In these sessions, participants meet and talk with presenters about ideas in the papers.

On opening day, the conference officially begins with greetings that are emailed to all participants at the official starting time. (All time is given as GMT, Greenwich Mean Time.) Simultaneously, the greetings are posted on the conference webpage, followed by the first keynote, via email and the web. After the keynote, an email forum devoted to a discussion of the ideas presented in the keynote is announced. A different keynote opens each of the three conference days and a forum is developed for each. Participants join as many of these forums as they like. 

One of the primary activities for each day of the conference is the series of chat sessions designed to bring presenters and participants together in real-time. Each presenter selects a fifty-minute slot on one of the three days. At the allotted time, presenter and interested participants go to a prearranged chat room to begin their discussion. As much as possible, sessions are scheduled so they don't overlap. 

Over the years, more interactive features have been added to the program. One of the most popular is the Open Forum, discussion boards, or email lists devoted to specific topics or issues related to the conference theme. These forums are hosted by volunteers, and this year, graduate students from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa hosted the sessions. Participants have the option to join as many forums as they wish. For example, in 1998, during the three conference days, list members engaged in lively discussions built around 19 themes, from cheating in online classes to teaching history. Associations formed in these groups often extend beyond the final day. In fact, participants often continue their discussions for many days after the close of the conference; the lists remain active as long as needed.

In 1999, WebChat roundtables were added as conference activities. Like the open forums, these were designed to give participants a chance to exchange views in real-time on hot issues and trends. To accommodate participants in various time zones, roundtables on specific subjects were scheduled at different times of the day. Participants turned to the announcements to view topics, times, and designated WebChat rooms. At scheduled times, they logged on to the TCC Conference Webpage and, after signing in at the front door, they clicked their way to the WebChat room. As they entered, their names appeared in the list of persons in the room. They could read the discussion going on around them and join in the dialogue by typing in their comments and pressing enter. Their names and comments then appeared live on the screen.

Another first in 1999 was a special email panel-forum that featured invited speakers who represented various perspectives on a topic. Conference participants were given the opportunity to join this list. Kimura, co-coordinator of the conference and director of the Kapi'olani Community College (KCC) Information Media & Technology Services, invited leaders and experts on the subject to present brief papers in the form of email messages. Other panelists and participants then responded to these. The result was a focused, dynamic exchange. 

In the 2000 conference, to widen participation and leadership opportunities and to expand the exploratory possibilities of the virtual event, Shimabukuro experimented with the idea of writing teams. The purpose of each team was to explore, discuss, and report--to the conference at large--on the impact of new technologies on learning in its area of concern. More specifically, each team focused on (1) the current state of new technologies and learning in its target area, (2) the major trends, and (3) the critical issues. The teams took on some of the key topics: technology (chair Kinshuk, Massey University), mathematics (chair Ruby Evans, Santa Fe Community College), language learning (chair Satoru Shinagawa, Kapi'olani Community College), administration (chair Pat Tyrer, Byron Martin Advanced Technology Center), international issues (chair Steve McCarty, Kagawa Junior College), the library (chair Ilene Frank, University of South Florida), online degree programs (chair Vinnie Linares, Maui Community College), staff development (chair A. Nadine Burke, Delta College), the law (chair Robert N. Diotalevi, The College of West Virginia), the disabled (chair Ruth Garner, Learn Net Advisors and Research), college composition (chair Beverly Friend, Oakton Community College), psychology (chair David Kimwell, Louisiana Tech University), the former USSR (chair Ronaele Whittington, University of Hawaii at Manoa), distance education issues (chair Margit Misangyi Watts, University of Hawai'i at Manoa).

This year, with assistance from HorizonLive.com, several live presentations were made, including one keynote session. Conference participants received PowerPoint slides and audio commentary on their desktop computers while continuing to interact with the presenter and other participants through a messaging window. One participant stated that these events helped to create more of a "conference-feel" to the proceedings. Another stated, "It was exciting to see the presenters, hear their voices, see their PowerPoint presentations, and respond to questions." 

Other conference highlights include the Web tours of Hawai'i and The Coconut Café-a virtual café that stays "open" 24x7 for meeting, relaxing, and reflecting throughout the three conference days. The tours are designed to give the conference a sense of location. One attendee describes her experience at the 1997 conference: "Besides attending the conference, participants could experience a virtual tour of Hawai'i by going sightseeing, visiting museums, listening to Hawaiian music, shopping, or wandering on the campuses of the universities and colleges in Hawai'i. If their spirit moved them, participants could send electronic postcards to their loved ones. There were a variety of beautiful postcards for them to choose." 


TCC Results and Future Developments

TCC operates on a self-supporting basis with in-kind staffing contributions from Kapi'olani Community College's Information Media and Technology Services Department. Additional in-kind support is provided by faculty volunteers from other colleges and universities that review proposals and serve as editors for final submission. The total conference budget of $15,000-$20,000, with 95% generated from participant and exhibitor fees, is minimal when compared to the costs of hosting traditional conferences or securing professional development opportunities for over half the faculty and staff at KCC.

In addition to financial advantages, the conference participants, representing a multinational spectrum of 20 countries, exemplify the power of, albeit virtual, real-time dialogue and discussion in the virtual environment. To give measure to accomplishment, in 1998, TCC keynoter Steve McCarty (Professor, Kagawa Junior College, Kagawa, Japan) brought up the need for an organization of online educators; in the keynote forum that followed his presentation, the networking, the idea, and the procedures for the World Association of Online Educators (WAOE) were born.

In our experience, many who consider submitting a proposal to or registering for the online conference ask, "Do I need to be an Internet expert to participate?" The answer from TCC staff is always a resounding, "No!" Most educators already have the minimum skills: They are able to read and send email and they are able to log on to a webpage and explore the site. With these two skills, a person is able to take part in all the activities and engage in the interactive forums of this new connection called online conferencing.

In 2001, conference coordinators established an advisory committee to provide the planning staff with guidance for sustaining and strengthening this event in the future. Additionally, the coordinators hope to increase participation by community and junior college faculty and staff throughout the world, especially in Asia and the Pacific, making this a truly global event. They hope to tap into the resources, institutional agreements, and leadership established in international education by the Hawai'i Community Colleges.

For additional information, please contact: 
Bert Kimura or Jim Shimabukuro 
Kapi'olani Community College

Also note: Bert Kimura is scheduled for a special presentation of TCC on HorizonLive~July 12, 2001, 1600 EDT (2000 GMT).

 

 

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