Use of Elluminate for conducting online office hours (Matt Haley)

For the past three semesters, we have used an elearning and web-conferencing tool called Elluminate to conduct office hours. This program has already seen widespread adoption among online divisions of universities, but we believe it has a place in the on-ground class as well. Based on our experience teaching with Elluminate, we see its key strengths as portability and interactivity.

Any computer platform with the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) installed can easily access the online office by going to the appropriate web url in the browser. This means that students on and off campus can visit our office hours, so long as they have an internet connection. This has allowed us to schedule office hours at more convenient times for instructors and students alike--often in the evenings or on weekends--leading to greatly increased student participation. The portability of Elluminate is especially helpful for students with busy schedules during the day or who live far away from campus, many of whom have enthusiastically told us that online office hours were their only viable source of getting help in the course.

The interactive aspects of Elluminate are best conveyed through a demonstration:
Part 1:
Part 2:
(Please view in full screen and in 1080p resolution.)

This video, which was made by recording the screen during one of our class's online office hours, uses several programs in conjunction with Elluminate. The three windows that appear continuously are the main Elluminate window (left), a WYSIWIG Latex editor for writing equations (top right), and a webcam feed (bottom right). Elluminate has the capability of sharing desktop applications, allowing all of the students to see the contents of the upper right equation pane in real time. Several auxiliary programs are used as well, such as the browser, from which images of homework problems are snapshotted onto the Elluminate whiteboard, and a calculator such as Mathematica, Matlab, or Maple.

The basic flow of office hours is as follows: students sign into the classroom and click the “raise hand” button to establish a queue by which the instructor answers their questions in order. Next, a student is called upon to ask a question (either conceptual or from homework), after which the text of this question is copied onto the central whiteboard using the Elluminate “snapshot” feature. Then, using text or voice, the instructor interacts with the students, prompting them for possible solutions to the problem and writing equations or explaining concepts as necessary. At times the instructor will use a calculator program to solve problems or check a student's work when he is stuck. During this process, students can communicate with each other in private channels or with the entire room, facilitating cooperative work even though the participants may be far away from each other in physical location.