Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tokbox Free Conferencing--How Andrew Jackson University Makes it Work

I caught a Twitter by Don Kassner, in which he was singing the praises of Tokbox and I wanted to learn more. Distance learning has come a long way over the last few years. So too has "teleconferencing." Being able to see people makes a difference in communication because facial expression gives a context that voical intonation cannot do alone. Interesting stuff. Bunnie

Tokbox Free Conferencing--How Andrew Jackson University Makes it Work


by Don Kassner
President and Chief Operating Officer
Andrew Jackson University, Inc

In late 2007, Andrew Jackson University was looking for a tool that could help us with our motto: Take Education AnywhereTM. We wanted to connect with our students in a way that personalized the distance education model.Then serendipity took over. An article appeared in Tech Crunch that desecribed a small start-up company based in San Francisco that was using wbecams to connect people for free. The company – Tokbox – allows users access to a web based interface allowing users to video call each other.

When we first saw this tool, we found an immediate application – exam proctoring. Our distance education students had to find proctors in order to take their exams. In many cases, they had to go to a library or testing center in order to take their exam. This is very disruptive to their schedule and is the antithesis of what distance education should be – flexible, on your time and your scheduleIn fact, one of our students said to me – “Don, the exams are rough. I can do all my coursework from my kitchen table, but when it’s time for my exams – precisely at my period of highest stress – I have to go somewhere else. It is a hassle.” Well, along came Tokbox and voila – a solution.

As of today, almost 80% of Andrew Jackson University students take their exams from their kitchen table. Andrew Jackson University has combined the Tokbox interface with some other technologies and has created a service called ProctorU that solves the proctoring problems.

However, as good as that solution is – our experience with Tokbox didn’t end there. The video mail functionality is now part of our education model. Because Tokbox is so easy to use, and only requires the purchase of an inexpensive webcam, we rolled out a program where all of our faculty offer video feedback directly to students. At least 10 to 12 times a course, faculty record a two to three minute video with feedback on how the students are progressing through their course. This feedback loop has created a unique and powerful experience for the student and has made the online educational experience at Andrew Jackson University among the best in the world.

But it hasn’t ended there. Tokbox also has a feature that allows multiple people to collaborate on a live video conference. As a result, we are able to hold most of our conference calls using the video conferencing tools. This has significantly improved the experience. It is very powerful to be able to see the person you’re speaking with, even if they are located halfway across the country…..and the price is right – it is free. Yes, FREE!!

The web conferencing tools Tokbox has developed are very good – although there are some limitations. Tokbox claims to be able to support an unlimited number of users but recommends groups of twenty-five or less. We have found a better limit is about 8 to 10 users. It gets difficult to manage a call with more users than that and seems as if internet bandwidth might be an issue.

However, Andrew Jackson University is pleased to have a formal partnership with Tokbox and we have been a consistent user of their service since late 2007. We’ve seen the service improve dramatically over time and we have a tremendous amount of confidence in their ability to make the service better every day – plus they receive their funding from the same people who funded You Tube.So – go to http://www.tokbox.com/ and start today.

As for us, Andrew Jackson University is a privately held college located in Birmingham, Alabama. Our eleven degree programs are offered 100% online. The university is accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council, a nationally recognized accrediting association approved by the U.S. Department of Education and by CHEA. The university prides itself as providing the best education at the lowest price – which it achieves through its unique sponsored tuition program. Check us out at http://www.aju.edu/ or go to http://www.sponsoredtuition.com/

Contact Don at edk@aju.edu

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