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Webheads in Action:
Community formation online and its role in language learning

Gallery | URLs and YahooGroups | Community members | Syllabus | Online Schedule Archive

Weeks 4 - Feb 15-21

Other synchronous and threaded chat tools

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  1. Introduction to Blackboard
  2. TEAM BLACKBOARD creates Webheads site
  3. Nicenet: | more info
  4. Other threaded discussions: Delphi Forums | See Susanne's example site: and Webheads at
  5. GEN: the VirtualU Open Course software
  6. Yahoo Groups
  7. Others mentioned:
    The LearnEnglish Chat,
    WebCT - Pete MacKichen points us to some manuals online: and
    Wimba voice discussion board - see the Webheads example | add the code to your own web page
    GroupBoard - here's a webheads example | add the code to your own web page
    phpBB - Creating Communities at to download the free program. The User's Guide is located at ; there is a Webheads forum set up somewhere in here:; inquiries to Don Hinkelman at
  8. Robin Good: Synchronous Collaboration Tools for the Academic World by at; a presentation at e/merge2004 Blended Learning and Collaborative Technologies Conference June 15, 2004

Seen on TESLCA-L, Feb 7, 2002: "I have used message boards, but they no longer have a free service. Also students do not need to become members, so their comments can be anonymous but this means they can't be tracked. The moderator access is great for editing or deleting messages and closing threads. I'm aware of but the message board only allows one level of replies (so a reply cannot be sent to a reply) which defeats the purpose of discussion in my view. Yahoo groups seem great but the process involved in becoming a member is a bit onerous for our students. I don't think they'd get past this step. I've also briefly tried and it looks promising.

From BJB: Steve Narmontas is the tech ed guy at the Western New England College. He is also the developer of the Manhattan Virtual Classroom, perhaps the most formidable open source challenger to WebCT and Black Board, etc. Lately he's been collared into helping a local elementary school get their feet wet in Web course building and content publishing -- and he seems to love it. Read all about it in today's Open Source Schools. If nothing else, it's an idea we might copy, right? Nice going, Steve.

1. About Blackboard from Nigel

Thanks, Dafne, for asking about Blackboard (BB).

BB is a widely used system in higher ed in the US (and elsewhere?), although it is not designed for (nor refined for!) ESL. Again, the problem of using software for more than it was intended to do.

I've found it moderately useful as a student and teacher. I like the way you can create group areas that only group members (and the instructor!) can access. We did this in a class where we had to do a research project in groups - we could share our data and discuss the findings on the BB group site, and the instructor could monitor to make sure we were on the right tracks.

The discussion board is the other big part of BB. I find this only works if the instructor poses specific questions -- for instance, in a "Structure of English" graduate level class, the professor would post ungrammatical (or questionable) utterances he'd heard from native or non-native speakers, and asked us to analyse them. Very interesting. By contrast, same professor, different class, and very vague questions led to boringly circular discussions.

As a teacher, I've found it necessary to require students to post on BB (even though I'm not entirely comfortable with this). I am currently finding that some of my students who are fairly quiet in class are much more verbose on line, which is a strong incentive to stick with it. There is a lot of reluctance amongst students to participate in electronic discussion -- a useful caveat for us all in this group: we may be enthusiastic about CALL, but this doesn't mean our students will be too!

The other warning I have is to repeat that BB is *sloooooow* unless you have a very good (ie ethernet/cable/DSL) internet connection. My AT&T;dial-up refuses to give me more than 28k, which makes it painful to use BB from home!

You can sign in to BB sites as a guest, but you can't view the discussion board, which is the most interesting part. If anyone knows how to change this setting, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll think of something eventually...

If you're interested in my ... ah ... modifications to BB to simplify the interface for ESL students, let me know and I'll show you what I did.

Cheers, Nigel

Hi Nigel, I've received a message from TESLCLA, where someone wrote that Blackboard is not free anymore. I think that is a condition we as teachers should always consider, especially when teaching in a country where students are used to getting almost everything for free. Greetings, María Irene

Here is a posting from the list, 27 Jan 2002: "I just wanted to comment on I used it for the past two semesters with reading groups and was looking forward to using it this term with my writing class. However, it is no longer free. There is an almost $300 per year use. Of course, this amount gives you assistance."

Seen on TESLCA-L Feb 5, 2002: "If you have a free course on Blackboard, they will keep it up until June 30, then delete can migrate it (for free) to Blackboard5...but after two months it will be bottom line...if you have a free course on Blackboard...if you (on your own hook) migrate it to Blackboard5 on June can keep it free until August 31...then you will have to pay the fees."

Chrys writes: I'm looking to set up several 'free' discussion forums/message boards on the web for our students to take part in threaded asynchronous discussions on specific themes (determined by our curriculum). I have used message boards, but they no longer have a free service. Also students do not need to become members, so their comments can be anonymous but this means they can't be tracked. The moderator access is great for editing or deleting messages and closing threads.

I'm aware of but the message board only allows one level of replies (so a reply cannot be sent to a reply) which defeats the purpose of discussion in my view. Yahoo groups seem great but the process involved in becoming a member is a bit onerous for our students. I don't think they'd get past this step. I've also briefly tried and it looks promising.

Arlyn points out: A Webhead can create everything that appears in Blackboard WITHOUT Blackboard (e.g., as Charles Nelson does at: PS: check out his threaded discussion forum created with "Critical Tool" software, supplied for free by U of T)

TEAM BLACKBOARD have been hard at work! Click here <<

After an examination of pros and cons of various authoring system, discovering whether Blackboard is still free, we will decide whether to pursue the following (in any event, our project for this week will be to set up a threaded discussion in the system of choice):

There's a conference entitled BLACKBOARD: BUILDING A COMMUNITY OF LEARNERS, Friday, April 5 - Saturday, April 6, 2002, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY. Besides the title and its obvious relation to us and our mutual project, three things attracted me to this conference:

Nigel knows a thing or two about Blackboard, and we are a community of learners, as Lena says, assisting each other through our mutually overlapping zones of proximal development, and we have until Feb 25 to decide if we would like to submit a proposal to a conference on Blackboard which none of us is actually planning to attend. The presentation itself would have to be through the chat tools we're all learning to use now.

But I'm thinking, what a neat project for this present seminar (put together a blackboard site for us and present it as an aspect of our community development). Am I nuts, or does this sound like a neat idea to any of you out there? Would anyone like to give it some thought? More to the point, would anyone be willing to take it on?

Here are some particulars: PROPOSAL DEADLINE: FEBRUARY 25, 2002 > > Proposals should include an abstract of the presentation and information on the equipment required. Please submit proposals electronically at Visit the conference website and register online at Please send requests for additional conference information to or Rita Goldberg, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617. Phone: (315) 229-5156.

Susanne responds: We would have to make a regular proposal very soon, and to devote quite some careful effort to realize something of value to others in a public BB conference session. This question made me wonder if I really want to do it even at no registration fee. Why do people from Blackboard want to invigorate and stress a commitment to their own particular learning environment? Because they have gone very big and very commercial by now. You know, the world economy has some huge expectations in the buzz field of e-learning. I think I dislike the way BB present the new concept of developing and selling readymade Building Bricks of standardized course content. Possibly it will be how this world of online education will be moving on, but still this is not a learning concept I would personally support. What do you think?

Actually I would like better to see if we could end up with something like a moderated one or two week seminar summing things up in GEN (Global Educators' Network) where discussions can also be sorted by thread, by date or by writer. We might use it for making a summary and a final discussion, and it can even be open for later contributions. This is just a proposal but I feel this would give us an idea of how VirtualU can be used in practice, as well as what are the discussions taking place there - and I am, sure many of those would be of general interest to many of you! One new feature it would be great to check out is the offline reader making it easier and cheaper for users who are to pay per minute and those with slow connections.

But - please wait and see how it looks like when the GEN server is ready , hopefully it will be very soon. And, let us continue this discussion, please.

Nigel responds: I agree entirely with Susanne - I only know BB because the monolithic (and rich!) institution within which the rather smaller (and poorer!) school of education, and English Language Programs are situated, subscribes to BB, so we can use it for free. I think as a group, we should cover this briefly because some members have access to it, but we should not spend too much time on it. Actually I would like better to see if we could end up with something like a moderated one or two week seminar summing things up in GEN

Vance concurs with the committee report: The 'committee' seems to me to be doing just fine. I guess a committee is by definition a portion of the community at large delegated to sift through available data and reach a decision on behalf of the community, and it appears to me that this committee is tending in favor of the VirtualU Open Course software.

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2. Team Blackboard creates Webheads site!

Teresa has made a web page with full instructions for joining the BB site:

However, here are details for enrolling:

  1. Go to
  2. Click on CREATE ACCOUNT (on the left)
  3. Enter name, email, user name and password
  4. Click Submit
  5. From the BB main page, click on the COURSES tab (at the top)
  6. Enter "Webhead" in the SEARCH COURSES box (top left)
  7. When it (eventually) finds the Webhead course, click ENROLL (underneath the course title on the right)
  8. Enter the Access Code: webhead (case sensitive) and Submit
  9. Click OK

If you have any problems, we have office hours at Tapped In (see Schedule), and we'd also be happy to answer questions by email or on Yahoo IM.

TEAM BLACKBOARD: Nigel, Dafne, Susanne and Teresa

Dafne compares Course Sites: Following Sus suggestion, here are my first impressions about Nicenet compared to BB and Yahoo Groups on some aspects: I find Nicenet to be very friendly and fast. But for my purposes it has a great minus: we cannot upload files, only cut and paste them, which means that I would not be able to upload pictures. Do not think that I am a picture addict (or a Power Point maniac). The problem is that I work with architecture students and pictures and images are fundamental for my classes, even more if they we are talking about online classes. In this sense, Blackboard allows for these kinds of files not to mention that you can have slide shows in the virtual classroom, but... BB is slooooow and too many mouse clicks to get to the course sites. Yahoo Groups Photo section allows for pictures which can be shown in slidesshow fashion, and you can upload all kinds of files in the files section. It has other drawbacks such as those ads and the messages saying to go back in ten minutes because the page cannot be shown at the moment. What I find exciting about this courseware exploration is that everyone will be able to find one (or a combination) to satisfy his/her needs.

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3. Nicenet

In case Blackboard is too slow for you, or you already realized the payware situation is not withing reach, you might like to check out Nicenet ICA . Nicenet is simpler but also faster, less functions and easier to manage, at least at first try. And, it is still available for free. Not even banner ads! I have not written down any detailed helpful notes about Nicenet yet. It was so easy to get started that I forgot to take any notes. There is a fine list of Nicenet ICA FAQ

Please go and get your own first impressions. I would like to ask some of you to report back and tell us how you got there for your first visit, and what you have found, add some more content and possibly also compare it to BB? ICA stands for Internet Classroom Assistant. You can easily start up your own class if you like.

Under Link sharing -> internet resources I tried to structure some of the most important links to this course. Also, under a second thread, I added links for BB Delphiforum and textweaver.

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4. Delphi Forums at


On Feb 27, 2002 the Delphi management sent an email to all subscribers stating that the advertising revenue model was not working for them and requesting that users sign up for Delphi Plus. No threats were made in this message to terminate free services.

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5. VirtualU Open Course software

This is in response to your e-mail about a free and paid BB. I am not sure if anyone has covered it already in the postings, but I believe you cannot set up any new, free BB courses (they have discontinued this service) and all your courses that are currently free will have to be moved to a paid version in May (?) not sure, or they will be wiped out.
Yes, you are right you cannot set up new courses. The old ones will stay until June, then you can move them to the new one for two months for free and then you have to pay $ 295 a year. You can try the new version for two months. You can still visit the one we set up for our group and read the threaded discussions. It is called Webheads and the password is webhead. All the instructions for registration are in our community page, syllabus, week 4. Anyway, we are moving our discussion to GEN SIG Webheads.

In the Global Educators' Network, also known as GEN, we have now set up a Special Interest group (SIG) for Webheads in Action where we can experiment further with our community building and cyberspace niche carving experiments. I was thinking if we might eventually use the same procedure for the startup of our discussion forum as we used for our Blackboard session, that is to copy and paste selected messages from our previous class maillist etc?

If you have any ovbjections to the above mentioned recycling and restructuring method, please contact me or Vance ASAP.

Sylvia Currie from GEN will be with us from 18:00 to 18:30 GMT tomorrow - she is the GEN specialist and facilitator par excellence. Meet us in TI or get to the SIG and add your five euros to our new phase of discussion. Sylvia has sent us this first help file on how to register (will be added as a separate mail!). If possible, please try to register and get a hands-on feeling on the VirtualU learning space in advance as this is not an easy procedure to guide in a group. Post your questions for assistance as well as your troubleshooting to this list, and we may publish it in the GEN SIG, too using the thread called GEN troubleshoot.

To register for the SIG, and become a GEN member,

You will then be prompted to provide some membership information, and be issued a password

Use your ID and password to access the SIG directly:

Hope to meet some of you in the SIG and please help us explore the possibilities and enjoy the other seminars in the GEN community

:-) Sus

VirtualU Open Course software
VU-OC homepage:
How VU-OC works:

From the GEN Update February 27, 2002
4. New SIG: Welcome all Webheads!
GEN extends a special welcome to Webheads, a community of online language teachers and learners who have been meeting regularly in various cyber-venues since 1998. Webheads will use GEN as one of their meeting places, and are invited to share their experiences in a future GEN seminar on online language learning.

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6. Let's not forget Yahoo Groups

The nature of the Yahoo listserv is that I cannot easily keep track of discussions since there are not threaded. I end up reading the messages one by one in chronological order. Has anyone else found it difficult to follow the discussions?

In relation to the lack of threads in the Yahoo Groups list, I have found that there is a thread feature on the upper right corner when you open the messages section. If you click there, all the messages that have been sent as a reply to a given message will be threaded together, and when opening the first one, all the replies will be shown at the bottom of the page.

Further reading: Teresa recommends:

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Webheads - Main Page | Join us | Welcome | Students | Virtual Community | Online class | Chat Logs | Reports and Studies | Grammar | Tutorials | Games | Teaching for Webheads
Time conversions - and more
ChatsHomestead text chat or leave a message | GroupBoard text chat, whiteboard, and guestbook | Tapped In - /join VanceS in Office N2201, North Wing, 22nd Floor or /join JohnSte | Palaces – avatar text chat at and, both on port 9998 | Active Worlds – animated avatar 3D text chat
Discussion forums – voice: Wimba voice discussion board | text: Delphi Forum
Instant MessengersICQ | Yahoo! Messenger | MSN Messenger Service
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Last updated: August 31, 2004 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0