This Active Learning Platform Provides a Rich Set of Integrated Tools for Student Learning and Engagement
I've been aware of Echo360 for years now, but have thought of it as predominantly a Lecture Capture solution. I recently learned that it is a much more robust platform, with rich functionality that can engage students in face-to-face, hybrid, or online learning environments.
A Little Background
A few years back, I saw Perry Samson demonstrate the Lecture Tools platform he had overseen the creation of, and I really liked what I saw. I later learned that Echo360 had acquired the product. Recently, I heard Perry talk about the platform again in one of Bryan Alexandar's FTTE Shindig sessions and it rekindled my interest. I really wanted to give Lecture Tools a try.
I reached out to Echo360 to ask about the availability of the solution. It turns out it is integrated with the Echo360 product suite, and is not available as a separate solution. Robin Smyers, Echo360's Manager of Academic Partnerships, set me up with a demonstration of the tool set. It turns out that Echo360 had evolved considerably over the years, in numerous ways, and was now a rather different offering than the lecture capture solution I had looked into back around 2012 or so.
Rich Student Engagement, Feedback, and Analytics Functionality
I was really impressed with the functionality offered by Echo360. The tools provided make it is easy for teachers to share content in an engaging manner. Students can take notes that are stored online, synched with the content, and are easily accessible via the web. Students can ask questions and indicate ‘confusion', and they can also bookmark content, which in turn creates a ‘study guide'.
Teachers can review questions asked and respond to them, look over areas that cause confusion (and note which are flagged most frequently as confusing). Teachers can also create polls to gauge understanding or seek other input. Of course, in addition to pre-built content, teachers can also record live lectures, or record themselves in advance for playback later.
All of this interactive functionality provides teachers an easy way to assess engagement. There are even engagement reports and metrics available. In fact, Lecture Tools creator Perry Samson explained that it is possible to accurately predict success or failure as early as two weeks into a course using these engagement metrics.
Let's take a look at how Echo360 might be used in several different common teaching scenarios to better illustrate the power of this integrated tool set.
In the traditional face-to-face environment, professors can deliver content* that students can watch on their screens, staying in sync with the teacher. Students can take notes that get linked with where they are in the content, for easy review later. At any point, the teacher can add a poll, to gather student feedback. Students can flag content as ‘confusing' at any point, and teachers can see this so they can know quickly if students are struggling with specific topics.
One of the powerful ideas this delivery approach enables is allowing students who are not present in the classroom to participate, staying in step with the content. If video capture is being used, students can see and hear the lecture live, and everyone can later go back and review. While some instructors might express concerns over this encouraging students not to come to class, it is important to note that student engagement can be assessed regardless of where they are (both during and after class).
I can't help but see this as the closest I've come to true “anywhere, anytime” learning. Students anywhere in the world could attend a class live, and all of these students, regardless of location or circumstance, can replay and review the lecture and the content as often as they wish (assuming they have adequate Internet bandwidth). This is a truly hybrid platform.
*Content: While PowerPoint slides are a popular option, many kinds of content can be used, including PDFs and videos. Echo360 can leverage Embed.ly to enable the conversion of many digital formats to an Echo360-friendly slide format.
Flipped or Blended Classes
For course delivery models that encourage learning content consumption outside of class, Echo360's tool set can be a home run. Students can read, watch, listen to content, take notes, and ask questions that teachers can review in preparation for class. By building in polls, you can accomplish two important things: encourage further engagement with the content, and assess understanding.
Those who read EmergingEdTech regularly know that I am a strong advocate of flipped learning, and in the online workshops I run a few times a year, we emphasize the importance of requiring engagement with the material, and looking for opportunities to start class with a strong sense of what students do and do not understand about the material. Echo360 can deliver on both accounts if the provided tools are leveraged well.
Echo360 offers lots of fun options for online course delivery. First we have the content and the mechanisms you can use to make it engaging and assess understanding. In addition to that, the possibility of an occasional synchronous session strikes me as worth considering. After all, one of the key shortcoming of online delivery is the lack of social engagement. This can be addressed with various techniques, and one of them can be getting people together from time to time.
Even if some folks can't make it, if a teacher holds a synchronous session, perhaps to dig deeper into an interesting topic, or to review a concept students are struggling with, students can experience being part of a the larger group in a live setting where they can ask questions and get feedback from the instructor. For those who can't make the session, if it is recorded, they can participate afterwords, and still submit questions, take notes, indicate ‘confusion', and so on.
One of the most impressive features the platform offers is a set of metrics that instructors can use to review student engagement. There are 6 metrics captured, and instructors can define how to ‘weight' each to calculate an overall Engagement Score.
Echo360 maintains metrics on Attendance, Video Views, Presentation Views, Q&A, Notes, and Activities:
And instructors can use a pre-built calculation, or adjust it, to determine an Engagement score. Here we see an example of a screen showing these metrics for several students.
Teachers can use this analytical data to see who is struggling and who is well engaged. With these metrics readily at hand, teachers can determine very early on in a course which students will require the most support and assistance to make it through the course with a good grade.
The Platform: Cloud Based and Device Friendly
One of the other things that changed about Echo360 over the last few years is that it is now a hosted solution. When I checked it out years ago, it required a local, centralized server set up. As long as it is reliable, a cloud based solution (Echo360 runs on Amazon Web Services) generally means lower start up costs, lower operational costs, and less maintenance. Nice.
Echo360's full set of functionality is available through web browsers. There are also iOS and Android apps that currently are predominantly for viewing, but updated apps that will provide full functionality are nearing completion.
Taking Echo360 for a Test Drive
I have signed up for a trial and I am excited about taking Echo360 for a test run and sharing my experience here. More to follow soon!
If you are interested in trying Echo360, reach out to them here: echo360.com/contact-us.