So, I attended the webinar I mentioned in the previous post; it was an interesting experience.
From an actual, learning, discussion it was a bit mixed. As far as I could tell, Anton, the moderator (her name is Maria Droujkova) and I were the only people engaged for much of the time. Maybe the other people in the room (there were maybe 10 signed in for most of the time) were passively soaking things up (I know I’m certainly more apt to insert myself into discussions than the average person), but at times I got the feeling that Anton was giving a very nice presentation into a void of blackness. A couple of people other than Maria (who was very engaged, and who I have to give a lot of credit for keeping things rolling) asked questions at the end, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the response. I suspect talks in graduate student seminars will be much more effective publicity for MathOverflow.
But who knows. One of the nice things about stuff that goes up on the internet is that it has an afterlife. People can go after the fact and listen to the presentation if they are so inclined (once it gets posted, I’ll try to put a link here).
For me, it was probably more interesting as an opportunity to play with the Elluminate platform. This is a proprietary webconferencing platform, which happens to also have a free educational wing. As far as I can tell, anybody can freely use their platform, hosted by them, for free as long as said use is: 1) education-oriented and non-commercial, 2) free (you’re not charging those who attend), 3) recordable, and 4) open to anyone to attend. It also appears that if you register, you can also use the same platform for groups up to 4 privately (and also free).
I hope it’s as clear to the rest of you that such a thing could have awesome mathematics applications if stars aligned correctly (it’s far from obvious they would). The user experience for me was in the “pretty reasonable, but not mind-blowing” category. It was certainly convenient to stick together, voice, text chat, whiteboard, and essentially presentation capacities (for much of the talk, Anton was showing us bits of MO on his computer). Their workings were not what I would call slick, but they all seemed to actually work.
So I guess what I’m saying is, this was the first piece of software I’ve seen that I felt would allow me (or anyone else) to give a math talk, using my normal laptop, from my bedroom, in my bathrobe. In that sense, it was educational.