Via these custom-developed scripts and interfaces, participants in a webcast can ask questions of the assembled group. All questions are automatically entered into a database accessible by other webcast participants imediately, and selected questions are presented in the physical meeting. This system is used in a variety of contexts, including the quarterly public meetings of ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Benefits of this method are several: many participants, especially non-native English speakers, find this more natural and less intimidating; it allows a discussion to address more questions in less time; and it makes it possible to screen questions for relevance to the topic at hand.
Experience shows that some questions are best asked in writing for a more direct, on-the-record, reponse and to facilitate more pointed debate. To combine these benefits of textual responses with the immediacy of a face-to-face event, we developed the "Participant Response Display Mechanism" (new name in the works!) which receives brief messages from two or more computer terminals for display on a projection screen. As each participant responds, his answer is immediately displayed for others to see, and the system avoids bias towards fast typists by giving each participant a separate area on the screen. In other configurations, messages may be queued for manual review by an instructor or assistant, may be routed to the screen in their entirety, or may be selected randomly. With flexibility in the configuration of screen areas, this system can be used to facilitate a textual "debate" (whether genuine or role-play), and with queuing systems to share space among a larger group, the system can facilitate a written meta-discussion among all participants even as primary discussion continues orally.
Real-Time Polling System
The In-Room Comment Platform is in many instances beneficial for the slight delay it injects between asking a question and discussing the point among the assembled group, but in some instances this delay is not desirable. In such situations, the Real-Time Polling System is preferably -- allowing students to express comments immediately viewed by the instructor or, optionally, the entire class. In one application, the system might present a slider with extremes labeled "I am confused" and "I understand"; when sufficiently many students move their sliders sufficiently towards the "confused" end of the spectrum, the instructor might be automatically alerted to pause for review or questions from students. The system can also be configured with buttons, checkboxes, drop-down lists, and free-response text boxes, and it can perform crosstab analysis, automatically reporting results split according to relevant demographic or other characteristics. Results are ordinarily displayed on a projection screen at the front of the room and/or on administrative consoles. Textual responses are integrated with the Participant Response Display Mechanism describd above.
The rotisserie allows a large number of people to participate in a discussion of sorts, without running into problems of scale. The moderator designs a single interesting question to be sent to all participants, who may choose to answer by a designated deadline. At the time of the deadline, all who have answered find their answers routed randomly to another participant for an asynchronous reaction. By the end of the cycle, each participant who answers will be asked to critique a fellow answer, and will see his or her own answer in turn critiqued. The slides in this section depict the rotisserie's use in a Harvard Law School class of about a hundred students, tracing the entry of the question, an emailed alert about it, an initial answer, and a response to that answer by a fellow participant. A full archive of such answers can be found at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/is98 under "Archive."