- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 22, 2008

Home-schoolers sometimes find themselves constrained by circumstances of time and space, limiting their ability to access educational resources. Technology is helping bridge that gap, however, and one Internet resource promises huge opportunities for learners to attain truly barrier-free education.

By visiting www. elluminate.com, you will be able to explore the many options offered by this learning-facilitation service. Basically, Elluminate takes distance-learning to the next level. Not only does it allow users to view online lectures, for instance, but it also allows them to “raise their hands” virtually, discuss the material with other “classmates,” view material presented by the teacher on a virtual “whiteboard,” make notes and save them, and keep a record of the class to review later.

Gary Dietz, product marketing manager for Elluminate, spoke recently on the implications of this service for home-schoolers.

“This is really a ‘no user left behind’ system,” he says. “Anyone with a Mac, PC, Windows, Linux system, who has Internet access ranging from dial-up to broadband, can use this. You need a microphone and headset, and you can be linked from anywhere.”

Elluminate is used by dozens of educational institutions ranging from universities to preschools. Professors, for instance, can offer classroom lecture sessions in real time, conduct labs, hold personal “office hours” for one-on-one discussions, assign in-class breakout sessions where the remote students can work together - in short, carry out all the functions of regular college study - for students anywhere around the globe.

It’s just as useful, however, for all age groups of learners, and for any subject. Preschoolers learn crafts together, elementary students participate in science labs, language students learn from instructors who are native speakers, and music students learn to play the piano - in real time, and from skilled providers.

Home-schoolers can not only use this to access existing lectures or materials, but also to create their own. A learning group can share information, present reports, and conduct their own virtual classes. Social and educational networking can be done regardless of geographical location.

Nonprofit and humanitarian organizations that work in hard-to-reach areas of the globe have been using the Elluminate tools to train in-the-field personnel, and to gather reports and enable the far-flung outposts to share information with each other directly. This promotes two-way communications and the sharing of “best practices” instantaneously, and creates a much more efficient way of administering the projects.

Because cost often is a concern for home-schoolers, it is important to note there is a free product available for up to three users, the Elluminate vRoom, which allows you to do one-on-one meetings, small group collaboration and to provide virtual office hours. Other products available for subscription range from customizable classrooms for 10 to 50 participants to live tutoring services. Users can create their own distance learning institution using the extensive capabilities of real time meeting, teaching, discussion, viewing of other resources, assignments, and testing or other evaluation methods.

This is an exciting tool for home educators, removing the last few vestiges of limitations in terms of accessing quality information and education. Elluminate lets us connect horizontally, or to virtually any type of instruction, and be able to get personalized and instant response to questions, in an even more flexible environment than a classroom.

m Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.



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