Video and web conferencing
Videoconferencing (VC) provides real-time (synchronous) communication between separate locations – usually involving audio, video and in many cases presentations. The use of videoconferencing in higher education is now commonplace and familiar to many learners. In a dispersed campus it can be used to overcome geographical challenges and support the creation of a learning communities without the costs associated with travelling to a face to face learning session.
Similarly, web conferencing provides real time virtual audio/video communication via the internet however, rather than joining from a videoconferencing studio participants are more likely to join from their desktop computer or device using the web conferencing software.
Videoconferencing provides a useful teaching tool by bringing learners together virtually and supports discussions; decision making; reflection and even practical activities. A document and/or desktop sharing function is often included which allows participants to share presentations; video clips; and to take turns in creating and editing shared documents.
You may already have an institutional videoconferencing platform which allows you to set up sessions or meetings for a number of participants by joining a meeting room with videoconferencing facilities.
Web conferencing sessions can be set up by linking individuals via a computer and sometimes via a mobile or tablet. Again your institution may have this facility but there is also a range of free online meeting software tools. In order to provide an equivalent experience all participants must have a webcam (or built-in camera), an internet connection and a computer or mobile device with a microphone and speakers - or attachable headset. The functionality within each tool will inform the choice of tool you use. A list of the currently available tools are included and reviewed on Online Meeting Software Review.
Skype is a commonly used videoconferencing tool which allows up to 10 people to join a high definition group video call free of charge. Within the session participants can send messages and share information with others - wherever they are. Like many software tools Skype includes good online support and guidance on their website. Moreover, there is built in functionality to check audio and video settings prior to a meeting.
Planning is particularly important for a videoconference session as there tends to be less flexibility to change plans on the day. For example sessions tend to end at a fixed time and therefore timings for each part of a session are therefore more fixed.
The following steps can help in the planning process:
- Ensure that you communicate at the outset what you would like to achieve with your session.
- Set clear objectives for your session (probably no more than three or four).
- Identify key activities within the session.
- Identify approximate timings for each of these activities (including set up and feedback).
- Allow adequate time for wrap up.
The following checklist can be used to go through final arrangements.
- Confirm joining details and arrangements with participants.
- Confirm alternative contact details for participants.
- It's advisable not to wear bright colours, loud prints, plaids or stripes (which can become distorted and distracting on screen).
- In the same way it's also advisable not to wear dangling or shiny jewellery as it can also be distracting and interfere with the sound quality.
On the day checklist
- Close any curtains or blinds if necessary as daylight can cause problems with room lighting.
- Check the technology and the room are set up appropriately.
- Check you will be free from interruption.
- Check that everyone can hear and see you and that you can hear and see everyone – adjusting the zoom settings accordingly.
- Explain any protocols you wish to use.
- Recommended method of gaining your attention.
- Identifying who they are.
- Nominating a facilitator if there are groups of participants in various locations.
- Check you are familiar with the:
- audio settings;
- video settings;
- mute off / on controls.
- Look directly at the camera or as closely to it as you can.
- Allow for pauses and regularly check for feedback (this is longer than you would expect).
- Ensure you mute your microphone when you are not speaking.
Delivering using videoconferencing
Think about the most appropriate activities to support the objectives of the session and use these to provide interaction and action. A long presentation by videoconferencing can be very tiring for the facilitator and the learners. Whereas group activities with feedback can work particularly well in a videoconferencing setting, especially if you assign roles, such as observers, timers and action roles.
If you are going to use a presentation remember to use an appropriate font size and text colour to ensure learners can view the content. Recommended PowerPoint presentation font sizes are 48 for title slides; 36 – 44 for sub-titles and no less than 30 for slide text.
All efforts have been made to ensure materials created by the EDU comply with current accessibility guidelines (JISC: Support for learners with disabilities).
If further assistance is required with accessibility matters please contact the student support section in your academic partner UHI: Accessing learner support.
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