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I have access to videoconferencing facilities — how can I make the best use of them?

Check that the facilities match your needs

Before you do anything else, you will need to ensure that the equipment you have access to is actually appropriate for your needs. For example, a set-up designed to broadcast a lecture to groups of students around Britain will not help if what you want is to be able to discuss and edit graphical information with a colleague in Sweden. This may seem obvious but the term videoconferencing can encompass so many different technologies and working situations that being told “Sure, we’ve got videoconferencing facilities you can use — Just book a session with John and let him know who the other sites are” just is not enough. The first question is: Do you have a particular applica tion in mind? If so, you can check out whether the systems you have access to are appropriate by reading the Subject Sections: Uses of Videoconferencing and Videoconferencing Systems and Methods of Signal Transmission.

If you have been informed that there are facilities you can use and you would like to see if you have a suitable application, read the same subject section and find out exactly what is being offered. Then you will be able to identify whether or not you may have a need for that particular configuration.

Do you need supplementary equipment?

It may be that the facilities on offer are potentially useful for you but that to really make the most of them, you need some additional equipment, e.g. a document camera. It may well be worth trying to ensure that videoconferencing is really useful rather than just an interesting new way of doing the same old things.

If there is a good match between what is on offer and your own needs then how can you make the most of videoconferencing?

Make sure there will be relevant people with whom you can communicate

One of the features of videoconferencing as with any form of distance communication, is that its success is dependent on having people with whom to communicate. Fax communication only really took off when there was a critical mass of users with compatible equipment. It can therefore help to encourage people with whom you would like to videoconference to look at the idea and to ensure that interoperability is taken into account if new equipment is being considered. It is also worth checking out who is currently using videoconferencing. There may be people you could already conference with. Chapter 1 of this report gives information about institutions which currently use videoconferencing. It does not claim to be complete but is a useful source document.

Get adequate support

Optimise your environment

In order to get the best out of the audio and video equipment you use in videoconferencing, it can be very worthwhile to pay attention to the environment in which it will be used. Depend ing on how you use videoconferencing, this may or may not be under your control. If it is not, it can still be worth requesting improvements to whoever is responsible. Details of environ mental requirements are given in the Subject Section: The Videoconferencing Environment.

Learn the ‘etiquette’ of using videoconferencing

Particularly for larger videoconferences or for multipoint conferences, the medium can demand a certain discipline in communication. For example, if voice switching is used to switch the view of the participating sites, it is important to keep very quiet unless you are actually talking to the camera (otherwise, everyone will see a picture of you instead of the person who is addressing the conference). Preparation for a videoconference can require more thought than a face to face meeting. It can even help to think about what clothes to wear — it can be very off-putting to watch a videoconference image of someone wear ing stripy shirts. PC-based systems tend to offer a more informal atmosphere and do not generally demand the disciplines of the larger set-ups. The Subject Section: The Videoconference Environment gives guidance on the social environment for videoconferencing.

At this stage, you will probably know: Dos and Don'ts
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