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4. The Physical Environment

Often people think they can set up a video conferencing system anywhere. This would be analogous to holding a seminar in the coffee lounge or your office while the person you are working with is trying to get on with their work! To maximise the chance of successful interaction the quality of the input must be maximised. The content of the conference should be the central issue, but if the student is uncomfortable, sound is poor or inadequate lighting is reducing the quality of images, then the learning process will be interfered with. The conference equipment should be based in a special room if possible. It can then be available for use when ever it is required rather than setting it up everytime it is requested. There is justification for support personnel to maintain and run the equipment and leave the lecturers free to concentrate on the learning process. There are some guidelines for room set up (see Appendix 2) and organising a video conference (See Appendix 4).


Anyone considering video conferencing as a solution to an educational need should understand the nature of the technology. The technology is still evolving. ISDN and desktop systems are still problematic and fall-back scenarios should always be in place in case of system failure. This supports the need for specialised technicians who understand the technology and keep it up and running. This would be an added burden on lecturers if they were to maintain the equipment and get the best out of it. The quality of the signal is going to be reduced due to compression and therefore someone who knows how to maximise input in terms of sound and vision would be an indespensible member of staff. To reduce the potential for problems, the equipment at both ends of the connection should be identical.
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