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9. Critical Factors for success
Through carrying out the research for this work, and taking part in a number of video conferencing scenarios, a number of critical factors have been identified. These factors are listed and discussed next.
- critical preparation
- site logistics
- microphone issues
- non-verbal and verbal communication
- enhancement of interpersonal skills
- the issue of control for the instructor
- information dissemination
- media to use
- site involvement
- variations in teaching skills and instructional strategies
- training requirements
- Most projects have initial teething problems, sometimes with serious negative consequences for learning such as cancellation of courses. There must be a back up to established in case the technology fails!
- Consider whether a pre-course face to face meeting is necessary to establish good interaction during the course.
- Prepare students to understand that this is new technology and that we are all learning and that things may go wrong. Admit there are special challenges in video conferencing.
- Prepare students for the form of learning to be adopted during the course. Ask students to take some responsibility for their own learning,
- Trials have brought to light a number of technical limitations and unfulfilled requirements which were not initially anticipated (e.g. dealing with mathematical notation). Test whether you can use the system for what you want to. If you do not see it in action, do not believe it. Run a pilot course.
- Plan for a large amount of instructional preparation time (including running a pilot trial) if you have not used video conferencing before.
- Tutors must take more preparation time, pre-distributing notes etc. so that the most effective time can be made of the actual conference time.
Evaluations have identified a number of problems with both the configuration of the electronic network (too many students at some sites for meaningful interaction, too many sites involved) and the physical layout of the classrooms.
- consider the number of sites and the number of participants at each site. As numbers increase management issues are compounded.
- Most of the situations I have reviewed only use point to point for normal teaching.
- Students valued the exchange of ideas, debate of professional issues and the new collegial relationships made possible. Students remarked that liked fewer sites so as to get to know individuals better and have longer time to interact.
The numbers of cameras, monitors, VCRís, microphones and other forms of technology can vary greatly between sites.
- It is useful to have at least two monitors, one for outgoing and one for incoming.
- Many different forms of microphones, push-button, omni-directional, bug in the ear, cordless and open.
- Speakers should not be tinny.
- Point to point is fine, multi point with auto-cycling or audio activated can cause problems.
- The instructor should cue for orderly conduct. With instructions of what to look at.
- Inter-communication delay should be minimised. If there is a delay, then the speaker should take breaks to allow interruptions and ask for questions.
- Students did not like push-button microphones. the site with omni-directional microphones was more conducive to normal interaction within and between sites, others tended to discuss locally.
- Asking a question or making a comment bordered on a competition. Instructor should take specific action to include all sites in an orderly fashion
- Ask a student to be representative to report sound/ vision quality at the time, and to report on the course in general as soon as there is a problem.
- The more sites and participants the greater the need for instructor leadership.
- Sessions should be well structured and defined with clear time constraints
- Leader must acknowledge verbally all contributions.
- Check for understanding by giving time to capture thoughts, doing a summary session,
- Provide clear time out for reflection.
- A proactive instructor gives concise directives, speaks clearly, paces sessions, monitors the length of responses uses signs on the screen (e.g. 7 mins to go)
- Time management creates a professional respectful atmosphere.
- Allow each site to work by itself on various things and bring people back at a specified time and with a specified signal. Build site camaraderie as well as cross site
- Prepare a bag of trick to use under various situations such as later in a session that runs for several hours or if there is down time.
Video conferencing can cause extreme fatigue. More intense concentration is required. Video conferencing should not be used to cram all contact time into one session but should be spread through out the duration of a course.
- Keep the first session a short orientation session.
- Some people can not concentrate for more than 6 minutes at a time! Do not talk at students for more than 10 minutes at a time. After such time allow for an activity or time for interaction.
- Have a break every 30 minutes.
- A maximun of 60 minutes for each session is recommended.
Non-verbal and verbal communication
- Instructor must establish interpersonal rapport with students. Instructors should be sensitive to learners social and emotional needs, create a sense of belonging. Should still lean forward to listen, nod head, open mouth to participate.
- Voice quality (pitch tone volume pausing and pacing) is important. The visual component encourages participants to enunciate less clearly as they would in a face to face situation when in fact they should maintain the same level of clarity as communicating via the telephone.
- Voice animation energy, enthusiasm critical motivating factor in distance learning.
Enhancement of interpersonal skills
Also for students
- Depersonalisation can occur due to lack of physical contact with sites. Learners view instructor as object on a screen. The tutor must overcome this and develop an environment of trust and co-operation.
- Should address affective issues openly, explain that it will be more difficult . Learn peoples names, address them directly
- Initial face to face, or going to other sites to broadcast, is the best way if possible.
- Building up student profiles - personalities and individual needs is more difficult at a distance. Tutors should endeavour to get to know students at the beginning, could incorporate some game, introduce each other, send photo at beginning/during induction.
- encourage mutual assistance when students know in advance that they will miss a session
Issue of control
- The instructor can only see one site at a time. Students off camera, sometimes mute the microphone. Can be frustrating and disappointment if the camera auto-cycles and finds the class doing something else.
- Students do have a tendency to talk during class presentations.
- Must engage learners, balance involvement.
- course readings etc. outlines worksheets capture attention and free learner from note taking must be established and distributed on time. Course schedule expectations assignments, procedures for communication, criteria for evaluation, should be part of course packet.
- Students often want overheads as handouts
- Hard copy, overheads, slides, video can all be used. They add visual interest to the presentation.
- Do not be frightened to show tapes as would in normal class where appropriate
- Some reports recommend Video taping sessions for those who have missed a session or wish to use it as revision reminding people that if they donít come there is less to see. It is questionable, it may encourage lack of participation.
- Involve on-site and off-site equally. Think of camera as another student.
- Consider at least one session that brings everyone of all the sites together e.g. a tour or special presentation
- During each session ensure that there is a lot of opportunity to interact with others, either at the site or across sites. Individual reports, team reports, presentations and feedback etc.
- Students often report feeling isolated and that they donít get enough feedback, tutors should endeavour to supply regular feedback through out the course.
- To welcome the session and insure smooth flow between topics. the role of moderator can be passed around sites and individuals to encourage involvement.
Procedures for contact when not video conferencing should be set up. Some tutors miss the lack of personal contact with students and may prefer to have some face to face within a course.
- Arrange for times to chat individually with the tutor especially about projects in progress. This could be during class or at a specified time or via email or phone
- If possible set up a support network and means of communication (email) for off air time between learners.
Variations in teaching skills and styles
There is still a need to determine the best teaching method, material and media to meet learner needs effectively in each specific situation. It is not a straight forward face to face situations, so methods used in a face to face situation may not be appicable.
- Many guidelines include a bit about using humour and surprise judiciously, difficult to guide some one on this - just donít overdo it!
- Arrange for opportunities to interact with others with the same technology e.g. a guest visit or visitor
- Information should be provided in small components.
- Students didnít like being lectured at for long periods of time
- Practice participation and involvement.
- The most effective style of presentation is conversation. Not to lecture at the students but to encourage active participation. This does not come naturally to all.
- Class discussions, debates, role playing, presenting papers should be used instead of lecturing
- Individual and group projects with the students controlling the video conferencing can also be useful.
Training of teachers and students on how to use technology is one side of the problem; the real trick is helping lecturers adapt teaching and learning methods to fully exploit the potential of the technology. Without training, the systems will be under used. Although it is not as expensive or different as full TV production there are still additional skills required to those possessed by a classroom teacher (or is it that existing weaknesses are just highlighted??). After a couple of sessions most lecturers and students just take video conferencing in their stride. However it would be better if these sessions occurred out with the learning experience.
- video conferencing can be challenging for the tutor. It may prove harder for them to get contribution from students, strategies should be developed to encourage student contributions
- Fear of the technology - this must be combated. Video taping self for private feedback
- continuous staff development
- Levels of interaction will only increase when both the students and the tutors are comfortable with the set up.
Students need training too
There is, as we have seen, an increasing variety of ways in which to deliver videoconferencing. The most appropriate choice of system will depend partly on the physical configuration of sites to be connected, the number of people to be included in the conference, the applications that are required, the amount of traffic to be carried, and the distances between sites.
- students must not be frightened to interact
- many are anxious about using the technology
- feel they need more training especially in using the rostrum camera
- Some students did not like seeing themselves on the monitor to start with. They continually assess themselves. After a few weeks, students accepted and ignored the cameras
A recent survey of educational applications of videoconferencing technology in North America (Bates 1992) identified a number of findings that are likely to have a wide relevance.
- students prefer the 'electronic classroom' at a local site to having to travel to another learning centre or central campus.
- The amount of time needed for instructional preparation time was usually grossly under-estimated, and teaching (and learning) methods often had to be radically changed to exploit fully the teaching potential of the technology. Videoconferencing for teaching purposes required additional skills to those of a classroom teacher. Without training of the teaching staff and their students, systems were under-used.
- In many of the projects reviewed, it was difficult, given the extra cost and lack of exploitation of the visual medium, to see the justification for using videoconferencing rather than audio-conferencing.
- None of the projects reviewed provided firm evidence that two-way live videoconferencing was more effective than one-way video plus two-way audio, or even the distribution of video tapes for individual use. Indeed, there was some evidence that mature students who were working preferred flexibility to live video interaction, if the latter meant they had to be in a certain place at a certain time (Stone 1992). We do not fully understand the psychological limitations of video conferencing, more research in this area is essential.
Despite these views, there is current excitement over the development of low-cost PC- based videoconferencing, using public domain software and small cameras (the manufacturing cost of the Edinburgh university-developed Ďcamera-on-a-chipí is now negligible). Increasingly, we are seeing videoconferencing experiments conducted over the Internet. The Global School House project  is a good example. If video of the user becomes ďjust another datatypeĒ, so the argument goes, then video will be used naturally to support communication. Where high- bandwidth communication (high-bandwidth in the psychological sense) is found to be important, then video will be demanded.
Anything is possible with video conferencing if enough money is available. However, Institutes must have a clear plan about how they want to teach and where they want teaching to be delivered before committing to a particular delivery technology if cost effective systems are to be established.
Virtual Environments Visualisation