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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

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.

Equipment

The numbers of cameras, monitors, VCRís, microphones and other forms of technology can vary greatly between sites.

Microphone issues

Leadership

Timing

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.

Non-verbal and verbal communication

Enhancement of interpersonal skills

Also for students

Issue of control

Written materials

Other media

Site involvement

Moderator

Student contact

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.

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.

Training

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.

Students need training too

Videoconferencing: the future?

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.

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.

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 [7] 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.


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