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Evaluation of the Suitability of Distributed Interactive Videoconferencing for use in Higher Education

3 Results

3.2 Technology Infrastructure

3.2.1 Audio and Video problems

There were continuing problems with audio. When the quality was very low it was difficult to understand speakers.

Some problems were experienced receiving audio when switching occurred between sites (e.g. during question sessions when the sites asking a question changed). Audio didn't start up immediately. The instruction was, 'count to five when the video image appears, then start speaking'. However, in many cases this procedure was not followed in full and the audience missed the first half of the initial sentence of a question or response. With current technology this problem could in future be alleviated by insisting that procedures are followed.

At the beginning of the week there seemed to be continual problems receiving video at the Brussels main site in the afternoons. This was apparently due to the Brussels connection which was routed through the Paris JAMES node, which disrupted video transmission.

3.2.2 Disruptions in presentations

Several speaker's presentations were disrupted, either before or during their session by technical problems. Some of the problems were:
Rebooting of the local equipment whilst the speaker was supposed to be in session.
Loss of audio transmitted to other sites, subsequent interruption by continuity presenter in Madrid and confusion over whether to continue presentation to local site or to stop.
Requirement to load slides into local server just before the speakers session commenced. This took time and cut into speakers allocated session.

Some speakers found that they were having to cut down the length of their presentations, quite dramatically in certain cases. This led to varying degrees of disruption depending on the individual speaker, knowledge of their presentation and slides etc. Some speakers managed to smoothly reduce the length of their talk, but others found it difficult to suddenly adapt their presentation due to changing time demands. In future events it may be necessary to instruct speakers to be more flexible and be prepared in certain situations to cut the length of their presentations.

Speaker preparation was generally inadequate due to a number of factors. One major problem was the obvious lack of rehearsal time. However, in the main this was due to inadequate appreciation by speakers of the nature of the environment (e.g. the application functionality, the TV cameras and lights etc.). The use of interactive distributed videoconferencing places additional responsibilities on speakers to best fit their contributions to the new media, as well as to explore, creatively the opportunities offered by the new technology.

The following two questions, included in the participant questionnaire (see Appendix 3) related to technical infrastructure.

"Did you feel that the quality of network link was sufficient to be able to answer questions from the floor? If no, what were the problems?"

Thirty-eight percent of the respondents replied categorically that the network quality was sufficient for this application (Respondents answering question, n=39). A further group (10%) responded that it was 'more or less' sufficient. Several respondents (28%) thought that in general it was OK but had problems, or could be improved in some aspect. Most of the reasons cited were technical problems (insufficient bandwidth, delay in receiving audio or video, insufficient end equipment particular to each site, and the presence of echo), a few respondents would have preferred higher quality in general.

The following problems were highlighted by respondents in comments, such as:

Only thirteen percent of respondents replied that the quality of network was not sufficient for this type of application, without qualification. One of these respondents perceived a problem at the level of interactivity between speaker and participants:

"There have been some problems with the network link. I don't think that the quality of physical links has been sufficient to enable the successful answering of questions from the floor."

"In your opinion, is the medium of Broadband communications rich/ appropriate, powerful enough to support this type of event?"

Several respondents (56%) replied very positively that broadband communications were rich enough to support this type of event (Respondents answering question, n=36). One respondent made the following comment about relative benefit:

"Yes, and I noticed the advantages, for instance money saving on travel, surpass it's disadvantages."

Many further respondents (28%) replied that in general the media was rich enough, but that it was conditional on several issues. Several reasons related to the need to resolve technical problems; to improving picture quality, using more of the broadband, better implementation, better synchronisation of audio and video, and better error-correcting algorithms.

Three respondents made interesting comments:

Only a small proportion of respondents (14%) thought that the medium was not rich and powerful enough to support this type of event.

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