This report is also available as an Acrobat file.
Evaluation of the Suitability of
Distributed Interactive Videoconferencing for use in Higher Education
3.3 Users viewpoint
3.3.1 Clarity of audio
Forty-seven percent of respondents stated that the audio during the Summer School was understandable (Respondents answering question, n=43). Many respondents (44%) noted that in general it was understandable, but that they had certain problems; comprehension depended on the site involved (audio originating from the Naples site was very poor), at certain points there were complete cuts in audio, and the audio was difficult to understand at some points. A confounding factor was however present: some speakers did not speak English as their mother tongue, making it more difficult for participants to understand (the majority of whom also didn't speak English as a mother tongue). Only nine percent of respondents replied that the audio wasn't understandable.
3.3.2 Problems experienced with audio and video
The most common problems experienced with the audio and video were echo (39%), lack of synchronisation between audio and video (16%) (Respondents answering question, n=38); one respondent from the Brussels site couldn't understand why the audio and video were synchronised during certain points in the Summer School, and not during other times. Other problems that respondents had were: volume level (24%), interruptions or cuts in the transmission of audio (13%), feedback (5%) and low frame rate of video (3%). Refer to Appendix 7 for a full breakdown of technical problems that occurred at the Madrid site.
The majority of respondents considered the video to be appropriate (85%), although a small number thought that the image size of the speakers and presenters was too small and the general quality low.
3.3.3 Expectations of video quality
The majority of respondents had expected the video output to be of better quality, in terms of higher frame rates and resolution. Many respondents had quite high expectations based on the knowledge that the Summer School was supported by ATM networks. Several respondents mentioned that they had based their expectations upon TV quality images. This is an important observation which supports the view of the organisers for the use of broadcast standards. Other respondents had based their expectations upon previous experience of ISDN videoconferencing, and had expected ATM networks to deliver higher quality audio and video.
- "Was expecting more quality in terms of video because of the promises of ATM technology"
- "Based on ISDN connectivity, it was approximately the same"
- "(Expected) better synchronisation between video and sound and a better frame rate"
3.3.4 Presentation medium
All of the speakers were asked prior to the Summer School to provide slides in Powerpoint format, and most of the presentations given were based heavily around content provided by these slides. Only one speaker extended the possibility of multi-media distributed conferencing and presented pre-recorded video to highlight an example in a case study. Some respondents were disappointed by the presentation medium used. After listening to the session where pre-recorded video was used to supplement the presentation, one respondent suggested:
"A lot of people are only convinced if they see real examples, these are good, need more of these"
Another respondent commented that,
"There was a lack of animation, (I) would suggest the use of authorware, like Macromind Director"
There was a lack of conformity in some presentations to basic human factors issues of presenting slides, such as avoiding information overload, ensuring that typefaces are adequately clear and large enough to read from the distances involved, and the sensible use of combining colours in a slide. Respondents commented:
- "Slides were appropriate, but sometimes the text was too small"
- "I guess some lecturers didn't know the basic procedures for putting information onto transparency, and they put too much information down."
3.3.6 Screen layout
The layout of the screen was generally perceived to be quite good. A few comments were made concerning the size of video images of speakers, number of images on screen at same time, and the nature of the split screen (between slides and video). On the screen layout respondents commented:
- "Well planned, but the transitions were cumbersome (e.g., the windows kept changing size consecutively for several times until they matched the desirable size"
- "If there are 3/4 parties (involved in discourse), it might be interesting to see all of them, but if there are more sites it would be too easy to overload it"
Current human factors research strongly favours a maximum of two images as this gives the best opportunity for people to concentrate on what is being said. With current technology, the detail attainable in windows is unreadable with more than two images.
Virtual Environments Visualisation