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Evaluation of the Suitability of
Distributed Interactive Videoconferencing for use in Higher Education
3.3 Users viewpoint
3.3.7 Level of involvement
Respondents were asked,
"Did you feel that you were part of the whole Summer School 'event' (e.g. that there were 20 sites), or simply part of the local audience?."
There were mixed reactions about the level of involvement respondents felt during the Summer School (n=40). Forty-three percent of the respondents felt part of whole summer school, 25% percent of respondents felt part of local audience, however a large proportion (30%) of respondents felt neither unconditionally part of the Summer School, or just part of a local audience, feeling to some extent part of the whole summer school, but only at certain points. Comments from respondents included:
- "Yes and no. Yes I felt that there were other sites involved, but not 20 other sites"
- "I felt mostly part of the local site, although I'm aware of the other sites all over the world"
- "(I) only feel part of the whole event when the lecture and actuations were dynamic"
- "Sometimes felt involved in whole event, especially when there were lots of windows on the screen"
- "(I) didn't feel fully involved in the whole event, since you lose some human contact between students and lecturers"
- "Yes, mostly because of the language and the atmosphere"
- "While the presentation techniques do not evolve, following this new technological environments, the integration of everyone in the global whole will be quite difficult"
- "I really enjoyed feeling part of a distributed audience"
- "The presenter always talks to the camera, leaving the audience a little distant. Doesn't allow proximity"
- "There was nothing indicating that other sites were involved, except when other questions were raised"
Two experiments were carried out during the Summer School, a 'distributed Mexican wave', and a 'distributed poster'. In the former experiment, eight video images were arranged in a circle around the video screen and participants and/or presenters emulated a 'Mexican Wave' by standing up in order, this involved the following sites: Ottawa, Linz, Aveiro, Brussels, Berlin, Groningen, Rejkiavik, Stockholm. In the 'distributed poster' experiment, each site was given a single letter to draw on a large piece of white card. The letters were held up to the camera by the sites and the videos of the individual sites were arranged on screen to spell out, "ABC '96 OK!". These 'experiments' probably contributed in large part to people's feeling of involvement in the Summer School:
"Most of the time I felt part of 2-3 sites, very few times I felt part of more, ...I only felt really part of the whole audience during some of the 'social type' interactions, namely the Mexican wave"
3.3.8 Handling technical problems
At various points during the Summer School, technical problems inevitably occurred; transmission links went down, audio and/or video was lost momentarily and then reconnected, and reboots were necessary a few times during the Summer School. Additional coffee breaks were introduced as a way of temporarily placating participants, this had the advantage of keeping participants occupied during the more serious system 'down time', gave participants more opportunity to discuss previous sessions, and gave participants time to rest between the demands of attending to the video screen. However the drawback was that there are only so many coffee breaks that could be introduced into the day. There were mixed reactions from respondents towards the way in which problems were dealt with during the Summer School:
- "The organisers apologised, explained and offered coffee"
- "There was confusion while the technical problems were happening"
- "Yes, but they (the organisers) controlled the problem as fast as possible"
- "Yes, they were dealt with in a reasonably competent manner, but the several cold reboots seemed quite unprofessional"
An important issue is to keep participants informed of what is going on when the event does not run to schedule. However this can be difficult when the organisers don't necessarily know what the problem is themselves, or how long it may take to re-instate the network link.
3.3.9 Prior expectations of the Summer School
Different participants came to the Summer School with different types of expectations. Some came to learn about the themes of the Summer School, the convergence of IT and Telecommunications, some participants came from one field hoping to learn something about the other field. Some participants came to learn about ATM and broadband technologies, and to see a demonstration of it over the network.
- "My prior expectations were to get important, updated information about the market and technical situation of broadband communication and a real demonstration. Yes, these were fulfilled."
- "It was what I expected (except for the delay of the image) and I wasn't at all impressed with the impact of long video conference sessions on big audiences. I think it is very important the lively interventions of local (i.e. real, or live) people"
- "Expected that after 4 years the technology should be more stable. Surprised at the low bandwidth being used."
- "(I was expecting) bigger interactivity between participants and presenters, more information about a summer school and a videoconference without any long interruptions. It wasn't completely achieved."
Virtual Environments Visualisation