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

3 Results

3.4 Lectures/ presenters experiences

3.4.1 Training aspects

A leaflet was distributed to speakers prior to the Summer School, 'Guidelines for Speakers'. The guidelines included information about the theme of ABC '96, it's objectives, explanation about geographical distribution, discussion of themes to be covered during the Summer School, timetable and abstracts for each presentation.

Most of the speakers did not get a chance to practice on the Isabelle system before presenting at the Brussels main site. They were shown how to use the interface to change between slides, but some did not know how to control the telepointer, and whether it would be seen by all of the remote sites as well as at the local site. One presenter mentioned that additional practice beforehand would have helped to solve this problem, another presenter said that the set-up was straight forward enough to use without too much training. The organising committee had recommended that speakers arrive beforehand to get some practice with the equipment, but this was not adhered to, being very difficult due to time constraints on speakers etc.

3.4.2 Interaction

Speakers were asked about the extent to which they felt part of the ABC Summer School, whether they felt that they were talking to 20 different sites, or just the local site. They commented that lack of feedback during their presentation made it difficult for them to sense the presence of other sites, since there was no eye-contact of remote sites at this point. One speaker commented that ideally there would be a large monitor showing video of the other sites during the presentation. Interestingly a further speaker commented that he sensed being part of the ABC Summer School due to the technical problems that occurred. These made him more aware of the fact that the event was being run over a network, rather than simply at the local site.

In the briefing to speakers they were instructed to look at the camera during their presentation, in order to involve the remote sites in the session. One speaker noted that is was difficult knowing whether to focus on participants at the local site or at the camera; he felt a conflict between talking to the camera in order to involve remote sites and keeping the local audience involved. One possible solution to this problem could be to position the camera in the middle of the auditorium/conference room and to ask speakers to treat it as a participant. A further problem, he commented, was that there was a very strong light originating from the same source as the camera so he didn't like looking towards it all of the time. One presenter felt satisfied that he adequately involved both local and remote sites:

"(I) was well aware of being in conference with other sites and it did modify my behaviour- shared eye-time with local group as well as the camera.

3.4.3 Question time

There was agreement amongst the group of speakers interviewed about the lack of feedback during the time allocated for questions from participants. Two speakers felt quite strongly that they lacked video feedback of the person asking the question. There were two video images on screen at any one time. The general sequence during question time was: presenter and speaker, presenter and questioner, presenter and speaker (in response to the question). However this sequence did not allow for interaction between the speaker and questioner; the speakers commented that they wanted to see the video of the questioner whilst answering their question, to try to gain an idea through clues such as head nodding etc. to see how they reacted to the answer. This also led to further difficulties in the interaction due to the requirement to switch between sites more often. This invariably incurred a loss of audio for several seconds at the beginning of each phrase after switching to a new site, and poor initial comprehension of both question and answer.

One speaker had expected that the question time would last half an hour after a debate session which involved two other speakers as well as himself. However, due to delays before and during the session there was only enough time for 10 minutes of questions altogether, and only time for the speaker to answer one question. The speaker was unsure if he could have followed up on an answer given by another speaker during the debate and the mechanism for doing so. He commented that there should have been more discussion and interaction between the speakers involved in the debate. Another speaker noted:

"I certainly don't feel that all of the other sites were adequately involved in the event. The constant technical glitches were a great distraction. Obviously the technical team needs to work on this. The delay to download slides and reboot was ridiculous. There were some control problems handing over between sites, and there was never a feeling that more than two sites at a time were involved in any particular conversation."

The management of question periods with both a large distributed audience and a set of distributed lecturers, under the control of a presenter introduces many management issues to organisers of such events. In a routine scenario with just one lecturer who occupies a fixed time slot, the problem is more tractable. Events such as ABC '96 require trade-off's between the exercise of management control in a distributed environment, against user control in a more rigid activity. One solution may be to always have lecturer/ presenter in the same location if they are not the same person.

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