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.
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.
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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