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SECTION III: STAFF AND TUTORS GUIDE
The advice presented here is based on experience gained in
using the Welshnet service at the University of Wales since
1990. It is designed to take users beyond the BT Quick
Reference Guide (which covers technical procedures for
operating the equipment) to include suggestions for using
the medium effectively. Although related to a particular
video-conference system, there is general applicability to
other systems, including the use of the video facilities
available via SuperJanet.
The Welshnet system is available as a self operated 'turnkey
system', with bookings made through a local booking co-
ordinator. A degree of self-reliance and self-help is
required to operate it, but generally the system is easy to
Many users have welcomed the savings in time and travel and
have seen this as justification for setting up a video-
conference meeting or tutorial, rather than make personal
trips to remote sites. In practice people travel between
remote locations for a variety of reasons, only some of
which can be accomplished by videoconferencing. Trips are
very often used to build individual and group
relationships, for example. It is necessary therefore to
identify, encourage and support good practice in the use of
It is hoped that these guidelines will help new users and
others to decide when and where it is appropriate to use
videoconferencing for a given need, and how best to manage
and facilitate the interaction.
1. GETTING STARTED
Experienced users stress the importance of sitting in on a
session before taking part in a conference for the first
time and when involved with a conference making time to meet
face to face with other participants at some stage. It is a
good idea therefore to schedule video-conferencing meetings
with colleagues at other sites to review possible uses, and
experiment with the technology.
Characteristics of the medium to note are:-
As a consequence of these characteristics the medium can
- The short delay as the video signal is "compressed" so that it can be transmitted over the network links.
- The moderate to good video quality. This is not (yet) broadcast - quality video, so that nuances of participant expressions and interactions are easy to miss.
- The distortion of movement - one consequence of video compression is that movement appears blurred and jerky.
Looking at a video screen for example is more tiring for
participants and facilitators alike, rather than looking at
a live presenter. This might suggest, for instance, it is
desirable to design more breaks and different activities
into a video session than you would for a regular meeting.
2. THE MEETING FACILITATOR
The most successful meetings and sessions are led by an
experienced video-conference chairperson or facilitator.
The role might be:-
As a minimum facilitators should be involved in a detailed
dry-runs of a session so that all concerned understand their
roles and activities.
- Introducing participants at the beginning of the session and chairing a session. Liaison with facilitators at other sites. The local facilitator will intervene as necessary to ensure that the local perspective is brought in and all participants are heard. It is difficult to 'read' the remote room on the video monitor.
- Co-ordinating activities such as identifying needs, participation, invitations and room set-up.
- Conducting follow-up activities - this could include work or practice groups,
distribution of materials, collecting evaluations etc.
Dry Runs, Practice, Rehearsal, and Direction
Planning needs to be rigorous, the flow of visual aids and
exercises through the medium needs to be practised and
smooth. Develop contingency plans for things going wrong -
technologies always seems to fail when you can cope least.
The Chair/Facilitator needs to be coached and ready with
activities if there is disruption in the video connection.
Fortunately disruptions are usually temporary.
There is very little you can do in conventional classroom
setting that cannot be done via a videoconference providing
you adjust to the demands of the technology. The medium is
not as forgiving as an ordinary face to face session so
allow for little flaws in your design, preparation,
presentation. Almost everything you know about how to create
a successful learning experience or run a meeting directly
applies to videoconferencing.
Conduct Introductory Training Sessions
Introductory sessions could follow and expand upon initial
demonstrations. The purpose is to give people the feel for
the way an actual video-conference works, to provide them
with a hands-on experience and to start introducing
prospective users from remote sites to each other. Ideally
groups should be small - five or 10 people at each site - so
that everyone gets a chance to experiment, the training
sessions should let them do that as well.
A training programme could be offered in three parts:-
- A demonstration and discussion session.
- An off-line season where each site can work independently to let participants practise basic operations of equipment.
- A conclusion with both sites back on-line with the video meeting.
Provide Continuing Support
It will be necessary make provision to answer questions and
provide guidance on an ongoing basis, especially while
everyone is learning to communicate via video-conferencing.
There may be a case for setting up a formal video-
conferencing help-desk. The goal is to support new users at
the early stage, ensuring that their first experiences with
video-conferencing are as successful as possible.
3. TEACHING VIA THE VIDEO NETWORK
Video-conferencing requires different strategies and
practices, particularly when used for teaching. Video-
conferencing does not lend itself for example to workshops
in which small groups of people are challenged to change
their behaviours . This sort of teaching usually requires
close interaction and feedback between a facilitator. There
are some answers to this problem, and it is possible to end
up with a learning event that is more powerful and effective
than if you were forced to travel to the remote site to run
A standard course could for example be run over a longer
period giving participants a greater chance to practice new
skills between sessions. Introductory meetings can be held
ahead of time to let participants get to know each other and
to work on any barriers that may exist.
As a general rule the standard good practice for the design
and delivery of classroom teaching applies to
videoconferencing. However many rules must be followed more
rigorously, and a few new ones must be added. The
instructional design process, for example usually needs to
be more exact. Impromptu take up of a discussion on a flip
chart or a white board is more difficult if you do not have
an appropriate camera pre-set. Tutors have less flexibility
in expanding the number of participants or changing the room
set-up if everyone is to be included in the picture.
Separating Learning Objectives
Lectures and presentations that introduce facts, concepts
and background information lend themselves well to direct
adaptation in the videoconference medium. Skills development
requires practice and related face to face sessions for
reinforcement; such feedback is best done off-line. If
significant changes are required of participants they will
need the opportunity to challenge assumptions. This suggests
a locally led discussion. Long workshops can be redesigned
into several shorter modules. Take advantage of the
opportunities to travel instantaneously via the confernec
Video-conferencing is a fatiguing medium ; a good rule is to
allow for sessions to be 1 hour maximum. For the 'special'
guest lecture it might be possible to allow for more than
one hour, but plan to break up sessions. As a rule of thumb
allow more time for everything because of extra pauses due
to transmission delays 5-10 % longer might be typical
compared to a conventional classroom.
Design in some opportunity for the facilitators at other
sites to take the limelight - the medium does inhibit
participation. Remain conscious of the need to draw out
participants and encourage interaction especially at remote
4. PREPARATION FOR A SESSION
- Arrive early (say 10mins); test all equipment you will be using,
- Adjust the monitors, cameras, tables, chairs for minimum movement during the session and enter camera presets.
- Adjust lights (if necessary and possible); lighting should be on the front of participants to avoid distracting shadows.
- Make contact with your receiving facilitators.
- While people are assembling, focus the main camera on some non distracting visual object; and make sure the microphone is on mute. A good idea is to use a flip-chart or white board displaying the agenda or a welcoming message. Muting the microphone alleviates confusion caused by miscellaneous noise and conversation being transmitted.
- Avoid bright jewellery or clothing that is heavily patterned. This can cause greater distortion of the video image during movement.
5. RUNNING THE SESSION
Have all participants introduce themselves, maybe through an
introductory ice-breaking session, Introductions are
critical in this environment to help alleviate its
inherently less intimate and less personal nature.
If there are large numbers of participants at both delivery
and receiving sites, avoid focusing on one group or the
other. A common tendency is to present just to the video
monitor and not to the participants - try to avoid this.
Support your other facilitators by introducing them,
describing their role and thanking them at the conclusion of
Project your voice and speak clearly; keep language free of
jargon and needless complex words. All participants need to
be able to hear and understand easily.
Keep physical movements to a minimum. Excessive movements of
the camera will cause distortion of the video image.
Remember the transmission delay and allow extended pauses
for others to comment. Discourage side conversations that
limit discussion and cause distractions. Don't shuffle
papers or tap objects near the microphone
Go well prepared for a meeting. Be prepared to speak up
because if you do not, you will not get the point across.
People need a certain level of confidence to take part in a
meeting. Keep to a well defined agenda. A video-network
meeting is not essentially different from a face-to-face
meeting, but remember only 'one' person at each centre is
chosen to handle the controls.
Voice activated switching means vocal interjections are
necessary to catch the chair's eye! Video conferencing is
more intense and demanding than meetings on a face-to-face
Ensure you understand how the system works, especially that
any sound you make puts you on screen i.e.. the system is
noise activated. Beware of coughing, shuffling papers etc.;
remember its sound activated. Look at your own image to
avoid split screens. Speak up. Adjust the temperature of
Relax - Don't think of yourself as being on camera, just
behave and talk naturally, but don't wave your arms about or
make sudden movements. Speak clearly (not too loud or soft).
Don't rustle papers - remember the system is voice/sound
switched. Remember to use the mute button if you want to
whisper to a colleague.
Training before using the system is essential. Planning and
preparation of material before the meeting is important. A
whole new range of personal skills have to be learnt i.e.
talking to the camera, producing handouts, editing video
tape, slide presentations. Each site should develop courses
to initiate new techniques which are required in this
Experience suggests that sessions work well where those
involved know each other. When this is not the case; it is
important that all those taking part introduce themselves in
rather more formal terms so as to facilitate subsequent
dealings. Make a preliminary visit to the video room before
your first real session. To make full use of the facilities
remember to prepare the lecture or meeting with more detail
6. VISUAL AIDS
Regardless of which type of AV you use always send a hard
copy to the receiving sites prior to the session. Fax or
mail/email copies of everything you have prepared ahead of
time. Videos are always clearer if they have accompanying
Graphics such as charts are better than text. Tables etc.
are difficult to read at remote sites because of the
distortion in the video signals. Use handouts together with
your own verbal description. Prepare overhead slides as
normal, but each visual should be limited to one idea or
point; use large letters (36-point fonts) and limit yourself
to 5-8 lines per transparency
The Document Camera (Display Stand)
- Their is consistency between what is seen at all sites. It
is easy to photocopy and mail documents to each site. The
Welshent studios are equipped to send pictures of
documents, objects, OHP, or 35mm slides. OHP and
documents can be written on during presentation.
- Poorly constructed visuals will detract from the
presentation - the image may not be very clear at remote
sites. It is only possible to see the current image
transmitted and other participants cannot be seen at same
- Establish camera presets (Zoom /Focus) before a meeting
starts. Send hard copy to remote sites before the session
starts. Use a suitable pointers (e.g. pencil) to identify a
points. Remember to keep physical movements to a minimum to
avoid distortion and distraction.
- Delivery to large local audiences, and smaller remote
audiences, when content of visual is a valuable focal point.
Remember the visual can be treated as a 'working' document-
you might wish to write on it during a session.
Using the Auxiliary Camera
Flip Charts/White Board
- Useful for spontaneous exposition. Takes little
preparation or experience to use.
- Hand-written images may not be clear or legible. Usually
requires more physical movement - producing distortion.
Difficult to provide hard copy for remote sites.
- Use a black pen to ensure legibility; establish
appropriate camera presets (Zoom/Focus) before meeting.
Verbally check legibility with other sites.
- Suitable where:
- Groups are small and informal. Meeting involves free-flow
discussion, and visuals need to be created during the
Video Player-Recorder/PC Graphics
- Image sent will be clearer than OHP, and can be written to
interactively if a PC. The video recorder can present
lengthy moving image clips, derived from a variety of
- When in use it is not possible to see participants at the
sending site at the same time (graphic will appear on one
monitor and your own image on the other). It is difficult
for remote participants to participate in discussion.
Rapidly moving images will be distorted.
- Actively facilitate participation at remote sites by
allowing pauses and asking questions. Keep physical
movements to a minimum to avoid distortion.
- When visual is an information resource, and participants
do not need to see people and documents at the same time.
Virtual Environments Visualisation