Tips and Techniques
This semester, I've worked with a number of faculty who areusing teleconferencing technology in the classroom. So far, we've had faculty members simultaneously teachingsessions to their students and to students in China, interacting with experts in thefield, partnering with classes from another institution for interdisciplinary sessions, coordinating discussions remotely from the DNC, and participating in studysessions for students while away at a conference. Throughout the process we've learned alot. They may seem self-explanatory, but these tips can increase the likelihood of a goodteleconferencing session and the opportunity for meaningful interaction. If you can thinkof additional tips, please share them in the comments.
Know How to Connect
Participants can connect to a teleconferencing session in a number of ways. Ifthey are using a room system, they can usually call your room system directly. Otherwisethey can connect through a service like BlueJeans, which is software that bridges different connections.Whenstarting a session, make sure your participants know how to connect.
Test the System
Before your session, it's worthwhile to test out the teleconferencingsystem.Things to look for will include picture quality and sound. Can you hear them wellenough? Is there a lag in the video?Do you know how to sign onto the system if someone whosupports technology is running late?Further, for the best experience have yourparticipants connect through a wired connection and not through wifi.While Skype can offera good experience, depending on what version the participant runs on their computer couldnegatively affect the experience. For a more consistent session it may be best to haveparticipants connect through the browser link.
Establish a Backchannel
Howcan you communicate with your participants before and during the session? Make sure youhave some way to reach your participants whether it's through email, phone, text message,chat, etc. A backchannel will help you work out any kinks before the session and alsoallows you a way to communicate with the other group privately. For instance, if twoclasses are meeting, the instructors can communicate and shape the session withoutannouncing it in front of the classes.
Have a Backup Plan
Sometimestechnology doesn't work. In case you are unable to teleconference, have another activityready or a modified lecture you can give.
This goes alongwith having a backup plan, but it's helpful to orient your expectations and those of yourstudents and the participants. Is the technology seamless? No. There may be video lags andissues with the sound. If the people involved understand that, then they will be moreforgiving when problems occur.
People get nervous on camera.When you are leading a session, tell your students that the other people participating arealso nervous. Remind them it is not being recorded. Listen to their fears and try toaddress them.
Get a Feel for the Room
Not all teleconferencing rooms are set upthe same way. Before the session starts, notice where the cameras are placed. Point themout to your students so that they may more effectively communicate with the otherparticipants.If the other participants are not online, have your students practicespeaking and let them see how they appear on screen. Are they looking into thecamera
Setting the Tone
Envision the participants, whether they be aprofessor from another institution or a classroom full of students, as guests to yourclass. Welcome them. Introduce yourselves. Try to get everyone involved to be on screeninitially. It's disorienting and can erode trust when participants realize there are otherpeople in the room besides those with whom they've been interacting.
The screen where you see the participants is not always the same place asthe camera. Resist the urge to stare at the screen when talking to people online. Instead,focus on the camera.
This may not be in issue in a teleconferencespace, but it could be an issue for outside participants or if you are Skyping in fromanother location. Is there good light where you are? Will people be able to see you? Makesure the light source is front of you so that you will not appear backlit or as asilhouette.
One thing to think about is how you wish to interactwith your audience, both inside and outside the physical classroom. If you're having agroup discussion, or talking with an expert in the field, you may wish to sit with thestudents or in the audience.By sitting with the group, it's much easier to work the cameraand it feels like there is more of a group dynamic.
This ismore of an issue if you are Skyping in from another location. Where are you located? Isthe room conducive for a quiet chat or is it full of things that may distract? If viewerscan look out the window from where you are located, they may focus more on what'shappening outside.If you're in your office, put a note on the door not to bedisturbed.Choose a location that is quiet, so that participants will not hear otherconversations or extra noise.
Speakers, Headsets, Mics, andWebcams
The higher quality webcam the participant is using, the better theexperience will be.Using an external microphone will also improve the soundquality.Further, if participants are using an external microphone, they should have themic placed behind the speakers. If the mic is in front of the speakers, it will pick upthat noise and you will hear considerable feedback.When interacting with just oneparticipant, the best option may be for them to use a headset with a built-in mic. Thereare no feedback issues and their voice may be picked up better.
This may seem like common sense, but the relationships you have with yourparticipants are important. Is the participant a colleague with whom you've previouslyworked? Has rapport already been established?On the other hand, is the participant anexpert in the field with whom you've had very little interaction? How might that affectwhat happens during the session?Teleconferencing may cause stress, especially when thetechnology is not working perfectly. No matter what level of relationship you have withyour participant, talk to them before the session about how you both will handle thesesituations.
Collaborating Outside the Class
If you are doing a one offsession with a guest Skyping in, you may not have an ongoing collaboration outside of theclass. However, if students were to submit questions to the guest a few days before thesession, the participant may be able to better prepare their responses.When collaboratingwith another class outside your institution, you can foster a richer interaction by havingthe students work together. The collaboration may take the form of a discussion forum,group blog, or even peer-editing of thought papers. Moreover, having a shared resourceoutside of the classroom, where students may pose questions, allows all of the students ajumping off point for the online session.
Don't Teach to the Technology
Teleconferencing may not be conducive for every activity. Instead ofchanging your teaching methods to fit the technology, why not look at activities you doand see how teleconferencing can support those goals.
Take Notes, Revise and Share
Teaching with teleconference technology is fairly new to most of us. Afteryour session, think about what went right and what didn't. Why did one activity work welland another activity fall flat? Revise your activities for futures classes and share whatyou've learned with colleagues.