Developing practice in video conferencing
Extracts from the Invite Video Conferencing Quick Guide, sections 1 & 2
Do you use video conferencing? One of the important issues with video conferencing is to be aware that there are very few limits to the types of interaction that can take place. The limitations are mostly set by technology and by users themselves.
The Invite VC Village encourages creative use of video conferencing and we would like to hear how you use it in your own educational and training programmes, or any other communication events.
Adapted from the "Video Conferencing Quick Guide"
© Invite Team, 2008. ISBN 978-80-86984-54-4
Getting to know your VC environment
The most important introductory aspect of video conferencing for communication, learning and teaching is knowing the basic features of the technical ebnvironment.
Before the conference begins take a trip to the VC venue and familiarise yourself with the surroundings. Ask the technician to be there so he/she can help you to feel comfortable using the equipment. Move the furniture, where possible, to make the room as comfortable as your classroom. Start a notebook for VC and write down all important information given by the technician and those in charge of booking procedures, such as phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, time zones, etc.
Booking the VC connection: the official route
Booking procedures will vary across different institutions and your organisation may have a booking procedure, or you may be expected to make connections with your VC partners yourself. The examples provided below show how connections are booked at Aberystwyth University in Wales and Masaryk University in the Czech Republic.
Adapted from "Methodology Quick Guide".
Content: Hana Katrňáková, John Morgan, Janice de Haaff, Libor Štěpánek,
During the project we have been connecting student groups between Masaryk UNiversity in Brno, Czech Republic and Aberystwyth University in Wales. We have also connected between students and our corporate project partners for simulation activities in business and industry.
The aim of our video conferences varies across different courses, which some users of this site will know from our discussions and presentations at conferences in the Czech Republic, UK, Finland, Norway, Netherlands and Spain (conference documents can be found by following the link to "Invite Project Homepage" and "Results".
In one course the focus has been on the development of student teamwork projects and presentations. Students exchange information on their projects via forum and e-mail
Below is an example of how students exchange information before conferences:
This kind of preparation facilitates signifcant discussion time in the actual video conference connection, reducing the amount of one-sided presentation (time spent on this varies significantly). The video conference becomes a visual extension of the forum, reinforcing stronger social ties and fostering much greater interest in the work of other students and motivation to exchange and communicate ideas.
Motivation can be probelematic among students, especially where learning outcomes are different between different courses. In the Aberystwyth side of the video link, students are from different European countries and are studying for up to one year in the UK on an Erasmus exchange programme. The course they study at Aberystwyth "Advanced Communication in English in an Academic Context" provides credits twowards their degree, so there is a high expectation on the work they do. Academic projects conducted by Aberystwyth students via video conferencing so far include:
Students at Masaryk University, develop similar teamwork profiles and negotiate project topics within their own courses, e.g. English for law. Topics may be expected to have a legal focus as it is a requirement of their course. During the exchange, however, students appear to benefit significantly from looking at their work from an authentic audience and participation perspective. Many of these topics are too specific for a general auidence who has not studied in this area. The implication of this is that all topics have a general or social aspect through which we can interact with a non-specialist audience.
A good example of this is one of the Masaryk student projects on Czech government policy on school fees. For an outside audience, this would be a difficult topic to generate meaningful discussion from the outset. What the group decided to do though proved very dynamic, as they engaged Spanish, Finnish, German and French students in discussion on how much they pay for university studies in their own country.
It should also be mentioned here that the project topics presented above are part of the students' final course assessment in Aberystwyth, but for the video conferences they do not receive grades. At this stage we have decided to keep this as a social space within the course, due to lack of objective criteria from long term experience on how to mark, or give a grade for, a video conference discussion or presentation?
Working papers and essays
Here we will be publishing short papers and essays that will be archived on a monthly basis, or when we have new papers to publish. If you would like to contribute a practical or theoretical paper, please contact any member of the Invite team (see contact details page) to discuss your work.
The subject village as web community and professional resource
John Morgan email@example.com
One of the greatest advantages of using the internet to disseminate project information lies in identifying some of the different ways in which information can be meaningful to users. Information is no longer as fixed as it would be in a printed and published, paper-based document and it is possible to suggest that a text is something that never needs to be considered finished, or complete. In this context, text and information evolve, and their significance to users can adapt. The emphasis on continuous evolution and adaptation becomes integral to writing and communication processes and through it, social or professional response to text can be viewed as a means of editorial review.
The internet has provided opportunities for users to access resources, share resources and make decisions based on information exchange. The types of decisions can include, in this project, ways in which teachers and learners use video conferencing resources and how the design of the web-site enhances their understanding of information and their capacity to engage in practical activities. These actions can be referred to as “affordances” (Gibson, 1977, 1979); what a user is able to do as a result of choices made by the designer of the web-site.
Affordances can be divided into two broad categories (based on Norman, 1988, 2002):
In a well defined user group in en educational or training context, it is relatively straightforward to conduct a needs analysis and identify a user profile that will inform the design of training materials. This works well in single user groups and it is where notions of “best practice” emerge as needs are defined in relation to fixed learning outcomes. As user groups are transferred to on-line environments however, a much wider range of needs emerge as different types of users—organisations, companies, primary schools, secondary schools, further and higher education institutions—begin to access resources that support their own needs, but which may have been designed for narrower user groups, e.g. how to use video conferencing in any one of the settings listed above.
To design a resource that will serve the needs of disparate user groups, it is necessary to identify policies and procedures that will work with the real affordances of being able to use video conferencing equipment and with the perceived affordances of what types of practice may be best for different users. One way of approaching this is to consider the notion of subject village (Glazier, 2002). Glazier was instrumental in setting up the Electronic Poetry Center at the University of Buffalo, NY and has argued (ibid: 3) that this type of web resource has been central to the proliferation of poetry on the internet. The subject village itself operates as a web-site and may include structured discussion areas and other areas for more formal educational development. He also argues for the limitations of the subject village, which does not necessarily offer a comprehensive account of the subject in question, nor does it control the actions and interests of the users in the way that a formal training programme might. The more important aspects of Glazier’s notion of subject village are listed below:
(based on and adapted from Glazier, 2002: 3)
The main point that is not listed in Glazier’s description of a subject village, which is used in the Invite subject village, is a means of interactivity that can elevate the resource from something similar to on on-line catalogue of resources, into an actual web community. In terms of creating a social or professional dialogue on theories, practices and resources, it is necessary to provide a definition of interactivity that leads to critical subject development. Lippman (date not cited: in Brand, 1987 & Stone, 1995; in Ryder & Wilson, 1996: 6) has identified five useful criteria of interactivity:
Interactivity will be further developed by using the subject village as a means to creating new resources, not initially linked to a specific project such as Invite. Further collaborations, exchanges of information and projects will emerge, independently of the original resource. The subject village provides a means of interacting through the materials collected and disseminated for given projects that can be made more sustainable by cooperating users groups in different communities. This affords a strong profile for a community of practice towards the development of training and educational resources that can be adaptable to any number of different contexts. Ryder and Wilson (1996: 6) neatly summarise the role of such affordances:
Morgan, J. (2008). "The subject village as web community and professional resource". [On-line]. http://users.aber.ac.uk/jpm/invite/index.htm (date of access).