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Video Conferencing


Contents :-


If you want to try out this new technology for the experience, then of course it is worth it; and probably worth traveling to do it.

If you believe the point of video conferencing is to save traveling, then it is fundamentally silly to travel to use another video suite. After all, video is inferior in many ways to face to face meetings (e.g. no social or private business with others "on the side"), and must have a strong saving in time to be worthwhile.

But difficulties in booking can easily lead to only some sites being available at the time picked. If someone asks you to travel to a video conference, consider refusing: perhaps they would like to travel to your office instead?


Telephone conference calls are even more convenient (in your own office), and may do just as well.


Before the conference:

1. Booking the conference Hall.

It is advisable to check and re-check the booking at both ends.


Thus problems with the booking system from a user's viewpoint include:

o Even when all agree a booking has been made, the connection is not always made without prompting them.

o It is almost impossible to know whether a booking has been accepted. Confirmations may or may not be sent, may or may not be accurate. The long chain of people involved makes this very unreliable (e.g. only one end of a video conference will do the booking on behalf of all; they will go through their local contact, who will contact Edinburgh.) A failure at any point of this chain results in people not knowing the state of the booking.

o The public web record of bookings is not kept up to date and does not reflect what conferences are booked and what slots are free.

o The notation for sites in that record is not comprehensible by users. It doesn't use the normal names of the places connected, and doesn't provide a glossary.

(Organise a parallel computer link (as an equivalent to an OHP) if talks rather than discussion are to be presented. The video link will only transmit one video channel: typically a picture of the present speaker.

To give a talk, the equivalent of an OHP is needed to transmit "slides" to another monitor in each video suite. Audiences say they quickly get tired of hearing without seeing the speaker (this was the comment by students on a 10 minute monologue with slides I gave in one of our sessions), so the main video channel cannot be used for "slides" successfully.

This extra link is not (yet) provided as standard, but can be done by having a computer with an internet connection provided in every suite, linked perhaps by Net meeting. You are likely to have to organize this equipment yourself: certainly independently of booking the video conference. You need to:

o Arrange to have the hardware (computers) set up at every site for the conference. In a big room, you then need to have the computer display projected on a big screen so everyone at the site can see it.

o Arrange to have them connected to the internet there.


o Decide how to link them e.g. if you use Net meeting, then all the machines need to be PCs.

o Decide how to prepare your "slides". PowerPoint is easy, maybe web pages. Too bad if you wanted to do slides by hand or using a photocopier.

o You will probably need to know the IP address of those machines (or rather the network ports in the rooms) and to tell the other participants what they are.

Agree and publish an agenda

Consider introducing yourselves in advance by another medium e.g. email, web pages.

Use email to prepare everyone for the meeting.

These might include:

o Every site should have a written list of phone numbers: those of every other video suite, the Edinburgh switching centre, and the phone extensions of local technical assistance.

o If a computer internet link is being used in parallel, then each site should have to hand a written note of their own IP address (to tell other sites as required).

o Every site needs someone familiar with the video controls: these cannot be learned simultaneously with having a meaningful conference. If you don't have an experienced user, then someone needs to practice in advance (see next section).


The controls are not effortlessly usable. Therefore:


• You need to have a practiced person at each site to operate the controls, organizing their training if necessary.

• If possible the person "chairing" the session should not also be operating controls. Arranging for a practiced user

The controls are not effortlessly usable. Therefore at each site you

• Either need a user with previous experience of THAT suite (the controls are different at every site);

• Yyou need to arrange a little practice for a designated person.

Groups get restless very quickly when someone is practicing or fumbling while they wait (another student criticism of one of our cases): after all, they can't learn anything because it is not their hands on the controls.

So having someone turn up and do it for the first time with a group causes dissatisfaction and the perception of a bad meeting.

A new user can practice a lot of it without a connection (operating the cameras and looking at the result on a monitor), but the best thing is to book the conference 30 mins earlier and have one person at each site turn up then to practice and to check the arrangements. During such a setup, you could:

• Ask if they can hear you comfortably; and vice versa

• Ask if they can see you; find camera shots that THEY say suits them.

• Ask them to look you in the eyes (in their monitor) so you know what direction they are looking when they are looking at you.


The position of the microphones should be taken into account when positioning the participants. You cannot judge what sound you are transmitting (unless you have a sound meter).

You must ask the other end and believe what they say. The fact that you can hear OK is, unlike in face to face, no clue at all about what they can hear.


QA should test the sound coming from speakers in different parts of the room.

Room layout (preparation)

Having all the chairs facing one way, towards the cameras and monitors seems to work well.


One issue is giving everyone a good view of the screens (and being in view of the cameras). Another is that if a group are in a circle, it is easy for them to feel a group and the person at the far end to feel not part of it.

Visual resolution

Effective resolution is bad. What matters is the size of objects at the user's eye (in, say, centimeters per radian, or inches per degree). Thus it doesn't directly matter how big text is at the far end: a lot depends on the display at the receiving end.

To get the most out of a video channel, every user needs to be near enough to the screen that they can just or almost see the individual pixels or scan lines. However in many video suites, although the monitors look big, in fact users are much further away.

For instance, sitting at my office computer, the monitor fills 20-30 degrees of my field of vision, but in the video suite at Glasgow, it fills perhaps 5 degrees.


Just as in giving a talk at a new place, you cannot be sure how big you need to make the text on your OHPs, so in video conferencing you cannot be sure what the display conditions will be at the far end (and you cannot see them yourself either); but our experience is that this is a concern.

1. Only one face can be recognised at a time. Wider shots show bodies, but not who they are. The camera should mainly focus on one or two people at a time and not just a distant view of all the participants. This allows the remote person or audience to gauge reaction etc. and feel "part" of the whole activity.

2. If you have name plates or hold up printed material, the letters need to be over 2 inches high (255 point print) in a shot framed to show a person.

3. It is useful to have a visualiser available. (You can then, but only then, use smaller print. Smaller means say 24 point, NOT 12 point.) I.e. Bring printed "slides": with font as big as OHPs require. (A "visualiser" is a "rostrum camera" i.e. lights and downward pointing camera set up to do closeups of bits of paper. Probably looks like an OHP with a video camera where the projector lens should be.)


The Large scale :

considering the purpose of the meeting, and organising the overall joint task. In education, this will be the level of pedagogical success or failure.

The medium scale:

things you can do in any meeting to make it go better e.g. start with introductions, begin by agreeing an agenda.

The small scale:

issues of turn taking, asking the other end to give you a different camera shot (or not, and being frustrated).

Large scale: Organising the meeting

All the preparation that can help any meeting and/or tutorial apply. Basically, having a clear idea about the main purpose of the meeting, and having all participants prepared for it. Thus if it is to be a tutorial, the students need to have done the work and be prepared to present in some definite way.


1. Agenda.

A definite agenda for the conference is useful and should be agreed and circulated beforehand particularly insofar as it informs participants about what each needs to prepare, unless it is so simple that no separate document is needed.

o Alternatively, an electronic agenda (e.g. a web page, a powerpoint screen) could be made available during the meeting if an extra internet connection (e.g. using Net meeting between PCs in every video suite) is being used. This would have the advantage that it could be edited during the meeting, yet still be shared by all participants.

2. Participants should have access to all the material for the conference and time to read it before the conference takes place. Materials which are on the Web can be accessed easily by both sites and shared, discussed etc. -- that is one method, but faxing paper can equally work for small numbers.

3. One recipe that works (has worked) is for the student to have written an essay, the tutor to have read and commented on it, and preferably to have sent the written comments in advance. Then the discussion can consist of going through the comments.

4. Another is for students doing group work to prepare a short presentation of their results or what they have done, including electing which student will represent the group. The tutor can then discuss these presentations.

5. But just as in face to face seminars, a general discussion may flop unless all participants know they will be speaking (and what about) and prepare some ideas to offer.

Running the meeting: medium scale social actions

All the things that help run any meeting and/or tutorial apply, but are more important.

1. Agenda.

A definite agenda for the conference is useful and should ideally be visible to all participants during the meeting.


2. When using a long PowerPoint presentation, many overheads etc. it would help if the audience at the other site could occasionally see the lecturer/tutor instead of just hearing him/her.

Either organize a second channel (e.g. Net meeting over the internet, to give 2 screens of communication), or have the person in charge of the equipment at the speaker's end switch regularly between the visualize (shot of a slide) and a shot of the speaker.

3. Unless the group has already met before, it should begin by going round in turn with each person introducing them self, including a statement of what they hope to gain from this meeting.

o In multi-site conferences, it is important to go round each site at the start so that everyone gets at least a glimpse of the rest of the audience. Remember that you will then only see one other site at a time.

4. Each person should construct a nameplate in front of themselves. Few people can remember more than 2 names from introductions. However the lettering must be very large e.g. 144 point (1.5 inches high).

o In multi-site conferences, it is also important to have clear labels for each site, as the picture will jump between sites, which often look like anonymous rooms. The best solution is to have a caption inserted electronically on the outgoing image, as is now done by the University of Glasgow; otherwise a name plate with enormous lettering.

5. A good way to promote discussion, particularly if it is the first discussion the group has, is to ask each person to say how the topic relates to a personal experience.

Running the equipment: small scale social actions

You have to control the camera shots. And because (see below) this doesn't do everything you want, you have to do small scale social actions to compensate e.g. ask the other end to change the camera shot, nod in an exaggerated way to compensate for low resolution, etc.


• What is wanted, but you can't have, is to control the cameras at the other end, just as in face to face you turn your eyes and head to see what you want when you want. This is not offered you currently.

• Because of this, you have to tell them what you want: normal tacit practices won't work. For instance, if their sound is too quiet it is no good talking louder. They hear fine, and won't talk louder to suit you, particularly if they have several people in their room who can hear each other fine.

• Probably it is best to begin by explicitly asking each other if you can hear well.

• Then, ask them to look at their monitor that shows your face(s): so you will know what it looks like when they are looking at you. In most setups, their eyes will not meet yours, but be looking downwards (cameras are often on top of the screens). You have to ask what "eye contact" will look like.

• The person controlling the shots probably needs to have little else to do, so they can concentrate on what is wanted and how to operate the controls.

• What the other end will want is both to see the room as a whole, and the speaker's face and reactions, and what the speaker is pointing to e.g. a slide on the visualiser. This isn't possible.

• Probably participants should train themselves to give feedback about being still "there" explicitly. Just as on the phone you have to say "uh uh" more often than face to face, so you probably need to do this on video conferences AND have the cameras show all bodies/faces periodically.

• Similarly, probably we should get in the habit of explicitly asking them to change the camera shot ("show me what the others are doing now").

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