Technical operation considerations are a part of videoconferencing that we’d all like to avoid thinking about. Why can’t it be like a microwave where we just plug it in, push a button, and it works? So, as promised earlier, let’s look at some of the technical details Sonnenwald, Solomon, Hara, Bolliger, and Cox (2002) had to consider and sometimes overcome as they navigated the intricacies of videoconferencing.
1. What kind of facilities were already available and were they usable? In this case the researchers were working with specialized video conferencing rooms (with sometimes outdated equipment) created primarily for online learning courses at their various universities.
2. How did their institutions schedule videoconferencing facility usage? This was a big deal for Sonnenwald, et al., (2002) since their universities scheduled facility usage 3-5 years in advance! Most of us probably don’t have to plan that far ahead, but if you have to use a special facilities, scheduling will always be a point of consideration. Of course if you go the VSee route it’s not a problem 😉
3. Was the quality of their equipment (especially audio equipment) adequate for a successful meeting? You can still meet without video, but as I’ve stressed before, it’s all over without the audio. Sonnenwald, et al., ended up purchasing new microphones and extra phone conferencing equipment just in case of video failure.
4. Did the room layout make seeing the presenter and shared documents clearly visible to remote participants? Did projectors or overheads produce glare? This was an issue for them because they were not using desktop video conferencing services like those provided by VSee. In fact, for their type of conference room set up, the researchers suggested having an experienced camera person to zoom in and out as needed. When I started graduate school, I spent 9 months working as a camera operator in the Stanford distance learning classrooms. I would strongly recommend against having an external operator – it makes the meeting too formal. Imagine having a stranger listening in on your conversation and panning in towards your face whenever you speak. Unless you are talking about something rather formal, it can get awkward. From my camera operator experience, we made VSee remote camera control simple, so anyone can use it.
5. What kind of network capability was available? From the way Internet providers get pummeled whenever a videoconference experiences technical difficulties, I think this one is self-explanatory.
6. Were technical staff readily available in case of difficulties? More importantly, were technical staff made to feel like they were a part of the research team? These people are your best friends. They can help you find what you need and set up the room and equipment so it all works smoothly or they can make your life miserable in a million little ways, like unlocking the room and then disappearing, putting equipment where you can’t find it, or being out for lunch when something goes haywire. So remember to build good relationships with technical staff and operators: Always ask for help nicely, have them stop by a meeting so everyone can thank them, say “hi” to them in the hallways, buy them breakfast once in awhile…. I should point out that this is also one of the critical shortcomings of the traditional approach to videoconferencing – as long as you need an operator to run it for you, how much impact can it have on the larger world?
Many of these considerations have to do with a traditional video conference room set up and equipment which has its own time and place. Of course, you can always choose to bypass a lot of these set up headaches by using a modern approach.
Sonnenwald, D., Solomon, P., Hara, N., Bolliger, R. & Cox, T. 2002. Collaboration in the large: Using video conferencing to facilitate large group interaction. In A. Gunasekaran and O. Khalil (Eds.) Knowledge and Information Technology in 21st Century Organizations: Human and Social Perspectives, pp. 115-136. Hershey, PA, Idea Publishing.