Visual presence

Visual presence

A day of floating around for me. I had forgotten that today is a local holiday and I had agreed to link with some colleagues for a videoconference to discuss some new degree provision. So I downloaded jabber onto my Mac at home and joined the meeting that way. A wonderful tool that lets me be in two places at once… but so much of the effectiveness of this media is due to the culture of use, as much as the affordances of the technology. We occasionally point out that the UHI accounts for around 52% of all the videoconferencing in Higher Education in the UK, and that we are the biggest single users of educational videoconferencing in Europe – but what real analysis of use do we make? There are good ways to use VC and bad ways, and either way, the etiquette of the medium is totally different from a face-to-face situation. The chairman needs to be more effective and inclusive, and participants need to be more succinct and more aware of other users than in f2f. The visual image is activated by the speaker, so if everyone tries to speak at once, or talk over another speaker, the effect is chaos. If the meeting drags on badly, the time slot will disappear and will cut off even the most important speaker in mid-flow. Yet the ability to conduct important business in your own time-space, without needing to spend hours traveling to and from a distant location, is excellent. The meeting can be recorded for the record (or archive) and the immediacy of the medium can be conveyed so much more powerfully than phone, or email, or even dare I say than face-to-face (because we are forced to actually listen and look at the speaker). So why do we not insist on adequate training for users of videoconferencing. I think regular UHI users are probably on average better than colleagues at other institutions who use VC infrequently, but why do we assume that participants can ‘pick up’ the techniques of use – the etiquette, the body language, the technical skills – without some training? We are committing a grave mistake if we think that what we do f2f can simply be translated directly across to VC, but I am convinced that with appropriate training and practice, the results, and the benefits, can be far greater than we currently recognise.

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3 thoughts on “Visual presence”

  1. I would firmly support staff development in the use of videoconferencing – we have some excellent users but there’s a lot of scope for development and there is increasing demand from across the partner colleges to increase videoconferencing skills for both teaching and meetings. I’ve been involved in a number of videoconferencing workshops – primarily for teaching purposes and they’ve been well received.
    I’ve also designed and run a series of workshops for STEM Ambassadors who were keen to use videoconferencing to promote careers in the sciences to secondary school pupils in remote schools across the Highlands. They were keen to actively engage the pupils, so the sessions focused on facilitating group activities at a distance. There was lots of emphasis on providing crystal clear instructions; checking for understand; providing timings for activities; body language; and understanding non-verbal cues from the students had finished their exercise. To support their learning I used roleplay – vcing between adjacent rooms and letting the Ambassadors have some fun at roleplaying being back at school! The outcomes were really encouraging – a significant number of Ambassadors have facilitated sessions to schools and have had wonderful feedback from the pupils’ teachers.
    Reflecting on my experience in supporting staff in their use of videoconferencing for teaching, I’d argue that a tailored approach to staff development on videoconferencing skills, based on their current and identified future needs would be of most value to the participants.

    1. I agree, Wolfgang. I did not intend to “brag” about the UHI use of vc, only to suggest that being such heavy users of the vc (and not just for teaching – I don’t use it at all for ‘teaching’ but use it heavily for meetings with colleagues) that the UHI should be expected to have more robust training and vc etiquette procedures. I think that the medium is wonderful for certain tasks when used appropriately, but as it stands I don’t see any strong evidence of attempts to regulate quality control in the use of vc.

  2. I am aware that vc is the medium of choice for uhi, but i do wonder whether this is something to brag about. What does it mean to own 52% of vcs in the uk? Does it perhaps mean others have moved on to something else? Any institution could nowadays easily claim to be the biggest user in europe for typewriters, but would that be any sign of quality of what they are doing?

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