Distance learning is one of the most powerful new forces influencing the direction
of education. Below are important points to consider when teaching via videoconferencing:
- Course planning and organization
- Verbal and nonverbal presentation skills
- Collaborative teamwork
- Questioning strategies
- Subject matter expertise
- Involving students and coordinating their activities at field sites.
Course planning and organization
This includes the knowledge of the videoconferencing equipment, and capabilities.
Also included is incorporating multi-media and materials to supplement the learning
experience. Instructors need more planning time, more instructional support and
additional training to modify courses for all of the potential delivery methods.
Any instructor who is scheduled to teach in a video classroom should first ascertain
what type of system will be used and how many sites and learners will be directly
involved. Too many instructors walk into a training room at the last minute and
begin teaching. No video room has been designed to accommodate every single instructor
and their needs. Good preparation is reflected in a well delivered class.
Verbal and nonverbal presentation skills
It is important for all instructors to be able to construct an organized presentation,
to project enthusiasm for the topic and be able to pace a lecture accordingly. Be
aware of how you look, sound and move in front of the camera. Some instructor traits
such as movement and gestures can be diminished or exaggerated on camera. This category
also includes the management of interaction with the far end site(s).
Instead of being surrounded by familiar whiteboards, flip charts and overhead projectors,
the instructor encounters an array of classroom oddities which can include annotation
pens, a mouse, document camera, control tablet and others. All video tools are usually
controlled exclusively by one person-the instructor. Teaching while operating these
devices can seem very unnatural in the beginning.
The only way to become comfortable with this technology is to practice until every
tool is familiar and its operation becomes second nature. Extensive practice should
be mandatory for all primary instructors. How much practice is recommended? If you
have to stop and think what button to push, you have not practiced long enough.
Some facilities recommend 8 hours of practice for every one hour of instruction.
These are only guidelines and everyone learns at different levels.
When teaching in a distance learning room, an important component is knowing your
room, along with its layout and capabilities. Decide whether you will stand or sit
and arrange any chairs and other furnishings accordingly. Move the document camera
if needed in order to be able to reach and write at a comfortable angle. If you
wander when teaching use masking tape or another object to mark the outer limits
of movement; the tape will indicate at what point you are out of camera range. Set
the camera presets to the optimum locations you will be instructing from, such as
the whiteboard or a podium. Also set a few shots to the audience at your location
(if there is one.)
Besides adjusting the equipment, consider the non-electronic essentials of your
presentation. Mentally walk through your presentation and check to be sure you have
all other materials, papers, books, objects to display or demonstrate ready and
Distance instruction is more of a team effort than standard training room instruction.
People need to be involved from all sites.
Interaction is an important part of distance teaching. Instructors need to know
how to construct questions and also set rules for the asking and answering of questions.
Don't wait for students to ask questions, but use directed questions to include
and involve all sites and all learners. Call on sites and individuals to assure
that students are paying attention and understanding the materials.
Subject matter expertise
Instructors need a solid mastery of the subject they are teaching. Any flaws will
be magnified when teaching in front of the camera.
Involving students and coordinating their activities at field sites
Instructors need to be aware of the students at the far sites and as much as possible
try to involve them in what is going on in the training room. This includes incorporating
question and answer sessions and directing questions to specific sites.
Although it is technically possible to link up many locations with two-way video
technology, in common practice such systems are used for smaller numbers of participating
locations. Two-way video classes typically connect less than 10 sites. The total
number of students in two-way video classes more closely replicates the average
attendance in a traditional classroom.
Additional considerations for teaching at a distance include the following:
- Camera angles and proper camera placement
- Interpersonal "space" considerations
- The student camera
- The use of multimedia
- Visual graphics
Camera angles and proper camera placement
Camera angles are very important because they allow direct eye contact between the
instructor and the students at the remote sites. Without eye contact, students perceive
that the instructor is not paying attention and therefore do not learn as effectively.
This reinforces the tendency of students at remote sites to think of themselves
as "watching TV" and not participating in a live, interactive class. Remind
the students that you can see them.
The distant students will see whatever the camera sees. The camera should be placed
directly in front of the presenter and just above the remote monitor which shows
the far site. By looking at the far site, you will also be looking at the camera.
To assist with the placement of the camera and to be sure at all times what you
are sending to the remote side, use the PIP window. While this covers up part of
the remote monitor, it lets you be sure what you are sending when using slides or
the "Show PC" feature.
Interpersonal space considerations
When in a point to point call it is possible to control the far-end site's cameras.
When using this feature to focus in on a participant be sure to not get to close.
The same as in normal face-to-face conversation, if a person is too close, the interaction
can be strained and uncomfortable. It is best to focus the camera on a 2-4 person
group that includes the speaker.
Because of the landscape format of the camera, try to keep groups sitting close
together. This eliminates empty space and keeps the instructor or remote site facilitator
from using excessive camera movement.
Students want to be able to see the instructor's face as they are speaking. When
lecturing use a camera angle that shows the instructor from the waist up. This allows
for the incorporation of gestures as well.
Allowing students at the remote site to look directly into the home classroom at
their fellow students is essential. When students are on camera they are reminded
that they are expected to participate.
The use of multimedia
Using multimedia maximizes the effectiveness of videoconferencing. Changing the
camera from the instructor to another media helps to retain interest. No matter
how good an instructor is, they will have difficulty holding the attention of the
far site without some variety.
Some of the multimedia used in distance learning:
- Overhead transparencies
- Laptop or PC
- Objects on a document camera
Additional prep time is always needed to insure that transitions between media are
smooth and all peripherals are working correctly. Making a script of your presentation
with all transitions and cues can be helpful.
Using visual graphics
Here are a few tips on using Powerpoint and visual graphics in your video presentation.
- Keep slides simple and uncluttered.
- Leave white space around text and graphics.
- Keep the slide organized. Line up text on the left hand side of the slide.
- Create a path for the eye. Organize on the slide the most important from left to
right and from top to bottom.
- Make the most important element a different or brighter color to further emphasize
- Divide space in an interesting way.
- Televisions do not adapt to portrait mode as well as a landscape format. Use landscape
format if possible when preparing documents or overheads and leave a 10% border.
- While building a presentation, avoid using Serif fonts such as Algerian. These fonts
are difficult to read on screen. Be sure to make any font shown on screen between
18 and 36 points. Recommended fonts include:Arial, Futura, Avant Garde, Helvetica,
Geneva (or any Sans Serif fonts).
- Use light colored text on a dark background. Yellow text on a blue background works
- Remember "The rule of seven." Limit slides or documents to seven lines
of text and seven words per line to keep information and instruction manageable.
- Run the presentation through the television monitors prior to the class to ensure
that its appearance is acceptable.
- Have a backup plan! Always keep a paper copy of the presentation handy in case something
Briefly explain the technology and the number of other sites involved, if any. Also
instruct participants on videoconferencing protocol:
- Mute any open microphones at far end sites when not speaking.
- Be aware of the microphone placement and avoid excessive noise.
- Speak directly and project your voice as if talking across a large room.
- Speak up or raise hand if there is a question and wait to be recognized.
Verbal transitions between sections of the presentations can help the class stay
focused. Explain what is happening as you go through the motions, such as, "I'm
going to switch to a videotape segment now."
Students learn better when information is organized into smaller pieces. Segmenting
your presentation also allows for more interaction. It is recommended that, if possible,
you allow a 10 minute break for every fifty minutes of instruction. Looking at the
television monitor for long periods of time can cause eye fatigue and frequent breaks
help alleviate this problem.
Teaching in front of a camera can be intimidating. Listed below are helpful hints
to look your best:
- Colors: Choose shades of green and blue. Avoid reds, hot pinks and electric blues.
Also avoid high contrast stripes, plaids and complex patterns.
- Jewelry: Less is better, do not wear any jewelry that dangles near the face or makes
- Eyeglasses: Be aware that lighting can cause a glare on glasses. Check on the monitor.
- Voice: Practice a natural delivery of your voice. Be sure that all sites can hear
Nonverbal interaction can be just as important as verbal in engaging students to
learn. Make eye contact and use appropriate gestures. Vary the pitch of your voice
and facial expressions to avoid being a "talking head".
Practice various camera angles and presentation techniques. Videotape yourself,
if possible, and critique your presentation.
Text and material was taken all or in part from the following sources:
Cyrs, Thomas E., Teaching and Learning at a Distance: What it takes to Effectively
Design, Deliver, and Evaluate Programs. Josey-Bass Inc., San Francisco. ©1997
VTEL et al., Effective Distance Education Techniques: A guide for effective distance
education using videoconferencing technologies. ©1999
Illinois Video Network Effective Videoconferencing & Presentation Tips
Try to put the main speakers in the center area to avoid excessive camera movement.
As with most meetings, it's important to begin with introductions especially if
some meeting participants are seated outside the camera range.
Always let all sites know you are muting either audio, video or both.
Try to have an agenda established and keep to the time frame. Remember that if you
are in a multi-way conference, the bridge will automatically disconnect all sites
at the scheduled ending time.
Be conscious of the microphones. Do not place books or papers too close to the microphones.
Remember not to tap pencils or fingers next to the microphones.
Be aware that sidebar conversations can be heard at the remote site and are very
distracting to conference participants.
Address participants by name: it personalizes the meeting and keeps the flow of
Be aware of camera positions. Make sure if you are speaking that the camera is on
you. Also, when using a secondary camera, be conscious not to turn your back on
Videoconferencing is a visual medium. While it is difficult to plan your wardrobe
around videoconference meetings, the following are a few tips that will allow a
positive image to be presented.
Wear solid colors such as blues or jewel tones. Some white or black is OK; however,
too much of one color can cause you to appear washed out.
Prints are very distracting to the camera and are not as visually pleasing.
Always introduce all participants in a small conference.
Always be aware of the far site and actively involve them in the conference.
Speak to the site monitor, not to the preview monitor.
Documents displayed using the document camera are best if presented in a landscape
format. Fonts should be kept simple. The bigger the font the better. Fonts should
be at least 40 pt
No more than seven lines of text.
Two lines are better than one.
If displaying a Powerpoint presentation, chose transitions carefully. Top to bottom
transitions flow better than side to side.
Keep colors simple-bright colors show up well. Using contrasting colors is best.
Yellow on blue presents very clear and readable.
Be aware that going from a computer to a TV monitor can change some colors.
Be aware that most shading will be lost during the video compression.
Watch the tape over the system prior to the presentation if possible.
Be aware of high amounts of movement (a basketball game will not transmit well).
Be aware that the quality will be slightly degraded.
Just remember to act natural. Let the videoconferencing system be a transparent
tool and use all the capabilities the system offers - it's not just for "talking