Video conferencing – set up and etiquette
The article is written by Dr Rob Fringer, Principal of Nazarene Theological College
In a Covid-19 world, almost every educational institution is doing video conferencing. Programs like Zoom have made this possible for the masses. Nevertheless, the program and the equipment needed to run the program do not guarantee success. Video conferencing cannot just be an add-on to how we regularly run face-to-face classes, especially if one will have both in-person-students and video-conferencing-students together in a class. There must be intentionality on how we position the equipment and how we interact with the participants who are on video. Below are some suggestions to consider.
Concerning set up.
Nazarene Theological College (NTC) has been doing video conferencing for many years now, and through a process of trial and error, we have found what we believe to be the most beneficial set up for a video conferencing classroom that also includes in-person-students.
- We find a “round table set up” rather than a “lecture set up” is preferable. It is helpful for all in-person-students to be able to see each other and to be able to clearly see the video-conferencing-students. Just this simple act makes the video-conferencing students feel that they are more a part of the class and are being intentionally included.
- The television/s used to project video-conferencing-students should be set up at a proper distance and height and in a position so that those on video can see all in attendance in the room. Especially important is that no one in the room has their back to the camera. Furthermore, the camera should be at a level that provides a good perspective for those on video. This is usually best above the television/s.
- Two televisions (rather than just one) are preferable if classes are regularly using PowerPoint or sharing other documents on the screen. This allows one screen to always have the video-conferencing-students at normal size when something is being shared. If you are only using one screen, then the video-conferencing students are shrunk down considerably and those in the in-person-students can no longer see them well.
- The lecturer should sit at the opposite end from where the televisions are mounted, so that the video-conferencing-students and lecturer are always looking directly at each other. This helps to encourage video-conferencing students to talk more during the class.
- Regarding the microphones, it is best to have these mounted on the ceiling or at the very least, off the table on a separate stand. If this is not done, then every bit of tapping on the table or shuffling of papers is picked up by these very sensitive microphone and makes it hard for the video conferencing student to hear.
Concerning participant inclusion.
There are a number of ways to assure greater participation and inclusion for video-conferencing-students.
- We must assure that there are clear guidelines for students on how to download and use the video conferencing software. It is helpful to have a handbook. At NTC, we have two handbooks, one for students and one for staff. There should also be a designated staff person/s (likely an IT worker) who is able to help students with technical issues.
- We must clearly outline classroom protocol and etiquette when we have video-conferencing-students and in-person-students in the same classroom. It is best to have these in writing and go over them at the start of a new class. Additionally, lecturers should regularly remind the class of these protocols, especially when they have been broken. Some things to include are:
- All in-person-students should assure that they are in view of the camera so that they can be seen by the video-conferencing-students.
- All video-conferencing-students should have their cameras turned on so that they can be seen by the in-person-students and the lecturer.
- Video-conferencing-students should mute their microphones when they are not speaking and should assure that they are in a location where there is not a lot of other background noise. Overall, it is best for them to use some type of headphone with a microphone included.
- All students must remember to speak slowly and clearly and not to talk over others or to have side conversations when someone else is speaking. All these things are both disrespectful and make it very hard for the video-conferencing-students to hear the discussion.
- If the microphone is on the table, then in-person-students must seek to limit all table noise (tapping, sliding glasses/cups, shuffling papers, etc.).
- There should be protocol in place for the recording of lecturers; for example, when a student is not able to attend, and you want to make the lecture available to them at a later time. When recording a live class in Zoom, all participants voices are also recorded, and the images of video-conferencing-students is also recorded. Therefore, students must sign a waiver giving permission for their voices and/or images to be recorded and disseminated. At NTC, we have all students sign this waiver at the beginning of each year or whenever they begin studies with us. There should also be guidelines for the lecturer and students for how these videos may be used and distributed.
- The lecturer should intentionally include those on the video by making regular eye contact and by making sure they are repeatedly invited to participate in the conversation.
- If handing out notes or other documentation to in-person-students, they must also be made available to video-conferencing-students before a class begins.
- If splitting into small groups, it is easiest to have in-person-students grouped together and video-conferencing-students grouped together. The Zoom software (and probably most others) allows for splitting up video-conferencing-students into multiple groups.
- There should be a stated plan in place for if the internet goes down or connection is lost for any other reason. This should include a contact person.
- Lecturers should clearly communicate the ending of a video session and make sure all video-conferencing-students have acknowledged this before disconnecting the program.