Incorporating a new technology into your course can be an immensely helpful but seemingly formidable task.
For Dr. Arno Loessner, emeritus professor, School of Public Policy and Administration, incorporating video conferencing into his fall workshops about his upcoming spring study abroad course in Romania was a no-brainer.
With the help of Stacy Weile, supervisor of ITV & Video Operations in IT-ATS, and her team, Loessner has successfully implemented video conferencing into his course and his students have reaped the benefits of this technology.
Q: Arno, what made you choose to use video conferencing for your course?
A: (A) I have used the Pearson Hall facility on several occasions. I taught a course in comparative international public administration, which involved several live lectures by representatives of the World Bank and the United Nations. It is difficult to secure these speakers, so I held the class in one of the studios in Pearson Hall, and taped the presentation, creating CDs that could be used in future classes.
I also taught two courses in fundraising/fund development for nonprofit organizations. These courses involved bringing to Newark professional fundraising staff from a variety of nonprofit organizations, nonprofit chief executive officers, financial advisors, lawyers and corporate and foundation grants management officials. I used panel discussions/lectures/class question-and-answer formats. The sessions were recorded on CD/DVD and I used them several times in subsequent courses, and in distance education.
The current course involving students from Romania is the fourth time I have taught the class and the second time I have used the studio. It is important to have the interaction provided by the studio to prepare all students for a rigorous two week research project involving research teams comprised of UD and Babes-Bolyai University (BBU), Romania students. These sessions permit lectures and early student interaction, so that when UD students arrive in Romania in January, much of the preliminary work has been accomplished, students are functioning from a common base of understanding, secondary data has been collected, and interviews have been organized.
Q: Stacy, why do you think faculty choose to use video conferencing?
A: (S) There are many reasons to use video conferencing in a course. You might have a guest speaker who cannot travel to UD, but is willing to speak the the students live through video conferencing. Or perhaps you are traveling to a conference and still want to teach your course at the normal time. Our facilities can accommodate the class, and record the session to be posted to a UD Capture website for future viewing.
Some faculty members use computer-based desktop conference programs on their own to hold online office hours or project consultations with students. We provide support for Skype, Google Hangouts, Canvas Conferencing, and Zoom. Other instructors will conduct their courses completely online with these programs, or we can incorporate them into our classroom studio for a hybrid class.
Q: Arno, do you offer students guidelines or materials to prep them for engaging in a video conference?
A: (A) I usually have a half-hour session with the students in advance of the first live interactive session to brief them on what we will be doing and how it will work. Sure this is not absolutely necessary, but I continue to do it, and the students seem to benefit from it.
Q: What does ideal online engagement for students look like to you and how do you convey that to your students?
A: (A) Students need to feel comfortable in the online format, and that can be a hurdle that they need to overcome as the students see themselves on the screen, but I find most students enjoy the experience.
I usually begin the first session with some lecture and then have the students introduce themselves and interact during the second half of the class.
It becomes apparent to UD students that the facilities in our classroom are more advanced than those in the classroom in Romania, where one camera at the front of the room captures all students at the same time, and the one microphone at the front of the room makes it difficult for students at the back of the room to be heard clearly. Our students, on the other hand are picked up by the camera and shown as individuals on the screen and each student has his/her own microphone.
We minimize the differences by concentrating on the substance of the course, not the technology.
Q: Do either of you have any advice for faculty who are interested in incorporating video conferencing in their course?
A: (A) Familiarize yourself with the surroundings and the use of the technology in advance of the first class. Don’t feel tethered by the microphone or in any way strained by the technology, rather feel free to conduct yourself as you would in any classroom, relax and look at the screen in front of you, where the other half of the class will appear, not over your shoulder at the screen intended for the UD students.
Stop occasionally and ask a question of the group on the screen, as well as the group in front of you in the studio. Students are reluctant to interject or raise the question during the lecture, so break up the lecture in pieces, then say “let’s go back over what we’ve just done and let me start by asking a few questions . . .”
That usually opens it up and, if it doesn’t, consider using “student teams” – Susan from UD and Calin from Babes-Bolyai become a team, as do other student combinations, then ask if the Susan/Calin team have a question. That requires the two of them to interact, and even if it doesn’t generate a question, it does generate an interaction between the students.
(S) With computer-based conferencing it is best to set ground rules for the participants prior to the first conference, such as when to use the microphone versus the text chat. Make sure students have all tested their computers ahead of time to be sure they all have the proper plug-ins, sound systems, etc. This will avoid spending your first class troubleshooting problems.
Once the meeting begins, have all participants mute their microphones and only turn them on when speaking. Also, if at all possible, each participant should use a headset microphone. This will eliminate much of the background noise and feedback often associated with these types of conferences.
With room-based conferencing it is also important to set ground rules, but they need to be worked out between the facilitators at the two sites rather than the individual participants. It is important to know if any time zone issues will come into play, especially during daylight savings time changes since not every country changes on the same date that we do in the U.S.. In fact, some countries and even some U.S. States don’t change times at all.
Lastly, I agree with Dr. Loessner that preparation is the key. Run a test with the other site prior to the class, and be sure you understand all the nuances of the room equipment. We are here to help, but it never hurts to have backup plans in place, and the more you prepare the smoother the process.
Q: Stacy,what does Academic Technology Services provide for this type of video interaction?
A: (S) When first approached by a professor looking to use room-based video conferencing in a course, we ask to be introduced to the technical people at the other site. We conduct some video tests right away to be sure that our systems are compatible, and then determine if there are any time zone issues we need to be aware of prior to the start of the semester. Once we have those technical and logistical issues worked out, we collaborate with the professor to design the course with the video connection in mind.
On the first day of class, the technician assigned to work with the course explains the room set up to the students, and answers any technical questions they have. He or she assists the professor with the computer, document camera, and other equipment that may be needed to teach the course content.
The technician will make the video call to the other site, and will run the camera/microphone system through the control room located down the hall from the classroom. There is always someone available during class to troubleshoot problems, and ensure that the classes run as smoothly as possible.
Those interested in using video conferencing in their course should contact Faculty Commons and schedule a consultation.
About Comparative Public Administration–UAPP667
Dr. Loessner’s study abroad course is a joint venture for graduate students in the School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Delaware, and the Faculty of Political Science, Administration and Communications, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.
The course includes interactive seminars during fall 2016 and applied research on site in Romania during January 2017, when UD and Babes-Bolyai University students work in teams to carry out research projects to gain applied experience as an analyst/advisor in an international context.
The fall seminars are being carried out with video conferencing in the Pearson Hall video conferencing rooms. UD students are connected to the students at Babes-Bolyai University and they use this time to complete preparational activities for their upcoming trip and project.
During the visit to Romania, student research teams will collect information using interviews and other methods and report team findings and recommendations at a public press conference; and participate in a student-led seminar to examine from a student perspective how teaching, research and public service dimensions of graduate education can contribute to an “engaged University”.
About Stacy Weile
Supervisor, ITV & Video Operations, IT Academic Technology Services
Stacy has been with UD since 2000 and with IT-Academic Technology Services since 2010. Currently, she manages the video recording classroom studios, and videoconferencing facilities on the Newark Campus. She also provides desktop conferencing support, and video related consultations.
About Dr. G. Arno Loessner
Emeritus Professor School of Public Policy and Administration, Emeritus Fellow of the University’s Institute for Global Studies
Dr. Loessner’s teaching and research includes economics, financial management, comparative public administration and non-profit management and governance.
Internationally, he is interested in effective local governance in social and economic development and has served as Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the International Union of Local Authorities (1978-2000); advisor to Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, consultant with International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance in Stockholm, The World Bank and the U.N. With support from Kellogg Foundation, he was member of expert teams in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Slovenia helping leaders of higher education develop post-Soviet higher education.
He continues this work as Honorary International Professor and advisor to the Faculty of Political Science, Administration and Communications (FSPAC) at Babes-Bolyai University (BBU) in Romania, where he teaches with support from UD, BBU and two Fulbright awards.