Friday, April 15, 2016

Tips for Offering Virtual Participation for a Conference

Virtual conferences and virtual participation for face-to-face conferences are becoming more common. The UW System LTDC just put on the 3rd annual virtual showcase (entirely online), and I was super impressed with the organization and coordination involved from the perspective of a participant and presenter. The recordings are now available if you want to check them out.

Conferences that are both online and face-to-face at the same time are a challenge. I've been on both ends of this: as the facilitator of the face-to-face meeting trying to make things work for the online people as well as an online participant in a primarily face-to-face conference. I would like to share some tips to make this process more effective.
  1. If you're planning on having the online participants fully participate, hold the meeting in a distance education room that's outfitted with mics for people in the room and technology that allows participants to see both screen sharing and the presenter. I frequently use web conferencing tools in my office, and I admit I wondered why we even need these rooms because Skype is fine, right? Just set up a laptop and a Yeti mic and call it good. No. I was wrong. If you are dealing with a group of people in a room transmitting to online people, you should have a room set up to accommodate the situation.
    • On a related note, attempting to repeat questions/comments from the audience just does not work. People forget, and there's usually a lot lost in the summary. Plus the volume varies considerably.
  2. Involve a person who does web conferencing for his/her job. At least, have a person like this on speed dial, consult with him/her ahead of time, and do a test in the room. I thought that my personal use of web conferencing would suffice since I often hold and participate in online meetings, but it's a bigger deal when it's a whole room and you're flustered in front of a group. People specialize in this.
  3. Have a virtual participation coordinator (I just made up that title!). This is a person in the room specifically dedicated to the online people - kind of like the lifeline to the room. One person cannot do both the online technology and facilitate the meeting and/or present. 
  4. If you have breakout/discussion sessions, you might need to provide a little extra guidance to the online people because communication is less natural in a web conference. Distractions abound and people are reluctant to speak. The virtual participation coordinator should facilitate, not just make sure things are okay and leave.
  5. Be prompt or at least let the online people know if things are running late. The face-to-face group knows if lunch was late or some other distraction is delaying the start of a session, but the online people are left wondering.
  6. If you do intros face-to-face, include the online people too! Try to give them a comparable experience, or let them know it will not be if that is the case.
  7. Provide expectations up front. Are the online participants going to just listen in to a live stream without interaction or participate through chat only? Or are you going to want them to share their webcam and mic and interact? Prepare them, so they change out of their pajamas and have a mic ready if necessary. 
  8. Get the PowerPoints out to the online participants ahead of time in case the technology malfunctions. Then if you have to choose whether to show a video of the presenter or a screensharing of the PowerPoint, you can share the video because they will have the PowerPoint.
  9. Plan well and consider both groups. Some activities done face-to-face aren't going to work well with the online group. For instance, if you have different tables talk about different topics simultaneously, what do the online people do? How can they pick a table/topic? Can you have technology at each table so the online people can choose their table? Then how do you make it so the online people can see who is talking at the table? If you can't make it comparable, let the online people know and charge much less. 
  10. Try to create opportunities for the face-to-face people to interact with the online people if possible. I think the coolest way to do this is if you have access to a telepresence robot who can move around to different tables. These feel more person-like, but maybe a few iPads would do the job? Watch out for feedback, though, and someone will need to be on hand to orient them to see whoever is speaking if it's at a table. 
It is possible to offer both synchronous face-to-face and online participation in an event, but a lot of work is involved in planning and setting up technology. Be prepared! If you have additional tips, please share in the comments (comments are moderated due to spam but I'll release any that are legitmiate).

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Study on Recording Videos of Diagrams

Here's a summary of one of the most interesting research articles I've read about multimedia learning. This is a series of experiments with about 100 participants in each. Screenshots are from the article.

Experiment 1: Full Body 


In this experiment, they split the participants into three groups who watched videos with the same content and audio, but different presentation styles. One group (screenshot on the left) saw the presenter talk through an already-drawn diagram explaining the content. The middle screenshot is of the presenter drawing the diagram as she talks through it. The right side screenshot shows the presenter pointing at an already drawn presentation.

Results: Seeing the diagram being drawn improved learning for people with low prior knowledge. This highlights how novice learners have different needs than learners with more expertise. This is called the expertise reversal effect and has been researched extensively. It's one reason we need to consider our audience when designing instruction.

Experiment 2: Hand Only 


This time they compared audio explanation of an already drawn diagram (no hand or body) with a version that showed the diagram being drawn with the hand.

Results: The group who saw the hand drawing the diagram performed better. In this case, prior knowledge did not matter.

Experiment 3: No Hand


At this point, the question is whether seeing the hand or seeing the diagram being drawn caused the improvement in experiment 2. Researchers then used an iPad app to record a diagram being drawn and one already drawn (both with audio), no hand in either condition.

Results: No difference was recorded, leading them to conclude the difference was due to the hand. This was surprising to me because it seems clearly better to see the diagram being drawn instead of simply staring at a stagnant drawing while listening to a lecture. This was a very short presentation (around 2 minutes), so I'm curious what would happen if it was longer. Prior knowledge did not matter.

Experiment 4: Body vs Hand 


The last experiment compared being able to see the hand with being able to see the body in the recording.

Results: The group who saw the hand performed better. Fiorella and Mayer speculated that the hand provides enough of a visual cue to stimulate a social connection with the instructor, which helps motivate the learner (social agency theory) whereas seeing more of the instructor can be a distraction.

I presented on this at a conference yesterday, and a participant asked if the size could have made a difference, since the version with the hand is more zoomed in. That's a good point; the researchers didn't address it. 

I wish they would have compared drawing with the hand to drawing without the hand on the iPad app so there was a true hand/no hand experiment and lengthen it to about 7 minutes instead of 2 so it's more realistic. Experiment 2 compared hand to no hand, but included the variable of being drawn or already drawn.

The point, though, seems to be that the hand provides a valuable social cue. This is good news for instructors who like to write on paper under a document camera and record it to make a video. This is a low tech solution that can be done in an empty classroom. Writing on a whiteboard as they did in these screenshots is a good option, but I think a little more difficult because you need to stay in a particular spot or have someone record it for you. In addition, you might need to wear a mic to get clear audio since the video camera wouldn't be as close as a document camera.


Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2015). Effects of observing the instructor draw diagrams on learning from multimedia messages. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.