Lit Review: It's a Bit Like Star Trek: The effectiveness of video conferencing

Carville, S., & Mitchell, D. R. (2001). It’s a Bit Like Star Trek: The effectiveness of video conferencing. Innovations in Education and Training International, 37(1), 42-49.

Authors: Sheelagh Carville and Denise R Mitchell
Title of article: It’s a Bit Like Star Trek: The effectiveness of video conferencing.
Publication year: 2001
Database source: InformaWorld.
Name of journal: Innovations in Education and Training International
My Codes: VCCourseDelivery

Main point of the article: To find out the effectiveness of VC as a medium to deliver a higher education degree course in early childhood to women new to higher ed and who live in a disadvantaged region.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews with the 61 students at both sites, and 5 tutors (teachers). Questionnaires were developed and given to the remote site, the host site, and the tutors.

Participants felt that videoconferencing increased the remote sites level of access to instruction, saved money and time for the college, and provided better feedback and discussion than other distance learning methods might lack.

The novelty appears to have led tothe majority of the students having a positive attitude towards videoconferencing. However, the host site students were relieved they weren’t on the receiving end, and a few of the receiving reported headaches and finding it hard to watch the conference. (This was a 128K ISDN connection.)

Students on the receiving end reported developing different skills to learn in this mode including “listening without really watching”, “careful concentration” and “imagining that the tutor was in front of me in the room.” p. 44

Issues around sound (the receiving site had to come up to a mic to talk), time delay, and picture quality impeded the instructor’s spontaneity and made the lecture “rather stilted.” p. 45. It was difficult for the host site to include the receiving site and sometimes the receiving students felt ignored. It was tiring for the instructor to “mediate between student groups.”

At the end of the course, the receiving site students “got used to it” and were willing to connect again. However the students at the host site said, “It’s great, as long as I am not on the receiving end.” p. 45

The students suggested improvements in audio and video quality, as well as more discussion and visuals shared in the lecture.

p. 46. Interactivity is key, and the placement of microphones and time delay limits the interactivity. In most cases in 2007, these issues are not as much a problem. Do you agree? Questions and answers can work well, but students need to be confident and articulate to ask a question where all ears & eyes are on them with the microphone and camera. Those of us who have become comfortable with videoconferencing need to remember how scary/uncomfortable it is for newbies to be on camera!

p. 46 The instructors became more comfortable with videoconferencing as they engaged with it on a regular basis. They learned new techniques by watching their colleagues instruct. The also had a “willingness to be flexible and a desire to make it work.”

p. 46 Instructors couldn’t be lively and animated. Instead they had to stay fairly still, look directly into the camera, and slow down their speech. I think this is also due to the 128K connection. I’ve seen some wonderfully lively content providers presenting at 384K with great success.

p. 47 “Expectectations of technology itself also have a bearing on the participant’s tolerance of the system in use.” If they don’t have a mental model of how the process works, they are more frustrated with the experience. This is really interesting, and something we need to keep in mind as we introduce teachers to videoconferencing. If we can explain that it’s over the Internet and sometimes some of the picture doesn’t get through, etc. it helps them have a reasonable expectation of the quality. This is another reason I never “tell” about VC without actually connecting somewhere. You have to see it to understand it. I’ve also found that comparing it to digital cable works well. They’ve seen the “blocks” on the screen and understand it.

The researcher explored why the remote students were more content with the videoconference medium than the host students. The remote students had no other access to this course of study, and therefore were appreciative of the opportunity. The facilitator at the remote site also made a significant contribution to the remote students’ experience. It was successful because the students were motivated and the content was relevant and desired.

Cross References: This article was quoted in the Becta research document as follows. No mention was made of the technical challenges.

The audience for courses can be increased by teaching face to face with one group and simultaneously transmitting to a second centre elsewhere (Gilbert 1999; Carville & Mitchell 2000).

Finally, interactivity was a fairly important issue in this article, and the technology seemed to impede some of that due to mic placement and only a 128K ISDN connection. I believe that these issues are resolved in most current 384K IP connections with the newer mics designed for the whole room.

0 replies on “Lit Review: It's a Bit Like Star Trek: The effectiveness of video conferencing”

  1. Roxanne says:

    Couple of random thoughts after reading this.

    1. The students at remote sites had a stronger incentive to get used to the technology in order to get credit for the class. I see that where I work even today…I *have* to use videoconferencing to meet with the people I work with because I can’t fly to Michigan, El Paso, Edmonton, St. Louis, etc. I have used vc more and am accustomed to its quirks and glitches; I see the benefits outweigh its negatives. Contrast that with my colleagues in my building who can drive 30 minutes to an hour to meet with the people they work with. They tend to complain about every little glitch in video or that the sound doesn’t exactly match the picture, etc.

    2. It is HARD to balance a “live” classroom at the same time with remote sites. I think that would be very hard to manage daily. I had a class of 2nd graders with me during the last Landmark Challenge and it was tough to meet everyone’s (local and remote) needs in the same conference.

    Thanks for sharing your synthesis of the research. We are going to have to delve into this area more in the future as our high schools are moving to a 4×4 curriculum (4 math, 4 science, 4 English, and 4 history). Our small districts are going to struggle to meet the 4 math and science requirements and are going to be looking to videoconferencing or blended learning environments as a possible solution.

  2. Ian says:

    Headaches: ergonomic factors? This could be significant for health and safety. Interactivity is the key, but even with new technology one side takes control is still a limiting factor. Or is it a viable and useful constraint (Kennewell et al)

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