On video conferencing


Having just come out of a video conference tutorial I wanted to briefly reflect on the technology rather than the discussion itself. Over the last few months we have largely been researching web technologies, building towards those that most closely reflect f2f interaction. Video conferencing is the closest we can get to a physical classroom environment while separated by hundreds of miles.

For me, the three main themes and the positives and negatives I experienced:

Identity

Adding faces to the names from the last 12 weeks definitely adds a more personal feel to the group. It goes against much of what we have said can be achieved through other media, but there is something psychological about seeing people that impacts in a positive way. I’m willing to bet that the confidence built up in the previous weeks is important to users feeling comfortable in this environment though. You enter into the ‘classroom’ for the first time, already knowing a lot about your classmates.

The obvious negative is about confidence. We reveal more of our identity here than in any other means. Does that restrict what we are willing to share, or how we share it? For a course delivered online I wonder if this was too revealing, too personal. The other point I noted down was about our group identity. From the session I attended there was at least one member who I hadn’t really been aware of as part of the forums, which I consider to be the main meeting place for the group. I have no idea whether they are part of the other activities and I had just missed them, my point being that the addition of a face somehow makes you realise you may have missed out an individual in a group completely.

Communication

Adding video introduces the key aspects of gesture and expression into the mix. We have no comparison of what was gained or lost by adding them, but my general feeling was the discussion was enriched by their addition.

What we gain in terms of gesture and expression seem to make it more apparent what is still missing from the communication. I became increasingly distracted by a couple of things. Firstly, seeing myself on the screen- I spent as much time looking at me as anybody else I think, I was far more concerned about how I appeared to others because I had a way to check that. Secondly, I was distracted by not knowing if anybody was looking at me, and in reverse that I couldn’t make eye contact with the people I wanted to.

Speed

In comparison to a discussion forum the real time nature allows the conversation to flow far more naturally, and I particularly liked how the direction meandered much more than the more structured forms. Heading off topic is potentially not as positive for specific learning outcomes, but in this style I felt far more comfortable talking and asking about vaguely related subjects.

Something else occurred to me though, and it’s one of those things that probably needs a few thousand words and a year of research rather than a paragraph… What we have here is a delay between speaking/hearing introduced by the medium. The gap is irritating for the listener, but for the speaker I think it has an impact on confidence. That pause while you wait for somebody to say something after you speak feels significantly longer over VC. I suggested in the conference that this changes the style of language you use. I was far more likely to phrase points as questions than to make definite statements of fact. Is this nerves about sharing with that level of group, or specific to the technology itself?

Image sources- Webcam by Uwe Herman, Wacky Waving Man by RedHerring1up, Megaphone Man by The Infatuated, Speed limit by Joe Shlabotnek

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