Videoconferencing in the classroom: 3 best practices

How colleges can turn videoconferencing into an exciting active learning experience
By: | Issue: March/April 2020
February 24, 2020

Videoconferencing has been used by savvy college and university administrators, faculty and staff for upwards of two decades, with meetings and other administrative functions being the most obvious uses for the technology. In the learning environment, videoconferencing—also referred to as web conferencing—is still evolving.

The be-there-everywhere capability appeals to a variety of learners, so encouraging the use of videoconferencing in the classroom allows higher ed institutions to better serve nontraditional learners. “VC is now super simple to use. Quality has gone up and price has gone way down,” says Dov Friedman, founder of CirQlive, which helps colleges integrate learning management systems (LMS) with platforms such as ZOOM, Cisco Webex and GoToMeeting. Friedman is speaking at UB Tech® 2020 on how to use interactive video and web conferencing with the LMS.

Ahead are three best practices for getting the most out of videoconferencing technology to enhance active learning.

1. Use videoconferencing to strengthen connections

The capabilities of videoconferencing are opening as platform interfaces become more reliable. Learning can become an experience when professors invite experts to virtually attend a class. In addition, an expert conducting research in the field could bring students along on the journey.

“It allows us to pursue our research where it makes sense, bringing the latest advancements directly to the students as they happen,” says Claire Hamilton, associate provost and director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Massachusetts, who uses video conferencing in this way with support from colleagues Steve Pielock, assistant director of classroom technology services, and Dan Cannity, instructional designer and faculty support coordinator.

For higher ed institutions that maintain different campuses, videoconferencing provides new opportunities to connect. Pace University (New York) operates two campuses in Manhattan, and another two in Westchester County. Learning communities taught by two faculty in two disciplines and are conducted via the technology. “More innovative faculty have swapped campuses every other week,” says Beth Gordon, assistant vice president for academic and administrative services, information technology services at Pace. Faculty are also experimenting with chemistry labs in two locations, with the instructor at only one of them.

In addition, Pace students and faculty share whiteboards among their screens, so no one misses a detail.

Office hours, which are only as effective if they are attended, become virtually simple with videoconferencing. CirQlive has a module that schedules office hours and tutoring services that multiple people may attend together. Students can schedule a secure office hour with a unique URL and view available time slots. The instructor has the ability to have four-minute sessions with eight-minute breaks in between.

2. Encourage complete adoption of the technology

The complete adoption of videoconferencing across campus requires the right technology and the right attitudes. For students, communicating virtually is second-nature. But not all faculty are as excited to jump on-camera. Encouraging preparation plays a large role in a successful video presentation. “Faculty have to be more disciplined about talking clearly and keeping noise down,” says Paul Dampier, Pace’s CIO. He also recommends sending notes out before-hand so students may read them and be prepared for a discussion.

Major videoconferencing platform feature highlights

Zoom
zoom.us
• Session record, automatic transcription, closed captioning
• Integrates with Moodle, Canvas, Desire2Learn, Sakai and Blackboard learning management systems

Panopto
panopto.com
• Manage and search original and uploaded videos; private assignment folders for students
• Company partners with third-party captioning providers, including 3Play Media, cielo24, Rev.com, Verbit.ai and Automatic Sync Technologies

BlueJeans
Bluejeans.com
• Real-time metrics, screen sharing
• Works with Room Systems; allows for joining meetings from Cisco, Lifesize, Polycom and other H.323 and SIPbased room systems

Cisco Webex
webex.com/video-conferencing
• Host breakout sessions, testing and automatic grading
• No dial-in via WebEx app

Polycom
polycom.com
• Grant assistance for implementation, searchable database, instructional training and services

While videoconferencing via a desktop or laptop can seem simpler, clearer connections and range of motion are some of the perks of connecting through a smartphone.

Connectivity is top-of-mind for most on-campus IT departments, as Wi-Fi 6 becomes more common. But what about those students in areas without reliable internet access?

Western Governors University, a completely virtual school, offers students financial assistance to purchase the technology that will best support their online experience. 71% of WGU students are underserved in one or more of four categories: ethnic minority, rural residents, low income, and first-generation college.

Back on Pace’s campus, an IT team helps support learning wherever it happens. That team includes 10 full-time employees, whose work is supplemented by about 30 student workers. Support generally occurs virtually, but team members are able to stop into classrooms as needed for hands-on assistance.

3. Consider encouraging a single platform across campus

A deluge of videoconferencing providers can make standardization complicated for campus IT teams. “By intentionally reviewing our designs, developing evolving standards, fostering strategic relationships with key vendors, and putting an emphasis on microservices to avoid a monolithic lift, we are able to achieve faster evolution, with less constraint from any one particular service,” says Pielock of UMass.

Overall, there has been a movement to mobile applications for videoconferencing. Zoom and BlueJeans are easily adaptable for classroom needs, says Friedman.

To make the user experience as easy as possible, Western Governors University embeds videoconferencing tools into online learning materials for easy access. For the best possible learning atmosphere, have users be more aware of background noise as well. Faculty should encourage students to use the chat feature available on most interfaces if they are hesitant to share questions or thoughts in a fully attended lecture.

The result of all such efforts? Videoconferencing is becoming a natural tool for everyone in enhancing learning.

Stefanie Botelho is UB’s newsletter editor.