Once again I have been reflecting on the format of our most recent TLC.
This months TLC was led by Doris Dippold from the University of Surrey on Teaching linguistically and diverse cultural groups. What was different about this TLC was that it had two quite distinct audiences. Not only was the TLC delivered online via Adobe Connect to an online audience but it was also delivered from a seminar room at the University of Surrey to a live audience of approximately 25 students.
Technically there was a little bit of advanced preparation involved to set things up (thanks Ceri) which we worked out the day before the webinar. Rather that Doris sitting at a desk in front of her computer webcam, we wanted to see here in action in front of the live audience. To achieve this a networked laptop running Adobe Connect was set up in the seminar room. A good quality, echo cancelling room microphone was attached to the laptop and positioned at the front of the seminar room where Doris was speaking. So that the the live audience could hear the audio from Adobe Connect, external speakers were also required (hence the need for the echo cancelling mic). The webcam on the laptop was simply pointed at Doris so that the online audience could see her as shown in Figure 1.
The laptop screen was projected onto a data projection screen at the front of the seminar room enabling the audience there to see Doris’s slides as well as the chat box text stream in Adobe Connect. We had a minor issue with the external speakers before the webinar started but other than this the technology held up really well. The audio quality was very good while Doris was speaking and the video, although a little grainy and dark was good enough for the online audience. Several of the online participants struggled to hear questions posed by members of the live audience – we will come back to this issue later in the post.
Delivering the webinar
As has become normal practice for our TLC webinars, while Doris focused on presenting and facilitating the TLC a second person (in this case Simon Lygo-Baker) monitored and responded to activity from the online audience in the chat room – now a tried and tested technique. I think it is fair to say that this was particularly important for this webinar format. Doris’s attention was primarily on the live class in front of her and it would not have been possible to monitor the chat pod in Adobe connect at the same time. Simon did a sterling job of identifying comments and questions and drawing Doris’s attention to them at appropriate points. Although the audio quality when Doris was speaking was good it was difficult to hear questions and comments made by members of the seminar room audience. Simon came to the rescue by reiterating questions to the Connect audience via the chat pod. Generally, this worked well although there was a slight delay in the typing which meant that Doris was sometime responding to questions before that online audience had not quite finished reading. Two possible solutions occur to me in relation to this. Firstly, presenters could make sure that they reiterate questions before answering them, as is often done at large conferences where presenters are using microphones but the audience aren’t. Secondly, with an addition bit of technical know how roving/wireless microphones could be used for the audience questions.
Part way through the session Doris introduced a group discussion task for the seminar audience. Online participants we asked to make their contributions individually via the chat pod. As the group activity got underway, the sounds of animated and enthusiastic discussion could be heard by the Adobe Connect participants. As the meeting host I thought this might be a little bit distracting so I temporarily muted the audio from the seminar room. The response from some of the Adobe Connect participants via the chat pod was really interesting as the following (partially anonymised) extract hopefully shows.
Participant 1: sound has gone?
Participant 2: cant hear anything
Simon Lygo-Baker: Just turned the sound off while group chatting
Participant 3: Yes. My sound gone too
Audio is then turned back on
Simon Lygo-Baker: Should be back now
Participant : Its back!
Rod Cullen: We muted temporarily while the group work was going on at Surrey
Participant 1: shame. the sound of group chatter was most reassuring 😀
Rod Cullen: @Participant 1 – ah OK – will leave it on next time 🙂
Participant 1: Yes Please. The chaotic buzz of the room was not only life affirming but also useful to know the sound hasn’t cr**ped out again 🙂
It very much seemed that some of online participants wanted to feel connected to the face-to-face activity, even though they were not directly involved, and the sound of the group chatter helped in this respect. I didn’t expect that level of attachment.
Overall, another successful TLC but this time bringing together a face-to-face seminar and an online audience.