Using Webex desktop video conferencing in a seminar with Monash
Earlier in the week I helped Nick Monk of IATL to include a video conference with Sarah McDonald (Monash) in a seminar for his Forms of Identity module. This was Nick's first use of video conferencing in teaching. We began with a simple approach, with Sarah giving a presentation and answering questions. However, we are going to integrate video conferencing into Nick's open-space learning workshop approach. That's why we held this session in the CAPITAL Studio (a large black box theatre studio). The module will soon be taught jointly by Warwick and Monash.
Sarah joined the Webex conference at 8am GMT (7pm in Australia). I had two 24" iMacs set up, one running the video conference (with its excellent built in camera and mic), the other playing the video clips to accompany Sarah's presentation. It's best to avoid playing videos over a video conference link, so I got Sarah to upload them in advance using files.warwick.ac.uk. Sarah used her own Mac Book in her office (most straight forwards). I've since realised that a good approach would be to use two screens for the video conference, running from one computer. The slides could be displayed full size on one screen, with the speaker on another.
The sound quality was very good, with just the occassional squelchiness and echo. The students did have to make an effort to speak loudly and clearly when asking questions. There was only a slight delay in the transmission. Sarah displayed a visually interesting Keynote based slide show. We had the slides taking up most of the screen, and Sarah's face in a small inset. When showing the slides, Webex noticeably drops the refresh rate on the video of the speaker, but that's not a problem. I played the videos as required, and found that I didn't have to mute the mic on the conferencing iMac.
At the end of the session (I think it was over 1 1/2 hours), the students reported that it was really good. The technology was "brilliant" and having an expert from Australia in their seminar was great.
As an experiment, I also joined the conference using the Webex app on an iPad. The quality was superb, and I moved around with the iPad camera to get a different perspective on the Warwick participants. For the OSL integrated video conferencing, we will use the iMacs, Macbooks and the iPads to get closer to the action as it happens in small groups around the CAPITAL Studio. The next step is to set up a trial run for that configuration.
This is a screenshot of the iPad app. It will by default display an inset of the person who is currently speaking. Webex detects when someone else starts to speak and displays their video instead. It's possible to hide the video inset to see the slides fully, or to expand it and see a strip containing all of the participants (and to use the touch interface to skim through it).