Preparing Students for Videoconferencing

What Do You Say After You Say Hello?

When preparing students to present information in front of a class group it is helpful to get them to speak clearly and to offer their points in a sequential manner. Preparing them to participate in a video conference takes some of this same training but there are other important considerations. Students need to adjust their communication techniques to this interactive, multiple-site conferencing format. Students working with a cybervideo audience also need some coaching to develop good conferencing techniques. But the good new is that they appear to catch on quickly and enjoy practicing!

I have divided the preparation process into four areas:
preparatory exploration,
   practice activities,
   planning introductory activities,
   public debut.

Preparatory Exploration

Being in front of a camera does different things to different people. Students can be real "hams" and make the strangest faces especially when they can see the results showing up immediately on the screen in front of them. The slower motion of their movement in the video window also appears to amuse them and so the initial responses when seeing themselves is usually laughter. It is important to get all of this out of their systems without this session being broadcast. So I allow students to explore how the video portion of conferencing system works prior to their first public online experience by doing the following:

  1. Start up CU-SeeMe (or videoconferencing program).

  2. Do NOT connect to a reflector.

  3. Leaving the video in the "local" mode, let students move around in front of the camera, wave, talk, get closer to the camera lens and explore how they look on the screen.

  4. This is also a good time to make a few operational points about the program such as showing them the picture controls and how the contrast and brightness can be set. Then demonstrate how the image window can be made larger and then closed down to the smaller size. You can also demonstrate the pause feature and have students experiment with positioning themselves in front of the camera for showing a small and then a larger group in the video window.

  5. Let students know that the way see themselves on the screen is the way others will see them as well. Discuss with them what kinds of things might be inappropriate or look out of place for them to be doing while on camera. Talk to them about TV news personalities and how they conduct themselves. You might even ask them to watch a news broadcast and report back what they noticed about the ways the individuals spoke and handled themselves in front of the camera.

I let students know that they will be representatives of school groups everywhere and that those they will meet will be watching them closely to see how well students can use this technology. I also let them know that in addition to other students we will conference with many other people. We will be meeting with scientists, university researchers and others who are using the same technology and will be unaware that students also have this kind of access.

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Practice Activities

I usually try to have the videoconferencing application open and running during my class sessions during many hours of the day when I am in the lab, regardless of the grade level of students I am working with. Having students get used to the camera and having the opportunity for an spontaneous, informal session with an interesting guest has been very valuable to the student groups as well as to those viewing us. Reflector visitors are often very curious about what goes on in a school and this "window" into our classroom has been as informative to our cybervisitors as it has been to us. Meeting and interacting with those in the world outside our classroom walls has presented us with some very interesting experiences and resources in addition to the informal practice opportunities.

For example -

A group of third graders met a Texas hospital technician who used his lunch hour for several days to take students on a tour of different sections of the hospital. He would set up his camera in a different location each day and show students some of the equipment in that lab or area and tell them a little about what went on in that department.

And then there was the scientist from a research lab who met students on a reflector and was so intrigued with them that he offered to join them for a special question and answer session.Later he arranged another session where he could offer them help on projects they were working on.

Beginning Activities

Before actually participating in video conferences it is very helpful to go through the following activities with students.

  1. Go over netiquette. See CU-Etiquette 101 and Reflector Netiquette from F.Jill Charboneau at Cornell.

  2. Practice being good listeners and watchers of on-line interaction.

    Tune into a reflector and let students watch what is happening without interacting. You can select to receive video without sending it if you would like to be a lurker for awhile. (LURK before you leap into conferencing.)

    If you do elect to send your video and someone wants to engage in conversation, let students watch you as you model for them and help them try the audio. At first you may need to give them the answers to the questions which are being asked and have students repeat what you say online in response to questions asked. Since no one can hear what you are saying until the "Push to Talk" button is actually pushed your coaching will not be heard. I have found this helps many students have courage to give using the audio feature a try.

  3. Go to a private reflector with another teacher (one where there is little traffic) or arrange with another site to do a Point-to-Point connection so students can practice in a more sheltered setting. Teachers from both locations can "coach" their students in how to talk into the microphone, begin and end their comments and the other skills needed for effective online communication.

How to arrange a point-to-point session with another group:

  1. Communicate with another teacher who is able to use CU-SeeMe and arrange a date and time when the groups can meet.

  2. Exchange IP numbers for your computers. Decide who will open the CU-SeeMe application and wait and who will type in the IP number of the other machine and make the "connection" .

  3. Open CU-SeeMe at the agreed upon time. If you are the teacher making the connection go to "Connect to" and type in the other site's IP number. Otherwise just leave CU-SeeMe running and wait for the site to show up on your screen.

  4. Be sure to use coaching techniques to have students practice good conferencing procedures.

Coaching Techniques - Or, What Do I Say Now ?

Since no one on the reflector or at another site can hear you until the "Push to Talk" or microphone button is held down you can help students learn how to address others and help them learn to phrase appropriate responses to the questions they may be asked. You may need to work with the audio portion of the videoconferencing program you have and get a microphone or external speakers for your computer to help make the sound level acceptable.

  • Coach students to speak clearly and show them how to keep the microphone at an appropriate distance from their mouth. Sometimes just speaking slower helps as well.

  • Offer students examples of how to respond or phrase answers to questions by actually stating what their answer might be so they can hear a good model. For example,

    When asked who you are - offer your name and location in your answer.

    ("My name is Sandra. I am a fourth grader at Long Branch School in Virginia.")

  • Remind students that when they want to ask a question they should address the site (or individual) being asked the question and state who they are prior to asking the question.

    ("Hello, Rocky Run School, this is Mark at Long Branch School in Virginia. I wanted to know if students there have found any new resources on volcanoes since we met last time?")

  • If there is a lull in the conversation, suggest a question to a student who has not had an opportunity to participate and help them use the "Push to Talk" button so they can practice.
Students often can not think of what might be appropriate to ask or they need help in phrasing their questions. Since others can not hear until you are ready, this gives you some time to help students. Since this is a practice session the teachers you are working with will probably be using the same techniques to help students at the other site.

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Planning Introductory Activities

In order to provide students with meaningful things to say as well as to give them an opportunity to find out more about another site I like to plan with my students and the teacher at the other site(s) prior to meeting on-line using CU-SeeMe. Skills students need to learn include the ability to ask good questions, to listen effectively, and respond to questions with appropriate information. Here are some ideas which have been used successfully to facilitate the first online student conferences or contacts and help get them ready for more content oriented or collaborative research activities.

  1. Create "HELLO" messages to send via email prior to the students' online meeting. Give students an outline with suggested ideas for them to include in an e-mail introduction they will send to another school site. Students could write about their school, community, personal hobbies and interests. Have 5 to 10 students group their messages together rather than sending each student's message individually. After both sites have received the hello messages from one another, students use the information received to develop questions for students at the other site. Questions should be phrased to elicit more information about a favorite subject or hobby or about an item mentioned in the message. During the online session give students an opportunity to introduce themselves, listen to what others are saying and address a question to an individual at the other school.

  2. Do a cooperative activity within each of the school groups to present online to the other group(s). Each group can try to present information about their school or the students within the group. The presentation could be in the form of a rap, poem, visual or a narrative. Students may even prepare photos, pictures or a series of slides. Groups could also collect data about their group and graph it. A survey could be distributed to students which would help them gather statistics on items such as number of boys/girls, eye color, countries students are from, favorite subjects, topics studied, field trips or the best thing about their school. The information can be tallied or illustrated and presented as a way to begin meaningful dialogue between groups and help them explore the areas the groups have in common or the ones which are different.

  3. Have students at each school site contribute to a list of questions which might be used to find out about the other school or community. Have the group brainstorm prior to the online meeting and decide which questions they feel would be the most important, appropriate, and interesting to get the most information about the school in the fewest questions. Give each student a question to ask and ask each student to record information for each of the questions.

    You may want to allow some time for informal chatting at the end of these sessions. Kids will be kids as they say, so do stay within earshot or monitor the interactions.

  4. As a follow up activity the students can write about their online experience and what they learned about the group of students they met. Classroom and PTA newsletters are a good place to publish these articles. Assign these student tasks ahead of time so that students may be taking notes or using a guidesheet you develop to gather facts and information for good articles as the activities happen. Don't forget to add a summary of your online conferences on your school's web site as well.

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Public Debut

The students' public debut online can take place during an informal or a formal video conferences. If you have not networked or met other educators with whom you can arrange a formal conference you might consider looking for a collaborative project which might enable this type of activity. In the meantime try reflector surfing with your students. This is a good way to find others which may provide you with possible contacts or groups that may share common interests. Be sure you have visited the reflector sites to see that they are "G" rated and would be ones which would help students gain some practice.

[Introduction] [Planning] [Preparing] [Resources] [Class Use]

1998 Carla Schutte, Technology Specialist at Moton Elementary School November, 1998