TechBasics: Video Conferencing

man on video conference call

Video conferencing offers some exciting possibilities for instructors who want to connect their classroom with the world beyond Duke’s campus. Perhaps you’d like to invite outside researchers or guests to speak to your students. Or you’d like to teach your own course from a conference hotel room. Video conferencing can help you do both.

If you plan to use a video conferencing software, here are some best practices to consider.

1. Choose a video conferencing tool.

There are numerous video conferencing tools and each has its weaknesses and strengths. We can recommend either WebEx or Zoom to suit most video conferencing needs. You can request a free WebEx account sponsored by Duke or create a Zoom account (free accounts are limited to 40 minutes). You can also talk to your departmental IT staff or contact Learning Innovation to determine what tool is appropriate for your course. It will be important to understand the tool you’ve chosen and be able to provide basic troubleshooting for the other users (or at least know where they can get help).

2. Get your equipment in order.

Ideally, you and the other participants should use earphones (even better, with a built-in microphone) to cut down on ambient noise and reduce the possibility of audio feedback. All participants should find a quiet, well-lit location to join the video conference. The internet connection should be strong, especially if video is a requirement. Faculty who use video conferencing on a regular basis may find it easier to use a large monitor to see participants and your shared screen easily.

If you are using classroom equipment to hold a video conference instead of your personal computer, you need to contact your departmental IT staff to receive technical training and to discuss the specifics of room-to-room video conferencing.

3. Prepare for things that could go wrong.

Do a test run to make sure you know how to use the video conferencing tool from the computer and location you’ll be using for the actual event. Ask your students or guest to practice as well if they will be joining from their devices. Share your cell phone with the guest in case there are technical problems. Make sure the meeting details (time, meeting URL, call in number and timezone) are clear to participants. Have a backup plan: audio instead of video, a new date, a Skype call instead of WebEx.

web camera

4. Pause more often.

Although video allows everyone to see each other, it does not convey many of the cues that make for engaging conversations. You can overcome this by allowing for more time to reflect, ask questions and absorb content.

5. Display less.

Most video conferencing tools allow you to share your screen or slides. If you are sharing lecture slides, use a large font, bullet points and visuals to emphasize your content, not distract your audience. If you have text-heavy slides, the participants will concentrate on reading them instead of hearing you.

6. Pay attention to your surroundings.

Make eye contact with the camera, don’t wander the room. Be sure you can be seen clearly; often backlighting causes you to be in the shadows.

7. Encourage discussion and interaction.

Ask students to pose questions for a guest speaker online in advance of an interview. Consider having students talk in smaller groups online to discuss issues and report back to the whole group ( Zoom and WebEx offer breakout rooms for such activities).

In all cases, if you want to talk through your options and make a plan for what would work best for the needs of your class, don’t hesitate to contact us at Learning Innovation.

Elise Mueller, Ph.D.

Author: Elise Mueller, Ph.D.

Elise Mueller is the consultant for the language departments at Duke. Her goal is to support their teaching through sound pedagogy and educational technologies. She leads fellowships and workshops on blended teaching, student reflection, portfolios and course design. She is currently grappling with the meaning of a liberal arts education in the 21st century.