A very long time ago in 2006 (these are technology years here, folks) I experienced my first video conference (VC) with a classroom of 6th graders. It was an hour filled with anxiety, excitement, let down, learning, and ultimately achievement, and I took from that a number of reflections and tips that made my future video conferences not only more successful, but more rewarding as well. So this week, as I was preparing for multiple video conference connections in my district, I started to craft an e-mail to those teachers participating in video conferencing for the first time with the notes I wrote after my first VC experience.
Which led to me to think about a few more tips I’ve made note of, but have never actually written down during my last four years in the classroom. Here’s 4 tips that anyone going into a VC for the very first time should consider before actually making the connection:
1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate – If you’re going to be connecting to another classroom for a collaborative learning experience, make sure you’ve been in communication with the other classroom’s teacher at least a few weeks in advance. You can usually take care of small details in the week or days leading up to the connection, but communicating early means you can better plan a way to share with each other in a more meaningful way, possibly even collaborating on a theatrical reading and/or reader’s theater that involves students in both classrooms. The more communication you have, the more at ease you’ll feel during the connection, as you’ll have a better idea of how the other teachers conducts their classroom, and what their priorities are for the VC.
2. Choose a designated “presentation zone” – Often when you do a video conference you’ll have a full room of students connecting to another full classroom of learners, and the camera will capture all of it, complete with a full zoomed out shot allowing you to see the entire room. While this is nice to give everyone a sense of how many people are there, when individuals need to talk, ask a question, or present something to the other class, it’s a good idea to have a place towards the front of the room close to the camera where the students can present. This presentation zone helps not only make what’s being presented a bit easier to understand, as the student is closer to the camera, but it also shines a bit of a spotlight on them, and helps with the “face to face” conversation that VC lends itself to. It’s also a great way to make students feel as though what they have to offer is important, since it’s mostly them that the other classroom is seeing for the duration of the reading, question, or presentation. And it saves teachers from having to do the dreaded “zoom in, pan over, adjust focus” that eats up lots of time during a typical VC.
3. Make sure to have some flow in your setup – This one goes hand in hand with the presentation zone. If you’re going to have a designated spot for students to come up and present either by themselves or in small groups make sure you have a clear entrance and exit path for them. The easiest solution would be to have students come up to present from one side of the camera, then leave from the other side, allowing another group of students to come in right behind them, or just make the whole entrance and exit from the presentation zone smoother.
4. Easels are helpful – This is certainly a low tech solution to presenting posters, image, and other materials during a VC, but the reality is that with a wide range of possible setups, and technical limitations, having an easel to display student work means that you don’t need a document camera, or the ability to switch between camera view, and sharing your computer’s desktop. If you already have the ability to present using these fancier tools, then at leas you’ll have a backup 🙂
These are certainly not the only items to consider when preparing for a videoconference, but they can help make someone whose anxious about their first classroom VC feel a bit more relaxed, and a bit better prepared for the unexpected. Hopefully, it makes everything go a bit smooth.
Want more VC tips? Check out my original post – Simple Tips for Improving your Video Conference Experience