Using Video Conferencing to Facilitate Learning and Teaching – Dr. Simon Clarke, Lecturer in Archaeology, Shetland College

This paper will outline how videoconferencing is being used as part of a package of teaching resources, across multiple campuses to support a dispersed student cohort in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

UHI is a very small institution.

Going to explain how and why, outline the problems, suggest how these problems can overcome and explain by VC has not been more widely and successfully adopted.

The problem

  • Partnership of 14 different colleges and research institutions.
  • Learning centres across the highlands.

One solution

To use video conferencing so that diverse range of courses can be offered even if speciality not available in individual institution.

One class taught from Shetland to 16 sites, 44 students.


Two screens: Incoming signal (whoever last spoke) from remote sites and Outgoing signal.

Alternative output can also be ‘object camera’, touch screen PC. Potentially as visually rich as conventional teaching, and remains synchronous.

Can be setup to use voice activated switching. The incoming signal automatically changes to whichever site is actively speaking. The VC experience should be fully interactive. The audience must be trained in the use of the system and etiquette (for example muting the microphone).

One consequence is that there is a lack of feedback for the tutor: Remote sites will be ‘muted’; only the last site to have spoken will be on screen.

Remember, if one way broadcast, just use podcasts or CDs (or similar media).


Potential for Student Empowerment

  • Equipment capabilities similar at each site.
  • No front of class Lecturer first amongst equals.
  • Can facilitate student centred, active learning approach.

Why have VCs previously failed?

Often add-on to conventional class

  • No ‘eye contact’ between tutor and VC groups.
  • Visual material not fully legible – often have to watch via video rather than direct output.
  • Virtual students become second class citizens.

VC needs to be setup as a VC from the outset.

Must also think about audience behaviour.

  • Sit on screen.
  • Ensure adequate lighting.
  • Zoom in for body language and facial details.

Students must be instructed on the use of VC including the above suggestions.

Quality VC Experience

  • Depends more on user behaviour than purchase of the latest VC technology.
  • Rooms need to be set up and equipment installed correctly.
  • Staff training and modification of teaching practice essential.
  • VC should be just one strand in a multimedia approach.

VLE support is vital. If this is done well, then video conferencing can be used to fill the gaps in knowledge and for more ‘seminar’ based learning.

Resource allocation

  • £7.3 million investment in UHI VC service.
  • Spent the money before the consultation.
  • Consultation included no student users.

Recent UHI investment has not addressed our main problems – an inappropriate techno-fix.

VC streaming

  • VC session recorded centrally.
  • Available over the internet.
  • Link from the module VLE.
  • Offers security of delivery and flexibility to students.
  • Only a recording – not interactive. Even if student doesn’t get asked a question or doesn’t ask a question, they still have the potential to with VC.

The future?

  • Ordinary PC, with an inexpensive webcam.
  • Much less expensive.
  • Potential for home access – what do we need campuses for?
  • ConferenceMe PC based VC system (approx. £140,000).

Question: How long can you hold a student’s attention by VC?

Often have sessions of an hour and a half but many leave if just speak for hour and a half. Simon gets input from other sites every 5-10 minutes.

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