Guide to Teaching by Videoconferencing


Videoconferencing (“Polycom”) occupies a unique position as an instructional delivery method:

  • You’re able to see your distance students.
  • Communication delays are minimal because the microphones allow a certain degree of transparency that using the telephone to call into the ITV classroom does not.
  • You sit at a table with the students in the “broadcast” room rather than standing behind a podium – an arrangement more in line with the “guide on the side” than the “sage on the stage” paradigm of learning.
  • Videoconferencing classes typically have smaller student enrollments – and for many faculty members, this translates to the potential to use a more fluid and interactive style of communication.

It may be because videoconferencing more closely approximates the almost seamless interaction of face-to-face discussion that the standards for its effectiveness are generally higher than those expected for ITV and other delivery methods. The combination of technology and distance forces some rethinking of classroom management and pedagogy to more closely meet your – and your students’ — expectations of what should happen in a “live” class.

We have prepared this Guide to assist you with using this technology to its greatest potential.

Using Videconferencing Technology

Rooms equipped with a Polycom unit come in various shapes, sizes and configurations. Due to this fact, it’s possible that your specific configuration is unique and therefore not explicitly covered in the support materials. If this is the case, please contact your local resources in the event of technical difficulties or for further information.

Each of your videoconferenced courses will have a call automatically scheduled to connect the participating sites together. Most of the time, you will only have to ensure that the Polycom unit is turned on and plugged in to the internet. Occasionally you may wish to change some settings or to share other content with the connected sites. In order to aid you in these endeavors, we have prepared a web-based reference guide for your consumption on the learn.maine.edu Faculty Portal:

Polycom Reference

Planning for a Videoconferencing Course

Using Blackboard to Support your V/C Course


Blackboard comes with a host of tools that can improve your Videoconferencing course both synchronously and asynchronously. Please find this annotated list for some helpful tips for using and incorporating Blackboard with your Videoconferencing course.

Because Blackboard is a learning management system (LMS), it is equipped with everything you need to run a whole course online even without synchronous support. These tools can easily be leveraged in a Videoconferencing environment to improve communication, submit and share work, dispense handouts and worksheets, test and survey participants, and provide collaborative workspaces for students to work together. If you decide to incorporate these ideas into your course, you’ll need to add them to your Blackboard shell. They can be copied from one shell to the next for future courses, as well.

If you do decide to use Blackboard, just remember to make the course “available” when you are ready for students to see it. Making the course “available” enrolls the students into the Blackboard site for you. This can take up to 24 hours, so be sure to make it available at least a day before students need to use the site.



  • Discussion Board: Under “Tools,” Discussion boards allow you to create class-centric or topic-centric forums where students can participate in a dialogue using text or video to have asynchronous class conversations. One way to use this feature synchronously is to ask students to submit lecture questions to a designated discussion board which you check at periodic times throughout the course. This could affect all students, both in-person and at a distance. This would minimize distractions caused by microphone delays or feedback when participants at sites try to interject questions on the fly. Additionally, they may feel thwarted from interjecting questions because they’ll perceive it as a disruption. This method may improve participation from distance students.
  • Journals: Under “Tools,” Journals are features that allow your students to communicate directly with you, often (by default) privately. One great way to encourage student participation is to ask students to generate a “muddiest point” or “single-sentence essay” journal entry at the beginning or near the end of class. You can then review those journals and incorporate the questions or concepts into your next lecture or discussion. This is a great way to boost engagement and can be done during or outside of class hours.
  • Blogs: Under “Tools,” Blogs allow students to publicly share content with one another and even provide text-based commentary on each other’s work. One great way to use blogs is to have students paste or upload any peer-review work to a blog space. That way, all students (and faculty) can access the content without requiring a fax or private email.
  • Wikis: Under “Tools,” Wikis are simply “collaborative documents” or “web pages” where more than one person has editing rights. In other words, a Wiki allows you to create a space for collaborative work where students can contribute content to a single resource. You might consider this, for example, if you want your students to create class lecture notes while you talk–all your students or small groups could contribute to a single document of notes without having to cut/paste or download/upload to get at the material later.

Submitting and/or Sharing Work:


  • Groups: Under “Course Tools,” but typically needs to be added to Navigation and is often there by default in most Blackboard sites, this tool allows you to create groups of students and provide them private areas of the web to meet, collaborate, and work on projects. Groups are a great way to gather students together virtually outside of class as well as during class time. Are you working on something and can’t figure out how to keep the noise down? Students can contribute to a group discussion board just with one another using text. This could then carry on even after class ends for longer-term projects.
  • Assignment Dropbox: Under “Assessments,” Assignments allow you to create an upload space for your students to submit work that you can open, download, or edit. If students submit documents in MS Word, you can even open it right in Blackboard without having to download anything. This is a great way to collect worksheets, assignments, papers, slideshows, or other materials from your students in one, tidy place. You can even open those materials in class and project them if the goal is to share the content with the class.

Handouts and Worksheets:


  • Folders: Under “Build Content,” Folders allow you to easily organize materials into tidy compartments. You might choose to have a folder devoted to each session’s class activities where you upload any documents or materials for students to access, or you might choose to put handouts and materials in a single folder with each handout clearly labeled for student use. This will save you time and energy trying to share handouts with students at a distance.
  • Items: Under “Build Content,” an Item is definitely the most versatile element within Blackboard. Think of an item like a mini-webpage or document. You can put graphics, text, and video right into an item for students to see on their screen without downloading anything. You can also attach files to items (more than one at a time, even!) for students to download multiple materials in one place. One way to use items might be to have an “Item” for each class session. Write a few sentences in the text box of the item explaining what that session’s lesson will cover and what to do with any attached materials, and then attach all the handouts in one place to that single item. It will make it pretty easy for students to associate each handout with the right class and content area. You can do the same with web links in an item, making them all “clickable” by turning them into hypertext with the click of a button. This would allow you to have more than one website within a given context.
  • Files: Under “Build Content,” Files are a way to upload a single file without context to an area of the course. This would allow you to upload a document or a Powerpoint, for example, to an area of the course that students could later retrieve.
  • Links: Under “Build Content,” Links provide you two options for linking: course links and web links. A course link allows you to link to another area of your own course (for example, you may want a particular item to appear in two places in your course so your students don’t miss it). A web link is a direct link to a place on the web. Both of these options only allow you to provide a title and link without context for student use.

Tests and Surveys:


  • Tests: Under “Assessments,” Tests can be used for more than just getting tests to students. Not only will Blackboard let you make a robust style of test that, in many cases, can be graded by Blackboard for you, but Blackboard offers a variety of ways to deal with test questions (like, being able to add a video to a question to provide a visual prompt or cue for the student). Additionally, don’t think of these as “tests.” That is, test is just what Blackboard calls it. Think of it, instead, as a function. Do you have a worksheet you’d like students to fill out? Why not make it into a Blackboard test? Students will see the prompt and enter text right on Blackboard to fill-in the worksheet.
  • Surveys: Under “Assessments,” Surveys function just like tests except they are not graded. You can use all the same question types as you can with tests. Students can then participate with the survey during, before, or after class. Surveys can be a single question (perhaps a variation of the “muddiest point” exercise at the conclusion of a class), or a series of questions. This is a great way to keep students actively engaged and participating with class material.

Using @Maine.edu Educational and Third Party Apps in a Videoconferencing Course

Whether teaching and learning in a traditional face-to-face course, blended course, videoconferencing course, or completely online, there are many web connected technologies available to instructors and learners that offer more options for engagement and interaction.

The tools and scenarios listed here are intended to provide examples of what is possible through @Maine.edu learning apps other than Blackboard.

Felder, Richard M., and Rebecca Brent. “Navigating the bumpy road to student-centered instruction.” College teaching 44.2 (1996): 43-47. Retrieved from: http://wiki.its.iastate.edu/download/attachments/6127712/Student+Resistance.pdf

The Maine.edu system of educational applications include but are not limited to:

In this section we introduce these apps and provided some use case examples for each. Because each application requires some training and orientation to use effectively, rather than provide tutorials in this document, we provide you with links to tutorials and documentation for each one.

IMPORTANT: At this time the Helpdesks DO NOT provide support for ALL of these applications.

You can find beginner tutorials to get any learner up and running at UC’s @Maine.edu Learning Apps Training Center site. Click the button below to visit the site now.

To view and download Scenarios for Using @Maine.edu Apps with VC Classes, click the button below.

Developing Videoconferencing-Ready Materials

You can use both hard copy and computer-based visuals over the videoconferencing system. This section provides some guidelines for producing materials that all participants can read comfortably, regardless of where they sit in relation to the television monitors.


General guidelines


  • Use horizontal (“landscape”), not vertical (“portrait”) orientation.
  • Use only key words or phrases. Don’t try to include the entire text of your presentation.
  • Do not use all capital letters. They are difficult to read. Use sentence case.
  • Try to limit each screen to no more than seven lines of text.
  • Be sure that the text is large enough to be read from across the room. Font size recommendations:
    • Headings: 36 point (approximately ⅜ inch high)
    • Subheadings or body text: 24 point (approximately ¼ inch high)

Writing on paper under the document camera


  • Use a dark, medium point felt-tip marker.
  • Use pastel-colored paper instead of white when possible. This helps to reduce contrast around the edges of text and graphical elements.
  • Use large, legible letters. Print if necessary!
  • Be aware of how your document is illuminated and adjust the lighting if possible. Preview the material for lighting and glare and adjust.
  • Avoid wearing shiny jewelry when writing.

Prepared hard-copy materials for use with the document camera


  • Avoid thin lines and tight patterns as they tend to flicker over video.
  • Zoom the document camera closer to focus on specific parts of a document when necessary.

Presentation software (PowerPoint, Prezi, Google Presenter, etc.)


  • Widescreen slide sizes best utilize available video monitor space.
  • Never use red and blue together!
  • Use sans-serif fonts (for example, Helvetica, Avant Garde, Arial, and Geneva) because they are easier to read on screen.
  • Use adequate contrast between the text and the background to enhance readability. (Use light text against a dark background or dark text against a light background.)

Displaying content on a web site


  • Use screen captures appropriately enlarged if possible.
  • Otherwise, adjust the view of the screen using the key combinations below:

OS Enlarge Reduce Return
PC Control + Control – Control 0
MAC Command + Command – Command 0

Orienting Students on the First Day of Class

Familiarize students with the technology


Taking some steps to make students comfortable with the technology can help to minimize the sense of distance and make students more comfortable participating in class.

  • During the first class session, give students a few minutes to become familiar with the remote control. Have each student adjust the camera to show other students in the room, and zoom between views of single students and the entire group. (A staff person, either at your site or at another site on the system, can help with this.)
  • Ask students to zoom the camera to a closer view and introduce themselves one at a time.
  • Make it a point to have students at all sites be seen on camera by others. This helps to reinforce the fact that there are others “out there,” and doing this frequently can help to allay some of your students’ anxiety about being on camera.
  • Ask students to practice muting and unmuting the microphone in their room.
  • Ask students to adjust the volume in their room.
  • If you plan to have students use the document or ceiling-mounted camera or a computer, ask them to practice, one site at a time.
  • You might want to have students designate a classmate at each site who will have primary responsibility for the technology.

Establish protocols for participation


When raising their hands is not an option, how will distance students signal their desire to ask questions or participate in the discussion?

  • Allowing students to just speak out will result in disruptive switching between the view of your site and the view of the student’s site as the system attempts to decide whose audio it should follow.
  • At a minimum, be sure to pause from time to time to give students the opportunity to join in. Ask students to wait for these opportunities rather than just “jumping in.”
  • A slight delay between the audio and the video means that students will be heard before they will be seen. When the system finally does switch to their site, the video from your site will be interrupted. Asking students to preface their remarks with a very brief introduction (for example, “Hi, Jodi here. I have a question.”) allows the system enough time to switch to them before they get to the substance of what they want to say, letting participants better focus on what the students are saying without the distraction of the video switching during the question or comment. The simple introduction also minimizes the “surprise” element and gets participants more prepared to listen.
  • You might also build in regular, more extended times of a few minutes and invite comments and questions.

Reduce distractions


  • Encourage students not to place unnecessary materials on the table or to shuffle papers, tap their pens, etc.
  • If you plan to lecture for a while, ask students to mute their microphones. When distance students chat among themselves – even to share their thoughts on what you are saying – they can switch the system away from your site.

Pre-Class Readiness Check

Do a quick readiness check before each class to make sure that all equipment is available, correctly configured, and functioning properly.

  • Locate the remote for the polycom system.
  • Be sure that you’re able to pan and zoom the main camera to show students in the room. If you use camera presets, verify that they are properly configured.
  • Be sure that you’re comfortable zooming in on board work or other materials.
  • Check the volume level in your room. (As you adjust the volume be sure that the volume level bar on the monitor is set at about the halfway point.)
  • Check microphone placement to be sure that the microphones are clearly picking up the voices of everyone in the room.
  • Locate the additional technologies that you plan to use. These may include:
    • VGA input/output
    • Document Camera: either
      • “Overhead” camera or
      • In-ceiling document camera and remote
    • Computer (if supplied in the room)
    • DVD player
    • Smart Board
  • Be sure that all participants know the technical support number (1-800-696-4357) and procedures for calling out from the telephone in their room. (This may involve dialing 9 or another number first.)

Troubleshooting Strategies

The following material is reprinted with some adaptations with permission of The Training Institute of the United States Training Office. The original material (available on the web) is linked at the end of this section.

Preventive Measures:


Taking the following measures can help you prevent problems before a session starts or avoid problems during a session, saving time in the long run. Schedule time in the conference room to allow for room setup and equipment checks before participants are expected to arrive.

Using preview, check that all cameras are working. If you can see all the preview images, you can rule out power and cables as sources of problems that may arise. Test the audio with remote rooms, and adjust the volume as needed. Test sending and receiving still graphics with remote rooms, confirming that all were received. Know how to contact technical support. Bring to every class a list of sites involved and the telephone number of each remote videoconference room. You can get this list from technical support. Having these numbers handy will allow you to contact remote rooms quickly and inform participants of actions you will take and about how long they need to stand by.

Troubleshooting Audio Problems:


Problem Solutions
Muffled, crunching or rustling sounds Clear the table of papers or other objects around the microphones
Make sure that microphones are not obstructed
Make sure that participants are not touching or moving the microphones
Low or distant sound Check the volume. Increase it, if needed
Make sure that participants are sitting within 5 feet of the microphones and are speaking directly into them
Deterioration of sound quality during class Reset or refresh the audio system
*Call IT Support Services
Inability to hear Confirm that the remote room’s audio privacy is not on and that the microphone is unmuted
Check the volume. Increase it, if needed
Make sure the remote room microphones are all properly placed and plugged in
Echo Check that the microphones are pointed toward students and not the speakers
Poll sites to identify a room not hearing the echo. Ask someone in that room to turn the volume down
Cutoff or “clipping” of words or syllables Let the on-screen room finish talking before you begin
Eliminate background noise and side conversations at your site
Don’t talk too loudly
*Provide your name and location to give others enough time to pick-up your reception. There can be a 3-second delay on audio between sites

Troubleshooting Video Problems:


Problem Solutions
Blurred or out-of-focus image *Zoom in our out as needed using the remote
Minimize excessive movement by participants and of objects or visual materials. *Our cameras tend to focus on the source of sound, so movement may pull the focus from one person to another.
*Any other video issue *Contact IT Services for support

Full, Original Source available here: http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/ti95001.pdf

Teaching Strategies

Reaching Out: Techniques for Engaging Students at a Distance

Setting up a small group of single-student locations.


Creating Social Presence


Call-in office hours

Set aside a period of time each week to answer students’ questions or just to chat. Use of an audioconferencing bridge will allow you to speak with more students at a time, and will allow you to speak with one another. Use of a toll-free number eliminates the obstacle of excessive phone bills and permits students and the instructor to participate from a convenient location. Alternatively, use the real-time “chat” feature that is available on certain electronic mail or computer conferencing systems.

Introductory letter/Instructor information form

Students at a distance benefit from an increased flow of information about both the class in which they are participating and the participants. Often the distant student will have no contact with the instructor other than over the audio/video link. It is beneficial to personalize the experience with a short welcome letter and an interesting and informal profile of the instructor. The letter should address pertinent interests or concerns of the student, and the profile should seek to personalize you as individual.

Class newsletter

Although a class newsletter is not often a part of the “traditional” classroom, it provides an opportunity for the instructor to take advantage of the rich geographical diversity of the class participants. It also offers another avenue for participation and a way to further personalize the distance education experience. It is a time consuming and difficult effort to incorporate.


Have students send you a specified number of postcards throughout the semester. Students can ask specific questions about the course, elaborate on topics covered in class, or share information about themselves or their region of the state. Taking a few minutes during class to read and show the postcards can be a very effective way to respond to questions, introduce “real world” applications, and nurture a sense of community.

Student information form

An instructor has the opportunity to learn a great deal about students which might otherwise be assumed through personal contact. Student information forms allow a student to communicate with the instructor and share not only their reasons for taking the course, but also some personal characteristics and concerns which may impact on the teaching-learning experience. These information forms may also be used to share interesting information with the class as a whole, and leads to interesting resources for future pertinent class discussions.

Student pictures

Without the benefit of two-way video, students are unable to associate a name with a face. Asking students to send photos of themselves (perhaps engaged in a favorite activity) can add a new dimension to learning at a distance. Photos can be shown when students call in. One instructor shows students’ photos alongside a map of the state on which the students’ home town is indicated. Depending on the technical setup at your origination site, showing pictures of students electronically may require additional resources-technical and human.

Access to student services such as advising and referral

While as the instructor it is not your responsibility to provide student support services, when distance is involved you acquire certain responsibilities for this element unnecessary in a single-location classroom. Student support services are often taken for granted, being an assumed part of the environment on a campus or off-campus center. Such is not the case when multiple sites are also concerned. If you, as the instructor, face that situation, be available to fill the gap either in a reactive or often in a proactive effort.

Use of students’ names to greet callers on ITV

We all like to be addressed by name. The same applies in an interactive class. Have your technician, using the class enrollment lists, create a “name tag” for each student. Also include the student’s location. Then when a student calls, he or she is identified by name and not the “caller on the line” notification. It helps to personalize the experience a bit more. Additionally, as the instructor becomes more familiar with his or her class, seeing who is calling prepares the instructor for what to expect.

Use informal, more “personal” language in course materials

Students rely heavily on prepared course material in a distance education situation. The more personal and informal those efforts are, the more personal and encouraging of interaction the results. If you, as the instructor, are comfortable doing so, prepare your course materials in the first person, and strive for an informal feeling in the presentation of materials. The result is a more conversational-sounding tone.

In-course progress checks

Students at a distance do not have as many avenues available to determine how they are progressing in class responsibilities. It is more difficult to “stop by” before or after class to offer explanations of past performance or issue promises of better performance. In place of the posting of grades on class requirements, consider the use of a computer generated “semi-personal” form letter to inform a student of his or her progress. Include the invitation to discuss any questions or concerns directly with you. Even consider taking the initiative and requesting that the student make contact with you. A good way to show you care. As an alternative, you might consider providing students a form on which they can record their own progress, letting them know that you’re available when they want to talk about how they’re doing.

Involving Students in the Learning Process



This technique is useful for creative group problem-solving. The thoughts of one individual may stimulate new directions of thought in others; thus, the communal effort is likely to be more productive than the efforts of the individual members separately. You will need someone to record all ideas. Start by carefully defining the problem or objective of the session. Set a time limit, and record all contributions without criticism or objection to any contribution. Once the time limit is up, follow up with analysis, criticism, evaluation, and organization. A particular advantage of brainstorming is that during the early stages, at least, less confident students are able to participate in a non-critical environment.

Role playing

A type of stimulation technique in which students may participate as role players or observers. Students are given descriptions of the situation and of the characters that they will portray. Follow the role play with a debriefing session in which students are encouraged to reflect on how it “felt” to be placed in the role.

Multi-site readings

Ask students from different sites to read different parts of a piece of literature. Useful in drama or literature courses, for example.

Critical incidents

Present the most dramatic or important part of a situation. The participants must then solve the conflict or problem. The facilitator has all the data about the total situation but shares it only in response to direct questions.

Trigger videos

A short scenario is presented on video and the video is turned off before a “resolution” of the problem is reached. Students are asked to identify the problem, identify possible courses of action, and make a recommendation. The video is then turned back on, and the “resolution” on the video is compared with the students’ responses. Use a provocative film to introduce a topic or focus discussion.


Debates encourage the exploration of both sides of an issue. One approach is to have students support a viewpoint with which they do not personally agree.


A fishbowl is a discussion group divided into two parts: the inner circle, consisting of four or five people who discuss a topic, and the outer group, consisting of up to 20 people who observe the interaction of the inner group. The technique is especially useful for observing group process.

Interactive study guides

The interactive study guide includes a variety of activities to accompany classroom instruction and for students to do at home. Include copies of the graphics that you be using (you will have to obtain copyright clearance for published material). This will allow students to concentrate better and elaborate on the content, as they will not have to devote their attention to writing down everything that you say.

Guest interviews

Instructors and students question a guest on a previously-selected topic. In some cases the guest is sent the questions in advance.


The element of competition can be motivational. Games are also useful for team-building. Popular board games and game shows can be used as models.

Journal writing

Students are asked to keep a journal between class meetings to help reflect on course content. Ask students to focus their writing on how they might apply what they have learned in class. Ask students to share their journal entries as appropriate.

Listening teams

Prior to a lecture, panel discussion, student presentation, or film, divide the class into several listening teams. Give each team a specific listening task. At the conclusion of the presentation have each team ask questions or give reactions related to the area they were responsible for tracking.

Making predictions

This technique is useful as a “warm-up” exercise before presenting data. For example, before presenting the results of a survey, ask students to make predictions based on their own experience and understanding of the material. When presenting the actual findings, have students compare their predictions with the actual results. Ask if there were any surprises (and why?) in order to generate further discussion of the issue involved.

Action maze

Divide the class into small groups and present a problem or a description of an incident. Ask each group to propose alternative solutions to the problem or alternative actions in response to the incident, then to list the consequences of each solution or action. Follow up discussion.

Panel discussions

A group of “experts” present different perspectives on an issue. The panel can be moderated by the instructor or by a student. A question-and-answer session can follow. The panel might be composed of guest speakers or students who are reacting to a current topic.

Peer teaching and Peer tutoring

Students are responsible for presenting a short segment of instruction. This requires some advance preparation to make sure that any graphics arrive at the broadcast site on time and are clearly legible over television. This technique can also be effective when students who feel especially confident about the subject matter are paired with those who feel less confident. Meetings can be held using a telephone bridge or via computer conferencing.

Practice exercises/Ungraded progress quizzes

Provide an opportunity for students to practice skills. Exercises can be multiple choice, fill-in-the-blanks, true/false, problem solving, etc. Instructor provides prompt feedback to inform students of their progress and to stimulate further questions. Try to anticipate the variety of responses that students are likely to make, and prepare feedback accordingly. Consider the process by which a student would arrive at an inappropriate solution to a problem and be prepared to provide guidance for each “step” in the process.

Programmed instruction

The student progresses at his or her own pace to meet specified objectives. Little support from a “live” teacher is required. Possible media are student manuals, audiotape, videotape, computer-assisted instruction, or combinations of these. A special advantage of programmed instruction is that it frees up the instructor’s time to work with students with special problems or with special learning goals. Additionally, programmed instruction is an effective means of meeting the diverse needs of students with different prerequisites, ability levels, and learning styles. Instructors may adapt pre-produced materials or may develop their own materials. Though developing materials requires a significant time investment, in some cases the special advantages of this method may outweigh the disadvantages.

Questioning strategies

Include a variety of question types, from recall and comprehension to application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The instructor poses and redirects questions to maximize interaction. A variation is to describe the differences between levels of questions, give examples of each type, and ask students themselves to pose questions at various levels.


Build in deliberate periods of silence — after asking a question or at critical points during the class session. This gives students an opportunity to process the course content at a meaningful level (higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy).

Small group projects

Each site works on a project and reports back to the class. Students at single-student sites can be linked through the videoconferencing system, while those at sites with a critical mass of students to form a group work “off-line.”

Student-produced videos

Have students use camcorders at the receive sites to produce short presentations, role plays, speeches, skits, etc. Videotapes are sent to the instructor to play for the rest of the class.

Case Studies

Case studies are real-world descriptions of problems with all accompanying data. Students are asked to resolve a problem within a given time limit, and to make recommendations. Avoid “contrived” situations-try, as much as possible, to make the case study represent “real-life.” In most cases, there will be more than one possible solution. Follow up with a debriefing session which analyzes students’ responses and abstracts the major “lessons” (i.e., the principles) from the case, making it easier for students to transfer what they have learned to similar situations.

Values clarification

Students explore and express their values on given issues through the use of values exercises. Values are then discussed among sites with the instructor acting as the moderator. A variety of formats will encourage students to explore their values on given issues: voting, rank ordering, either-or forced choice questionnaires, surveys, unfinished sentences, and focus questions, for example.

Video or film preview

Develop a list of specific questions to help students to focus their attention while viewing a videotape or film.

Surveys/opinion polls

Sample students’ opinions on issues related to the course. In appropriate course (psychology, statistics, sociology, etc.), conduct these during several classes to develop descriptive data for use in class and to model the research process. Students are given the opportunity to express their views on course-related issues and are likely to be more interested in working with data that is familiar to them. Have students predict the outcomes of polls or surveys in advance, and have them compare their impressions to the actual data.

Laboratory exercises

Certain laboratory exercises may be completed at home. Students in a human biology course, for example, are completing the majority of the laboratory activities using a student guide, a videotape, and a package of laboratory materials. The laboratory includes a fetal pig dissection. Students are encouraged to work together whenever possible.


Before starting a unit of instruction, take some time to ask students what they already know about the subject. You may be surprised! Their responses will likely reveal common misperceptions that you might want to clear up. Or they may tell you that they already know quite a bit about what you’re going to teach. In any case, the time is well-spent. Both you and your students will be better informed.

Study and review sessions

Some faculty hold study or review sessions prior to a major exam or assignment due date. These sessions can be held over a telephone bridge to permit students and the faculty member to participate from their homes. Students can ask questions of the instructor or they can interact with other students to discuss major points and get clarification on information that they still find confusing.

Formative evaluation

It may be helpful to periodically ask students for their impression of how the course is going. Either formally or informally, gather information on what student think is working well, what they think should be changed, and what students are having trouble understanding. This can provide you with useful information before it’s too late to make changes in the course. Such mid-course checks can result in more positive final evaluations. Assure students that their responses can be made anonymously and will have no effect on their grades in the course. By making the attempt to take students’ opinions seriously and to use their feedback, you will not only improve the structure and delivery of your course, but you will also communicate to students your genuine concern about their progress.


A seminar format requires students themselves to take on significant responsibility for discussing course content. The instructor is placed in the role of facilitator and provides guidance and direction. One approach assigns specific roles at random at the beginning of the class session (requiring all students to be prepared). Three students are selected to introduce the major topics/issues for the session. Following their presentation, two students respond to the presentations. An open discussion follows. Two students then comment on the process itself and provide a “synthesis” of the session. The instructor concludes the session with a wrap-up. Prior to the seminar, all students prepare by reading assigned literature on the seminar topic and/or reflecting on personal experiences, and writing a brief reaction paper in which they respond to the issues. It is crucial to the success of this strategy that the roles and tasks are clearly described in advance.

Designing Activities: Problems and Options

The following material is reprinted with some adaptations with permission of The Training Institute of the United States Training Office. The original material (available on the web) is linked at the end of this section.

To help course developers and instructors think differently—that is, to answer the question “What will work?”—this section provides examples of five activities as they would be presented in a resident classroom and potential problems and potential options for modifying each activity for video teletraining.

Some options are more desirable than others, given cost of materials and logistics. However, all options allow for each participant to have the same opportunity to participate in an activity, regardless of the location. No one site should have an advantage over another. Each site must be able to critique, evaluate, comment, and share responses. Unless an observer role is part of an activity, such as a role play or a group process exercise that has a designated observer, it is unacceptable for a remote site to be placed in the role of observer only.

Dart Game: To demonstrate differences in coaching and feedback, participants in a resident classroom are asked to participate in a dart game. The game is facilitated by the instructor, and participants are called upon to coach and give feedback to the dart thrower. The problem for the video classroom is how participants at remote sites can actively observe, coach, or provide feedback on the dart game when they are not in the same room. Capturing the person throwing the dart and the target on camera, given the target’s distance from the person, can also pose a problem.

Option 1: Focus the main camera on the person throwing the dart and the graphics camera on the target. After the dart hits the target, the image of the target (which does not need to be real time) can be sent in still mode to all sites. Thus, participants at any site can provide feedback on the dart’s proximity to the target.

Option 2: Provide a dart game for each site, and ask each site to conduct the activity, facilitating the activity from the instructor site. Logistically, this is more difficult than other options, but it can be done.

Option 3: Select another game that requires less distance, such as shooting marbles, so that the game can fit in the view of a single camera. Or select a different skill, such as drawing a picture. The drawing can be viewed in live mode under the graphics camera. The activity may change, but the learning objective remains the same.

Brainstorming: To come up with possible solutions to a problem, participants in the resident classroom are asked to brainstorm solutions individually and then in small groups. Solutions are to be written on flip chart paper, posted, and discussed with the entire class. The problem for video teletraining is that flip chart paper cannot be seen easily by remote sites, especially when posted. To think of options for redesign, consider the reasons flip chart paper is used in a resident classroom: to write large enough for all participants to see and to post for reference later.

Option 1: *Provide pads of light blue or yellow paper to the groups to write on (as this distributes light differently and will be easily viewed on a screen).* “Send” the groups’ brainstormed lists of solutions to other sites using the graphics camera. Since the lists are enlarged on the receiving monitor, the monitor acts as a flip chart; the lists also can be re-sent any time during class for further reference. The 8½- x 11-inch size also allows for copying and distribution to participants, eliminating the need for someone to retype the handwritten flip charts.

Option 2: For a point-to-point class, responses can be entered into the room’s computer and shared with the other room via the document conferencing system. All participants can receive a printed copy.

Icebreaker: Koosh Ball: To break the ice, participants in the resident classroom are grouped in teams and asked to toss a koosh ball around to members of their team, calling out the name of the person who is to catch the ball, until all team members have caught the ball. The activity is repeated, with each team trying to beat the fastest time. The problem for the video classroom is knowing when to stop the timer, since the instructor may not be able to see all teams. In a multipoint class, the noise generated from multiple sites could also cause rapid voice-activated switching.

Option 1: Select a participant or the remote site coordinator to be the “timekeeper” at each remote site. The timekeeper times the fastest team. Results are compared among sites, and all try to beat the lowest time. In a multipoint class, mute the microphones while the activity is conducted and reactivate to compare times.

Option 2: Ask that the person who receives the ball last on each team to call out that the team is finished (for example, “Team 2 is finished” or “Atlanta is finished”), and stop the time on the basis of the vocal signal. In a multipoint class, the first team to reactivate the muted microphones calls time.

Option 3: Design a different activity that allows teams to work together.

Observing Presentation Skills: To observe and provide feedback on a participant’s presentation skills, the presentation is videotaped and the instructor reviews the videotape with the participant in the resident classroom. Problems for the video classroom are being able to hear clearly—to check speech and diction—and observe facial expressions, gestures, and other nonverbal cues.

Option 1: Provide instruction and a demonstration during the class session. (The instructor and the design team determine the best camera angles and presenter placement so that all the presentation’s elements can be observed.) *Record each participant’s presentation either on the network or at the participant site using nonvideoconference equipment (*such as Youtube and a webcam). Meet later with the participant (by videoconference) to review the tape. The stream can be played on the videoconference system, or a copy can be emailed to the instructor.

Option 2: Provide instruction and a demonstration during the class session. *Rcord each participant outside the class (not using class time, unless the class needs to see each presentation as part of the learning experience). Review the streaming video with the participant in a videoconference. The tape can be transmitted, or separate copies can be viewed in Youtube with participants using the Youtube comment features to engage in feedback. Alternatively, you can embed a Youtube video into a Blackboard discussion board and complete this dialogue in Blackboard.

Option 3: Have a trained facilitator (possibly a former course participant or a known expert presenter) at each remote site to observe and critique. Each site conducts its presentations concurrently, critiqued by facilitator at the site. Meet again with participants and facilitators to compare results and debrief.

Brainteasers: To help participants think creatively, 10 brainteasers are posted on a wall and participants try to solve each one. The problem is obvious—participants at remote sites must be able to see the brainteasers.

Option 1: *The brainteasers in the participant guides that are emailed or uploaded to Blackboard forto remote sites, and allow a set time for completion.

Option 2: Prepare a graphic with each brainteaser written on it, and use the graphics camera to send the brainteasers to the remote sites, displaying them one at a time.

Option 3: Send copies of the brainteasers to each site, and ask the remote site coordinator to post them on the wall.

Original Source in its Entirety located here: http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/ti95001.pdf

Assessing and Enhancing Class Interaction

Once the instructional activities have been selected, the overall course design needs to be assessed for interaction. Depending on the activities used, additional interactions may be needed. Ideally, however, interaction should be built into the design of the video teletraining class. Used effectively, interactivity affects motivation, attention, and retention. Understanding the types of interaction and ways interaction is achieved will help add variety as well as more ways for participants to be actively involved in learning. To structure interaction, the course developer must be aware of what is being seen and heard at all sites.

Interaction does not mean that all participants must interact with the instructor. Interaction can take place

  • between instructor and participants
  • between participants at the same location
  • between participants at two or more locations, and
  • between participants and media.

For example, participants at one location could list the pros and the cons of an issue as a large group or could work in small groups to generate the list; participants at one location could debate one side of an issue while participants at a second location debate the other; participants at three locations could be given the same task and all share the results; participants could listen to an audiotape or watch a videotape and then react and take a paper and pencil quiz; or participants could read an article and answer questions.

Activities designed to enhance interaction can include assignments requiring decision-making, value judgments, analyses, and other means of making the participant work with content material, such as brainstorming, case studies, team tasks, role plays, and data gathering. Course design can also include interviews, panels, and field trips—although these may fall into the category of holding interest rather than interaction. Even the time-honored lecture can be made more interactive.

The course developer and the instructor can also use good questioning strategies to increase learner involvement. Some instructors intuitively use questioning strategies to involve participants and get feedback on comprehension; many do not. Therefore, the course developer must build interaction into the presentation through substantive questioning strategies. This means more than just recalling and reciting facts. It means using questions that encourage analysis, synthesis, and judgment. Questions should not, however, be written into the design simply to promote superficial interaction; the questions should provoke thinking and learning.

Original Source in its Entirety located here: http://www.gao.gov/special.pubs/ti95001.pdf