Video Chat Web Meeting Tools

Learning at Home – Tips for Video Meetings

We’re collecting questions about Learning at Home from teachers at all levels, and we’ll be working with experts to help get these questions answered. If you have questions, please provide them here.

Collaboration in education, whether between or among students or educators, remains primarily face-to-face. While other professions and companies use video meetings as a frequent, and often daily, part of their work lives, most meetings in schools, school districts, community colleges, and universities have remained face-to-face. COVID-19 is now requiring a high degree of use of video meetings among educators and between educators and students.

Today’s video meeting tools tend to use less bandwidth, produce higher quality video and audio, include screensharing options, and work across devices and platforms. Nevertheless, the following tips will help educators get started.

Picking a solution

  • When doing #elearning or #distancelearning with students, use video chat cautiously. Ensuring that students’ wireless networks and Internet connections can handle the bandwidth of video chat is not to be underestimated. This is particularly true for students in an elementary or secondary setting, or in a situation like COVID-19 when everyone will more-or-less be working from home rather than being able to take advantage of a robust network at school or the public library.
  • Use your institution’s supported video chat solution – If your organization uses Google’s G Suite, it may be Hangouts Meet, and if your organization uses Microsoft’s Office 365, it may be Teams. Alternatively, it could be a video meeting solution, such as Zoom or GoToMeeting or Adobe Connect. For educational institutions, it may be the video component of a Learning Management System, such as Blackboard or Canvas.
  • Be sure to test if this preferred solution allows you to collaborate with others with email addresses from other organizations. Some solutions may be set-up to only allow users from your own institution connect with the video chat solution due to security settings. This may or may not be an issue depending on your use-case. For example, if a superintendent or assistant superintendent who wants to meet across school districts, it is necessary that all of those different individuals can access the video meeting despite having user accounts/email addresses from different organizations. Questions about this should be addressed as soon as possible with the organization’s Information Technology staff to allow them the time to offer a workable solution that still meets the organization’s online security requirements.
  • If your institution has more than one supported solution, just pick one and use it consistently (or, at least, use the same one consistently with the same audience). For example, you might always use one solution for meetings with colleagues, and there may be a different solution that you always use with students. That’s okay, but try to keep those consistent within each group.

Dress rehearsal & orientation

Video Chat TestingWith any of the online meeting options, making sure that one’s microphone and webcam are working are usually the biggest trick. Unfortunately, everyone participating will need to go through and make sure that their own microphones and webcams are working. As the host, prepare ahead of time. Do a test meeting (or two or three) to ensure that the camera and mic are working and that you know how to create the event. You can do this with a friend or colleague or even by yourself with another email address.

Assume that your first meeting with each group will be spent troubleshooting these kind of issues with participants.

Your “studio”

Google Hangout StudioAt tech companies, there are often special rooms set aside for conducting video meetings. Most educational institutions are not so lucky, and even fewer educators have a location at home that is already prepared for video meetings and classes. Do a pick location that is quiet from which you can consistently lead and participate in video chat meetings and classes. Make sure that there is more light shining on your face than there is behind you–For example, avoid sitting in front of a window as the backlighting will make you simply appear as a shadowy figure, and those in the video chat session with you will not be able to see your facial expressions (which is part of the point of a video meeting).

Use wired headphones with a built-in microphone for the best audio quality. A pair of headphones from an older smartphone works great. This simple, inexpensive step makes a huge difference! 

Features to use and practice with the group

Once you have do have everyone in a meeting together with functioning microphones and webcams, take some time to walk people through the features you will be using. These might include:

  • Using a chat box or virtually raising a hand to talk or ask a question
  • Muting and un-muting one’s microphone
  • Sharing one’s screen and handing off control of the presentation to different people in the group

Of course, if you are recording the meeting, please be clear with all participants that you are doing so!