Using Compressed Video for Distance Learning
(Part One included an introduction to using videoconferencing, advantages of the medium, working with technological constraints, and working with human factors)
A simple way to challenge the television preconception issue is to communicate expectations to the learner prior to instruction. A simple letter or a few comments at the beginning of a lesson can go a long way toward helping learners understand differences between broadcast television and two-way compressed video. Consider explaining the difference in audio/visual quality along with a few suggestions to optimize that quality. One might, for example, encourage learners to keep background noise and motion to a minimum and explain ways to deal with the audio delay. A teacher should also prepare learners for an active experience. Assign a pre-session activity or begin the lesson with a discussion. Actively involve learners early and often, using small group or hands-on activity, reading, writing, discussion, and questions to get them out of the passive "viewing" mode.
Engage Students with Variety and Interaction
Incorporate variety into instruction to keep interest and motivation high. Use relevant visuals or sounds to illustrate points, and, if possible, bring in a guest speaker to share a different perspective, answer questions, or provide real-world feedback on student projects. Even with thrilling visuals and instructors, nobody wants to watch a talking head for hours, so make sure learners have an opportunity to focus attention away from the screen. Assign small group activities with a task that can be discussed later. Tag a break onto an activity to give students a chance to stretch and talk. Highly motivated learners in a tightly focused lesson can tolerate lengthy lectures, but as a rule of thumb, don't lecture for more than 15 minutes at one time. Instead, alternate lectures with activities or discussions.
Since variety is so engaging, reduce the potential distraction of the screen by posting a still image or slate during a class activity. Don't be afraid to use silence. Though we expect a "busy" screen, music or chatter can distract students from learning.
Asking a question can be daunting for students, especially if it means they must get the attention of a remote teacher and talk to a TV screen. Teachers can help by noting the body language of remote students and taking the time to query when students seem puzzled or disinterested. Eye contact and use of names both help make students feel more comfortable. These people skills are obvious and natural in a "live" classroom, but may seem awkward in a distance learning situation. "Eye contact" means looking at the camera and the monitor rather than local students, and teachers might have to make a special effort to attend to remote learners. To help out introverted students, consider alternative modes for questions and comments. Make a fax machine available or solicit e-mail for questions and comments. Consider holding videoconference office hours or paying a visit to the remote site. Use resources creatively to establish rapport and help all learners participate.
Planning a Lesson
When creating a lesson for two-way video, it's important to plan with the above strategies in mind. Consider using a lesson plan matrix that includes:
Methods and Activities
What do you expect your learners to accomplish?
How will you convey the topic (lecture, discussion, hands-on activity)?
What audio/visual aids, handouts, etc. will you use to support your instruction?
About how much time will it take?
Do you need to show an instructional "slate" with the document camera or play an audio clip?
Do you need to prepare a visual or get handouts to remote users?
After you've completed your lesson plan, review it with the following questions in mind:
- How much total time is spent in lecture? (keep it less than 50% -- 30% is better)
- How much time is spent lecturing at any given time? (Keep it less than 20 minutes.)
- Are breaks included?
- Can a remote facilitator or guest lecturer facilitate some of the lesson?
- Is rapport established with remote learners?
- Do learners know what to expect?
- Can any of the lesson be done prior to the video connection (via print, email, World Wide Web, or with the remote facilitator)?
- What support is needed to make the lesson a success?
- Is evaluation time included?
Guidelines for Audio/Visual Aides
As in any instructional setting, effective use of audio-visual aids can greatly enhance distance learning. You can use images, objects, and audio or video clips much as you would in a normal class with a few caveats to guide you:
Pay attention to the screen's aspect ratio. A TV monitor has a different shape than 8.5 X 11 paper or overhead transparencies, so make sure printed visuals fit within a 3 X 4 ratio.
Use large, bold text for instructional "slates." Remote viewers will thank you if they don't have to squint to see text. They'll also appreciate simple fonts and concise, bulleted information.
Use colors in the middle of the color spectrum. Next time the television news is on, pay attention to the colors chosen for graphics. You won't see a lot of black on white, because it just doesn't look good on a screen. Yellow on blue is common, however, because it presents a clear, readable image. For most people, color printing is not feasible, so black print on pastel paper should be adequate. For on-the-fly writing, use a bold color ink pen on pastel paper.
Use video carefully. Many videoconferencing systems allow transmission of video from an auxiliary source such as a VCR or camcorder, but transmitted video is likely to appear jerky or fuzzy to remote viewers. In general, it's best to keep video segments brief. To show a lengthy segment, send a videotape to the remote facilitator.
Obtain written authorization before you use copyrighted materials. Use of copyrighted material in a distance learning situation requires permission, so obtain clearance before broadcasting audio-visuals.
When the lesson is over, review it to help make future telelearning more effective. Consider videotaping the session and viewing it later, or jot down some notes when the session is completed. Here are some questions to ask yourself, learners, and support staff:
- What were the intended outcomes of the lesson? Were they achieved?
- Were expectations clear prior to the lesson?
- Was the lesson technically effective? What did you like/dislike about using the technology?
- What would have improved the lesson?
- What should be done differently next time?
- How did the experience compare to a more typical classroom experience?
There is no doubt that two-way compressed video can provide exciting and valuable experiences for learners. By allowing access to and interaction with resources that might have otherwise been too inconvenient or expensive, two-way compressed video opens a world of new opportunities. Instructors may need to plan and prepare more than usual to take advantage of this medium, but strategies that work best with this medium are likely to improve motivation and learning, and the payoff should be more than enough to compensate for the extra effort necessary for an effective telelearning experience.
- Acker, S.R. & McCain, T.A. (1993) Two-way videoconferencing for K-12 populations: A research synthesis and action agenda. International Teleconferencing Association Yearbook, pp. 47-54.
- Strom, J.L. (December 1994) Bringing People Together: Distance Learning Now. School and College, pp. 11-14.
- Ostendorf, V.A. (1989) Teaching Through Interactive Television: a practical introduction to business television and distance education. Virginia A. Ostendorf, Inc. Littleton, CO.
- Ostendorf, V.A. (1994) The Two-Way Video Classroom. Virginia A. Ostendorf, Inc. Littleton, CO.