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Conferencing tips for instructors

Posted on: March 26, 2020

A bit over a week ago, I offered some video conferencing tips for students who need to meet online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Lifehacker offered tips for workers who need to telecommute with conference calls. So I thought I should share a few tips for instructors who have synchronous online sessions with students.

My previous tips for students apply to teachers, but here are a few that are geared to the latter.

Dress for success. As someone who needs to lead, you need to look the part. You do not need to wear a suit or gown, but you do need to look like you are the instructor or lead learner. Dressing like you would for a classroom puts you in the right frame of mind.

Good lighting is key. If you have a good source of natural daylight from a window, position yourself near it. But do not create a backlighting situation because the camera will darken your face as it struggles with contrast. If the natural light is from the side, bounce the light back from the opposite side with a white cloth, board, or large piece of paper.

If you need artificial lighting, do not rely on just one source, e.g., ceiling light, corner lamp, laptop screen. Try to position two small lamps (with bulbs of the same colour temperature) on either side and in front of you to provide an even light. You do not want shadows that make you look tired, like a monster, or like a tired monster.

Good audio is even more important. If you do not have a high-quality microphone, use a headset with a built-in microphone (even those near ubiquitous white earphones with the dangly mic will do). These are still generally better than the microphones on your computer at reducing echoes or hollow-sounding audio.

Elevate your laptop webcam to eye level.

Elevate your laptop  so that the webcam is at eye-level (see my example). If you leave it on the table at normal height, the camera will look up at you. That will highlight your chin (or chins) and possibly showcase your nostrils*. You want your students to focus on the learning experience; you do not want to distract them with your exaggerated appearance.

Your backdrop matters. You do not want a distracting background, e.g., one that reveals you are a hoarder, drug dealer, or kidnapper (my, that escalated quickly). Your video conferencing software might mask your background, but this can create odd visual artefacts. You can either “cocoon” yourself by putting a big white sheet behind you or you can choose a background that encourages learning. I conduct my sessions from my study and there are bookshelves in the background.

Test everything (EVERYTHING) beforehand. Do not use the ‘live’ session as a test of your computing device, Internet bandwidth, webcam, microphone, teaching resources, etc. If you can, conduct a dry run with your learners in class so that you can troubleshoot together. If you cannot, conduct a test online session with a colleague or a few reliable students.

*I made a mistake in my latest session of sitting too close to the computer. As I needed tilt my head up to use the “reading” part of the lenses in my spectacles, I looked down my nose and presented my nostrils. I should have simply removed my spectacles to remedy the situation.

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