Checklist for That Video Conference

video conf screenIt seems almost all of us have been involved in more video conferences the past five months because of the pandemic. Offices and classrooms are closed and a lot of paid work is being done. The learning and workspaces have definitely moved online for many of us. But there are also teleconferences with friends and family that are purely social. I have used Zoom, Google Meet, Webex, Slack and Microsoft Teams for formal presentations, courses, social calls and team meetings.

We are also seeing newscasters and celebrities broadcasting from home with surprisingly varied results and quality. I am no longer surprised to see a well-known person who has the resources and motivation to look good on screen look really bad. There are some basic video tech tips that everyone should follow, but before I get to those I want to list some non-tech items that fall under the heading of being prepared.

  1. Prep your desktop. Do you need notes or a way to take notes? If you use papers or another device make sure they are off-camera and won't block the camera or your microphone.
  2. If you're using a phone or tablet, put it horizontally so that you get a full video frame. Have you ever watched a movie or TV show that was in a vertical format? Of course not - think movie screens.
  3. Hang a "Do not disturb" sign on your office door or at least warn people that you're going to be on air and to give you some privacy. Mute other phones nearby. I've been on several calls where someone's other phone rings or the cell phone rings while they're on their laptop.
  4. How you dress depends on the formality of the conference but avoid pinstripes and checks, which can create distracting moiré patterns on camera, and try not to wear bright white or deep black clothing, because many webcams have automatic exposure settings and will adjust to the brightness or darkness of those colors. 
  5. When you position your camera, try to have it at your eye-level. You might be able to adjust the chair you use for that. You should be sitting straight up not slouched back on a couch. Low and high angles are unflattering. Leave those for horror films. Pros and semi-pros use a tripod to hold their camera or phone and you can get those relatively inexpensively, but there are also less expensive tablet and phone stands.
  6. On the more tech side of preparedness, I would say lighting is at the top of the list. Bad lighting can ruin a video. Most people don't have a studio lighting kit to work with or knowledge of three-point lighting schemes, so here are simple things to do. Do have the main light source behind the camera and pointed at you. That's true when using a sunny window or any kind of lamp. Do not have the light behind you or you might be a silhouette. A single bright light on one side of you might make for a dramatic photograph but not a good video. The light, like the camera, is best at eye level because higher or lower create unflattering shadows on your eyes, nose and chin. Again, leave that to the horror films. I sometimes use a sheet of white poster board to bounce the light on my face for a softer look. You might also point a bright lamp at a plain wall or ceiling to get softer light. If you have a smaller desk lamp around that you can point in different directions (such as a gooseneck one), that can work pretty well. If there are shadows on your face and you're using natural sunlight as your main source you can add the artificial light source to fill in the shadows. If you wear eyeglasses, try to avoid glare and reflections on them. You may have to adjust the angle of the light.
  7. It's a video meeting but being heard clearly is actually more important most of the time. There are people who connect by phone without video sometimes so all that have is your audio. Being in a quiet room. Try to avoid echo which shows up in empty rooms, halls and bathrooms (Yes, I know you sound great singing in the shower but...) Many people just use the microphone built into their laptop, phone or tablet which can be fine if you're close enough to it. If being close enough means you end up with a giant closeup of your face on the video then the microphone is an issue. Many people buy a special headset of higher-quality but also try out the earbuds that came with your phone (the optional wireless ones are great)
  8. Position yourself a distance from the camera that gives viewers a head and shoulders shot. Further back is better than too close. (Do consider that microphone though) When talking, look at the camera rather than at the screen of that iPad or laptop so that there is eye contact.
  9. People get concerned about the background in their video and may choose a location based on that rather than on the more important lighting considerations. Zoom and other apps actually allow you to put in a fake background. Newscasters might use a fake studio set and friends might put themselves on a beach or on the Moon. I'm not a fan of that and sometimes doing that causes odd halo effects that are very distracting. My suggestion is to avoid extremes. A blank white wall is not flattering but either is a busy background of shelves filled with clutter. I know that many academics and writers like to use bookshelves as their setting. 
  10. You should practice with the setup and application you are using. All of the applications have websites with help on how to test your video (such as this one from Zoom). You should be aware of what tools are available and how to use them well before you go on air. Too many people don't know very basic things such as how to mute/unmute, change their ID on the screen, ask a question, use the chat function, etc. Practice may not make perfect but it certainly will make better. There are also many videos on YouTube with tips about the tech side of things and for specific applications. Some application help videos are even specific to certain users. The two screenshots shown here are from a Zoom training video that is for educators. Educators will want to use some of the more advanced tools in the apps, such as screen sharing, breakout rooms, whiteboards, etc. 
  11. Finally, you want to look your best whether this is a job interview or saying hello to your granddaughter. The pros use makeup so that they look good under the bright lights, but for most of us, your ordinary makeup, groomed hair and a video-safe shirt or blouse is enough. If there is some shine on your face from the lighting a simple wipe with a soft cloth might be enough.

Zoom session

Got a Few Minutes to Hear My Research?

timerI saw that the Rutgers-Newark campus was hosting a 3-Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition and clicked the link for some explanation. Explain your 75,000 word dissertation in less than 180 seconds? Apparently, doctoral students across the globe are doing just that in the Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT®). 

It is similar to the Ignite sessions I have done at conferences. In those, the presenters get to use 20 slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds. It keeps the presentation moving and it last 5 minutes. It is a good way to sample a number of topics and works well if  there is a followup of a poster for the talk or the presenter is giving a longer session later.

They last only five minutes, but I have been bored by some that I have witnessed. Ignite® events are held in cities around the world. I haven't attended a 3MT® event, but they only allow one slide and less than 3 minutes. 

Are both of these an outgrowth of the PowerPointization of information? Yes, you can present information via slides with bullet points. Yes, it is important to be able to describe your work in a concise way. But sometimes that is just not enough.

I use this Albert Einstein quote on my website: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” That line is the one that presenter who do a 3 or 5 minute presentation need to be very aware of not crossing. 

We seem to like these things. Much older is the elevator pitch. I used it 20 years ago it with students to have them pitch a research topic to their class before they started the actual research. An actual elevator ride is quite short and would be a tough venue to pitch your idea (no slides or props), but my version was 2 minutes and you could use anything you wanted to use (props, slides, music...). Students got very "creative," especially after the TV program Shark Tank appeared in 2009.

3MT® (note the ® registered trademark) was founded at Australia's University of Queensland in 2008 and is now quite official. More than 600 universities host events. Part of the reason to do it is to develop presentation and engagement skills for doctoral students. It does bring research topics to larger communities. It is also a way to promote you and your work.

The very popular TED talks are a longer form of this concept. The speakers at TED conferences are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can.

Is this trend a good thing for attention spans? I keep hearing that attention spans are getting shorter every year for students but also for adults in general. If you see these at a larger conference, do the 45 and 90 minute presentations seem bloated?  

I do web design and there is this idea that "Users often leave Web pages in 10–20 seconds, but pages with a clear value proposition can hold people's attention for much longer. To gain several minutes of user attention, you must clearly communicate your value proposition within 10 seconds."   10 seconds.  That is a very difficult pitch to make. 

And this idea carries over to TV commercials, movie trailers, book jackets and really all advertising.

In 3 or 5 minutes are you informing or marketing?

 

More information about 3MT® is available at www.threeminutethesis.org

 

The 5 Minute University

How long have teachers been hearing about the shortening attention spans of students? I'm sure teachers in the 1950s were hearing about that in relation to increased TV viewing. The rise of cable TV and then video recording took that up a few notches. And then came the Internet. And now it is smartphones.  All of out attention spans have shortened as the option of things to engage with have increased.

When I first starting designing and teaching online courses around 2000, recorded lectures (mostly on VHS tapes) were the standard 90-minute lecture in length. Some were less than that, but we started hearing that research showed they should be less than 20 minutes and even better at under 10 minutes. That did not go over well with most faculty i worked with on instructional design.

While I was not surprised to read about the idea of the 5 Minute University (5MU) project, I am sure that many faculty in higher ed would still scoff at it. This project is aimed the other way - at the instructors. 

It is instructor professional development and intended as an approach for K-12 through higher education. Faculty are as pressed for time as their students and keeping up with the literature or attending an hour or a day at faculty development workshops isn't always practical.

Do they have 5 minutes?

It is compared to movie trailers, giving you enough details to know what the basic premise is but hopefully leaving you wanting more information.

For this project, faculty co-investigators developed 5MU videos about topics related to teaching, learning, and general faculty life. Each presents one topic with a general overview, enough information to get started, and a handout to continue individual development. 

This project started as a collaboration between the schools or colleges of pharmacy, health sciences, and medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Northeastern University, the University of Arkansas Medical System, Palm Beach Atlantic University and Pacific University. Their initial target audience was pharmacy and health profession educators, but it would work as well for any field.

Actually, there is no reason why the concept could not also be used in producing 5-minute videos for students as a way to introduce topics. perhaps in an online course, they could introduce the chapter or topic for the week.

This also reminds me of the print introductions offered by EDUCAUSE as "7 Things You Should Know About" which are quick reads on emerging technologies and practices that include potential implications and opportuntities in education.

Here is what one of the 5MU videos looks like.

Here is a page with additional videos and content.

 

Social Media Ethics and Law

social media law I'm working on a presentation titled "Social Media Ethics and Law" to be given at the NJEDge.Net Annual Conference (Princeton, NJ) in later this month. That is also the title of a a course that I have in development.

Social media is redefining the relationships between organizations and their audiences, and it introduces new ethical, privacy and legal issues. The audience for my presentation is schools, primarily higher education, but this topic is one that is unfortunately not given a lot of attention for many organizations. Educating employees about responsible use in the organization and also as individual users is necessary. We need to have a better understanding of the ethics, and also the law, as it applies in these new contexts.

To use a clichéd disclaimer, I am not a lawyer, and my focus will be more on ethics, but at some point ethics bumps up against law. Pre-existing media law about copyright and fair use was not written with social media in mind, so changes and interpretations are necessary.

Technological advances blur the lines of what is or is not allowed to be published and shared and issues of accuracy, privacy and trust. A obvious example is the reuse of images found online. Many people feel that the Millennial and Generation Z individuals in particular have grown up with a copy/paste, download-it-for-free ethos that can easily lead to legal violations online as students and later as employees. 





conference.njedge.net/2016/