Finding a common time and space for teachers to meet and collaborate can sometimes be a challenge. One solution is to use a videoconferencing tool such as Cisco WebEx which can bring people together in a matter of minutes no matter where they are in the world. WebEx is a web-based videoconferencing application that can be used for on-demand collaboration, hosting online meetings and web conferencing. WebEx can be used on any computer (Windows/Apple/Linux) using your favorite web browser (IE, Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox) and also is available for Android and Apple iOS mobile devices as an app.
Overview of Cisco WebEx
EVSC teachers and staff can access Cisco WebEx using any of the links on this post or from the Login Links on the ICATS website.
Advantages of Cisco WebEx
- All staff accounts are pre-populated in the WebEx system so inviting staff to a meeting is as easy as typing their name and send the invite to their Outlook inbox. The email invite puts the meeting on the recipient’s Outlook calendar and contains directions and a link to join the meeting.
- You can create a WebEx meeting inside your Microsoft Outlook calendar and send invites to all attendees (Windows Only).
- WebEx stays inside our network so Internet bandwidth is never an issue.
- Attendees can either use the computer microphone & speaker, a USB headset with microphone (preferred), or call in using an EVSC Cisco IP telephone.
- Up to 100 people can be in a single meeting room PLUS all can have their webcams streaming at the same time.
- The time limit on recording a session is only limited by the available storage space on our server. So no matter if your session lasts 30 minutes or 6 hours, Cisco WebEx will be able to record it and allow you to send it out to anyone wanting to view it.
How to Get Started with Video Conferencing
Once you have determined the web conferencing tool of your choice (WebEx or some other option), here are some things you should consider before hosting a live videoconference.
Practice, Practice, Practice,…
Get familiar with the tool prior to hosting a web conference. Test it out with a couple coworkers to see if they can hear you and see you when you test your microphone and webcam. Do a test recording and practice your presentation. Watch the recording to see if you like what you did and make changes. Practice makes perfect!
It’s All About the Environment
Make sure the room where you are located is free of any excess background noise or possible interruptions. You may want to notify the office and/or hang a sign on your classroom door letting passersby know that your classroom can not be interrupted or disturbed.
Do some cleaning in your room so there’s not any unsightly clutter in the background or around you which could be seen when your webcam is on.
What Are the Rules?
Review proper etiquette techniques with students prior to participating in a live videoconference so they understand your expectations and the consequences if etiquette is not followed.
Hello? Can You Hear Me?
If you have to talk during the videoconference, be sure to test out your microphone and speakers prior to the session.
- Headset Mic (great for single user) – You can experience an annoying feedback loop if your computer speakers playback your voice and the computer microphone picks it up. The best way to avoid this is to use a set of headphones that have a microphone built-in. Here’s the Logitech H390 headset that is decent quality and costs around $28.
- External Microphone & Speakers (great for whole class use) – If your class will be present during the videoconference, you still need to get the microphone away from the computer speakers to avoid the annoying feedback loop. A desktop microphone that plugs into the microphone jack or USB port works great. This Connectland desktop mic is adequate enough to do the job. As far as speakers go, you can probably find a pair somewhere in your building to hook up if you don’t already have some.
- Telephone – Cisco WebEx does offer the option for users to call in to the web conference. All EVSC Cisco IP Telephones can interface with WebEx in this way.
- The only negative with choosing the telephone option is if someone decides to call in and they’re long distance or if they’re on their cell phone and they have limited talking minutes. Their best option is to use the computer for audio.
Can You See Me Now?
Test out the webcam to make sure it works with the videoconference software. Is the footage blurry or fuzzy? Make sure you have enough lights turned on – set a desk lamp nearby for additional lighting. It also doesn’t hurt to try taking a soft cloth and wiping away any smudges that may be on the webcam lens! ;)
- Computer – Web conferencing requires a web browser and maybe a plugin or two to make them run. If you end up having problems getting the webconference to work, check your web browser and other plugins such as Adobe Flash Player or Java for software updates.
- Mobile Device – Usually there’s an app for that! Check the app store that goes with your mobile device for an app related to the videoconferencing tool.
Is My Internet Fast Enough?
The Internet speeds here in the EVSC are plenty fast to accommodate a WebEx. If users have Cable or DSL Internet, these services should be fast enough – however if you experience slowness, check for programs on your computer that may be using internet such as Google Drive, Dropbox, Email, Netflix,… and turn them off. Also check with other users at the location who share the same connection to limit their usage.
- Form virtual PLCs to share ideas with colleagues not in your building but that teach the same course(s) you do.
- Have a virtual guest speaker which can be recorded and shared with other classes and shared later with others.
- Moderate students sharing work/giving presentations to other students in similar classes across town or the world.
- There’s even the option of giving control of the shared computer to another user.
- Host office hours virtually to answer student questions on projects/homework outside of class.
- Host a professional development sessions and share the recording for attendees to review later and for anyone who was unable to attend.
- If you don’t have a screen capture tool, you can use videoconferencing to record a demonstration and then share the recording.
Why It Matters (Teaching Rubric)
Through the use of videoconferencing, teachers can connect with other teachers to collaborate on curriculum writing, plan cross-curricular projects, and share classroom experiences. Teacher’s Knowledge of Content (essential competency 2.8). Videoconferencing can bring an outside resource to the classroom such as a guest speaker who may be somewhere else in the world. Resources, Activities, & Materials (competency 2.1)
- Google Hangouts (FREE) – Google’s video teleconferencing option. To use Google Hangouts, users must have Google+ setup and enabled on their account. (EVSC students do not have Google+, so Google Hangouts is not an option for them.)
- Adobe Connect (Try/Buy)
- GotoMeeting.com (Try/Buy)
- Skype in the Classroom
Your challenge is to test drive a videoconferencing system of your choice (WebEx or Google Hangouts are good choices) and consider how you might use these tools to increase educational outcomes in the classroom and improve efficiency in your daily work. Do you have experiences with attending, presenting, or hosting a videoconference? In the comment area below, share a few of your reflections.
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