Using Web Conferences effectively

Web Conferences can be very useful tools that allow for instruction, discussion and general communication. They are not platforms for social media discourse and should be treated as if you were in the classroom.

There are a number of considerations to plan for before you join a Web Conference.

  • Location – conduct the web conference in a “work” location. If at home, this could be a home office, kitchen table, dining room table. Bedrooms are not appropriate places for web conferences, even if your main desk is there. Note that this doesn’t mean you can’t work at your desk for online learning, just that any Web Conference where you share video must be done elsewhere.
  • Noise – All conferences will use an audio stream so try to be in a location where you can reduce any outside noise or distractions. If you are using your microphone, ensure that family speech or other sounds are not inadvertently recorded (while having your dog barking in the background is annoying, having your parent or siblings’ private conversations being broadcast is a breach of their privacy). Always join any Web Conference with your microphone turned OFF.
  • Other distractions – try to remove as many possible sources of distraction. Visual and audible distractions should be minimised so that you can give your full attention to what is happening during the conference. Phones should be put somewhere out of sight and hearing.
  • If using Video:
    • Clothing – Be wearing neat casual clothes that would be suitable for a casual clothes day at school. The impression you make visually will impact upon how well the learning interaction works. It can be hard initially as the normal social cues of body language, movement and physical presence are missing. Make sure that people in the conference can see your eyes as these provide much of the non-verbal communication (so no sunglasses, caps or other things that could get in the way).
    • Eye contact – the location of the camera is normally not directly in line with your eyes and as you look at the screen during the web conference, this can make you appear to be not giving your full attention to the person at the other end. Try to look directly at the camera occasionally as this will make you appear to be looking directly at the other person.
    • Lighting – ensure you are not sitting so that light is coming from behind (so not with your back to a window).
    • Background – check what will also be seen (avoid posters or other personal / family items)
  • Resources – assemble any resources you think you will need well before the conference. If there is a particular page from the text or something you have handwritten, consider using your phone to take a picture that you can share during the conference. Have other windows open with various online resources and have physical resources handy so you can access them easily. For Maths and Science classes, a physical calculator (rather than the one on screen) is useful as you will find that the screen gets quite crowded with the various windows. Have Canvas open in a window so you can access any resources from there during the conference.
  • Chat function – use the conference chat feature to ask questions or raise issues about your connection, not your microphone. The teacher should be directing who speaks during the conference and may use the chat as a way to collate questions and then answer them directly rather than needing students to pose the question verbally.

Finally, while Web Conferences can provide a personal contact many of the other tools cannot, don’t overuse them. One bonus of off-campus learning is that you can work to a pace and at a time that suits your focus and mood.

Andrew Baylis
Director of Learning and Research