Conducting an iChat AV Video Conferencing Session
The following is a brief set of guidelines for how to conduct iChat sessions. This is based on our assessments, and those of the participating teachers, of the first few iChats we’ve conducted. As we acquire more experience, particularly with different age groups, these guidelines may change. For additional information, see our main iChat AV page.
Prior to the Session
If possible, all of the connections to your Mac (i.e., camera, microphone, LCD projector, and internet) should be checked the day before the scheduled iChat session. At the very least, the set up should be tested 20 minutes before the students are present. If these types of iChats have been conducted previously and all the hookups are known to be working, the lead-time for connecting can be reduced to a few minutes. iChat AV is very easy to set up and the ease of connectivity and use are the main features that make this type of video conferencing possible.
The students should have some knowledge of the topic in advance of the session, but they need not be experts. The intent of these sessions is to have a two-way Q&A exchange for 20-30 minutes so the students have an opportunity to interact with an expert in an adult manner. As question askers, it is the students’ responsibility to guide their own education by asking meaningful questions that reveal things they would like to learn about the subject.
To facilitate the discussion, it is often best for the expert to ask questions of the students to start the interchange. Therefore, the students should be prepared to answer some basic questions about themselves, their school, and their community, as well as the subject under discussion. Having the expert initiate the session by asking questions allows the expert to assess the level of preparation by the students and therefore provides a way to judge how to answer questions posed later by the students. At the same time, as the expert asks questions of the students, the students get a sense of what to expect from the speaker.
Each student should have a list of 3-5 questions prepared in advance. Questions that might elicit factual answers, such as how many, how long, how hot, etc. are fine, but the questions that usually elicit the most interesting responses from the experts are those that require the speaker to explain how something works, the relationship of one variable to another, etc.
The Number and Arrangement of the Students
These sessions work best with 10-12 students. If the group is small, all the students are able to participate in a 20-30 minute session. With bigger groups (>15), it is more difficult to engage all the students and to keep their attention and some will “hide” in the group and won’t participate. If you have a big group of students, it would be better to split the class into two groups and to have two sessions. It is best if the out-group is in another room while the first session is being conducted.
The students should be arranged in a semi-circle, if possible, to facilitate focusing the camera on the student answering or asking a question. If the students are in two rows, those in the second row should sit between, rather than directly behind, two students in the first row. This gives the person operating the camera easy access to the students in the second row.
The Role of the Teacher
The teacher should introduce the expert but should thereafter have a minimal or no role in the exchange between the students and the invited speaker. This is an opportunity for the students to interact with an adult as adults and to learn what they can from this communication.
After the connection has ended, it might be useful to conduct a review of the session and ask the students what they learned from the exchange. It might be particularly instructive to ask more advanced students to analyze the session to determine what kind of questions elicited the most interesting and informative answers.
If the session is recorded, part of the experience can involve editing the session into a movie with titles and music using Apple’s iLife software suite. Post-session interviews with the students about what they learned from the iChat could also be included in the production. In fact, the session could be but a small part of a larger movie if the students are engaged in similar projects throughout the semester. If the session is recorded so it can be played back to the students, there are many ways the playback could be used constructively to educate the students - e.g., vocabulary, since most experts will use terms and jargon not known to all of the students.
The teacher can help us, and those teachers that follow, by summarizing the pros and cons of both the technology and the quality of the information provided in the session and its manner of delivery to the students. This information can be sent via email and we will edit it for inclusion on a web page devoted to the iChat session.
The Role of the Camera Operator and the Use of the Microphone
The cameraperson should set up the camera so that the whole class is in view during general discussions. When a student is asking or answering a question, the camera should be zoomed in so the head and top of the shoulders of the student is visible. Hand held remote microphones work best and these can be passed to the student asking or answering a question.
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