Making the most of when virtual lectures, become reality
By Ruairi O’Gallchoir, EDTL Student Intern
With social distancing measures in place, many in-person lectures will be conducted over the internet this year for the first time. Gone will be the rows of (mostly) eager students studiously scribbling down notes between slides in a lecture hall, instead replaced with a grid of (again, mostly) attentive faces on your computer screen.
Many different pieces of software have become commonplace in order to fill this newfound major demand for large-scale video conferencing software, and each of them offers different features aimed at making the transition to the virtual lecture theatre as seamless as possible for both students and lecturers.
Making use of virtual backgrounds
Depending on where you are based in your home, broadcasting your webcam to an entire class of students can feel slightly invasive. Whether it be family portraits hanging behind you on the wall or other household members wandering in and out of shot, teaching live from home can sometimes feel like inviting a whole group of people into your house.
Whether you are using Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the ability to replace your real-life background with a virtual equivalent is a very common feature across most video conferencing software. It is important to note that the ability to use a virtual background your device must meet certain requirements, however most modern computers satisfy these.
Zoom have their own guide to setting a virtual background, and this is a straightforward guide on how to do the same on Microsoft Teams. If you are looking for an image to set as your virtual background, your options are limitless. Zoom have curated their own collection here, with options ranging from the great outdoors to scenic office-scapes. You can also use websites such as Unsplash, which have images of anything you can imagine to use as your background.
Maximising video quality
Webcams come in all shapes and sizes, and the majority of us will probably be using the one built-in to our devices. Due to factors such as the size and positioning of the webcam, we can often appear dark and out-of-focus when broadcasting. If possible, you should try and maximise the amount of light on your face in order to help your webcam focus on you. For example, if you are sitting in front of window (instead of facing one), the light from the window can make everything in the room appear brighter – expect for your face.
Ideally, you would position yourself to face a window so that all the natural light spills on you. This will ensure you are crisp and in-focus on webcam. If this isn’t possible the use of artificial light such as a lamp can replicate this effect, ensuring you are clear on camera at all times. Your video conferencing software of choice probably has further features built-in to help you look your best. Zoom has the ability to compensate for low-light and harsh shadows through digital fixes, and even if your conferencing software doesn’t have this feature it is worth looking to see if it can be changed at a system-wide level instead.
Sounding good sounds good
Making sure you can be heard loud and clear by students is by far one of the most important considerations when conducting a lecture virtually. Whether you are using a laptop or an iPad, your device probably has a built-in microphone. Despite this, the in-built microphone is oftentimes not positioned optimally and of the best quality. This can result in you sounding muffled when speaking.
A simple solution to this is to use an external microphone of some sort, and the good news is you probably already have one. Most devices come with a pair of earphones with an in-built microphone these days (such as phones). Once you plug these into your device, the external microphone will be detected and used instead of the built-in one, resulting in better sound quality for participants.
Utilising the lobby
Before a lecture begins, you might want to speak to a smaller group of people (for example, teaching assistants). Both Zoom and Teams have waiting room/ lobby features that facilitate this. This allows you to choose who to admit into a lecture. You can select individual attendees, or allow all waiting participants to join the lecture when you feel ready.
Hopefully the above tips give you a better insight into the features offered by popular video conferencing software. It’s also important to remember that even with all the preparation and tips about virtual lectures floating around, it is still part of the brave new world of online learning and the occasional hiccup is to be expected!