Tips for student reports using online conferencing tools

Video and web conferencing tools will be used for upcoming undergraduate and graduate student progress reports at various institutions beginning this week. With my collaborators, graduate students will be using Zoom specifically to run their annual progress reports that comprise a 12-15 minute presentation followed by discussion and questions. Undergraduate thesis researchers will also present their thesis research and field questions to complete their course requirements. Previously, I have tried to best understand how to use these tools including recordings to present mini-conference talks, but the goal was primarily rapid, informal communication with limited needed for dialogue. Consequently, I have been considering how to best the support the team in the next few weeks through more effective use of video and web conferencing. Through trial-and-error this previous week, here are some ideas to consider if you are about to employ similar tools.

Tips

  1. Set up the conferencing session with a buffer of at least 15 additional minutes.
  2. Log in early, and test audio and video. I prefer headphones with mic to avoid reverberated sound. The presenter should also test turning on and off screen sharing.
  3. Check the settings when you set up the meeting. Confirm that you want participants to be able to log in muted and/or with video and in advance of the host. I choose muted entry and allow log in before host just in case this person is late.
  4. Designate a host for a meeting. With Zoom, only the host can record, and this can be handy (at least for the saved chat if not video).
  5. Discuss with all participants the rules of conduct briefly for the meeting (including whether recorded or not), and the host should introduce each participant in the conference with a brief hello or response from each to ensure everyone is seen or heard (and also that the settings worked).
  6. Mute yourself when not speaking.
  7. Consider turning off video or at least discuss because this can be very distracting to the presenters. These is also the remote possibility that this can improve sound quality (apparently participants tolerate poor to no video but not poor audio in meetings).
  8. Use the chat. Host should monitor it throughout presentations by students in case someone needs to indicate if they have a problem with the connection but do not want to interrupt the speaker.
  9. Provide an informal, shortened practice session for students that you host and monitor in advance of the formal process. This is particularly important if the student is being graded.
  10. Test a back-up plan.