Category Video Conferencing

From Stage to Computer Screen: Learning to Teach Virtually

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Sean Carter, the services product manager at AVI-SPL, is also a respected instructor in stage combat and teaches a course at the University of Memphis. In this post, Carter explains how he adapted a class intended for in-person learning into one that could be successfully delivered online.

Most days, my experience as an employee at a company providing collaboration technology is pretty separate from my swashbuckling night persona.  Recent events being what they are, these parts of my life have recently collided in a unique manner.

Working at the world’s largest audiovisual and collaboration technology provider, AVI-SPL, I’ve seen firsthand how we are one of the best resources for our clients with the knowledge and education around technology. I’ve used just about every video conferencing platform invented, helped design solutions for clients to bridge gaps between their offices, and even taught my coworkers how to utilize these technologies. 

With this starting point, one might think that I would have a head start when it comes to teaching a class at the University of Memphis that has recently been moved entirely online.  When it comes to the knowledge of how to use the technology, I do.  When it comes to how to move a performance-based class with 90% of the grade being in-person creating and acting together, I was as lost as any other faculty member. 

Ever wondered how actors in movies and in plays sword fight, jump off buildings, or punch each other in the face without actually getting hurt?  Yeah, that’s what I have the privilege to teach.  Stage combat probably isn’t the first class you would think of as possible in an online format.  But with reality hitting hard, I had half a semester left in a class that is BASED in partner work, in-person communication, and a cooperative creative process.  Plus, we were supposed to start learning sword fighting for stage – old-school Errol Flynn/Basil Rathbone swashbuckling –  which everyone, including myself, was disappointed we wouldn’t be doing together.

The week after the University of Memphis campus officially closed was the week my students were supposed to perform their mid-term exam.  It was a fight scene that they choreographed with their partner put to a script from a play, movie, or TV show.  They could use any style of unarmed fighting or knife fighting we had learned up to that point in class, and I had students doing everything from scenes in Les Miserables, to Batman, to Kill Bill, to plays they wrote themselves and hoped to produce.  We found that they couldn’t be performed and, seemingly, the work and they put hours into both in and out of class would go to waste.

I knew that my class at this point was going to be as much a collaborative effort between myself and my students as much as it would be between themselves.  So, we did what we could and set up a call to talk it out.  I wanted to make sure my students still learned something of value through the semester and my curriculum didn’t degenerate into busy work.  After making sure everyone had the technical capabilities to do class over video, and making sure that they could take the time out of caring for family we moved forward with…virtual sword fighting!

My students found everything from broom sticks, to Swiffers, to pool noodles and we had a swashbuckling class over Zoom (check out the picture – my students were very excited).  I cleared my living room and through the sheer willingness to adapt, learn something new, and have a little fun, we have been able to effectively have a very excellent class thus far.  I can teach, talk to, and see all my students at once as I explain moves, combinations, technique, and safety practices.  We can have meaningful and engaging discussions and continue an education that will flow right into the next time we get to meet in person again.

Overall, we found that with a little extra effort, some imagination, and a willingness to learn and change on all sides, we were able to continue what we started in a meaningful way.  So to everyone out there whether you are a teacher or not, realize that you can’t take the years of experience and excellence and expect that to translate into a different medium in 45 days.  But what we can do, collectively, is decide to stop reacting and start acting.  Stop saying the situation stinks and do something about it in the little bubble you can control.  Make the best of what you do and who you do it with and rock it – do it with 10 times more than you would in person because it’s needed now more than ever.

Work-From-Home Reality: Ideas to Stay Positive and Productive

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, collaborating, and leading from home. Our Together We Can series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

If you’re one of the millions of people working from home for several weeks, you may find that the reality of full-time remote work is less than ideal. I reached out to coworkers and friends to chat about the work-from-home reality that’s setting in. This week in our Together We Can series, I’m sharing remote work challenges along with ideas to upgrade your workspace and stay positive and productive.

Homemade standing desks

One office item you may be missing is your standing desk. If you don’t want to invest in a standing desk for your at-home workspace, simply improvise. A sturdy box or crate top put your laptop on is one DIY solution that takes no time at all. Your kitchen counter may do the job too. Try that option during non-mealtimes when this family space (hopefully) isn’t crowded.

Have a second workspace

After weeks of working from home, you may need a change of scenery during the day, a different space due to natural lighting changes in the afternoon, or a quieter area for important calls. Finding an alternate workspace can be challenging if you’re sharing space with spouses and children who are also doing work and classes at home. While you don’t want to spend the day in your bedroom, that space may be a short-term option for essential calls. A large closet works in a pinch too for those times when privacy is a must. Just remember to turn your camera off.

Change the lighting

The lighting in your home is softer than the fluorescent bulbs used in the office. The warmer light from your lamps and overhead lighting could be a welcome change. If, however, you find your workplace light makes you too relaxed and unable to concentrate, switch to bright white LED bulbs to help stay focused and alert. For reading-intensive tasks, add a desk lamp with different hues and brightness levels.

Upgrade your work-from-home equipment

Most of us have mobile phone earbuds that work for video meetings. If they are comfortable to wear all day and provide quality sound, you’re all set. If you’re like me, earbuds are less than ideal since they tend to fall out of your ears, and you never get the mic in the perfect spot. In addition to earbud woes, your laptop’s built-in webcam may not work well, or perhaps the desktop in your home office doesn’t even have a webcam.

Crestron Remote Executive Zoom Bundle
Crestron Remote Executive Zoom Bundle

Those are signs that you’re ready for a work-from-home equipment upgrade to fully participate in virtual meetings. Try a quality headset with an attached microphone. Also, if your shared workspace is less than quiet, noise-canceling headphones can help you stay focused. Now you can shop for remote-work bundles that make finding the right equipment fast and simple. Managers and executives may need a more complete remote collaboration package to lead their virtual teams.  AVI-SPL Quick-Shop bundles include various headsets, cameras, and webcams for each team member’s needs.

Try to limit distractions and interruptions

Based on my conversations, distractions and interruptions are the most common work-from-home challenges. Working at different times of the day can help. Lately, I’ve been receiving emails and Microsoft Teams notifications rather early and late in the day. I’m guessing those are from parents who are making the best out of working from home with children who need attention and help with digital classes during traditional work hours.

Flexing your work schedule could be beneficial for you too. Since few of us are commuting, that gives us a little more time to work with each day. Tackle emails and project tasks before little ones are awake, while they nap, or after their bedtime. That leaves you time in the middle of the day to supervise your children’s online classes.

Of course, you can’t avoid all midday meetings, and some uninvited guests could wander into the home office looking for a snack or help with homework. It’s not feasible to constantly keep your finger at the ready to turn off your video feed during an online meeting. A virtual background is a better solution. When your virtual background is displayed, coworkers won’t see little ones peaking into the meeting until your visitors get close to you. That gives you a much-needed few seconds to turn off your webcam.

Avoid the potato syndrome

Take time to learn the nuances of how your video conferencing software works. If you do use a virtual background or other fun meeting tools, make sure you know how to turn those enhancements off. Otherwise, you could get stuck as a potato for the remainder of your work-from-home tenure. MS Teams rolled out virtual backgrounds, and you can upload your own photos and videos to Zoom. Make sure the image you choose is work appropriate or ask if your team can provide a virtual background with the company logo.

Banish procrastination

Even though business casual is the norm, you are still at work and have goals to reach and projects to get done. To stay on track, set a schedule, and monitor your daily tasks. Use collaboration software such as MS Teams to keep track of projects and steps.

If your team doesn’t utilize a shared project application, add tasks to your calendar, or try the free versions of Asana or Monday. List your daily goals, and stick to them. It can be satisfying and motivating to mark your items “complete.” If your mobile phone is a temptation, try an app that blocks access to social media channels and games during specific hours of the day.

Take physical and emotional breaks

Taking a walk and getting fresh air can revitalize your body and mind during a long workday. Don’t wait until you can take these long breaks to get out of your chair, though. Try taking microbreaks throughout the day to stretch and rest your brain for a few seconds. Microbreaks are a healthy habit you can take back to the office with you too. If the stress of social distancing and isolation is affecting your positive mindset, try a meditation app.

Be patient with yourself and others

Finally, cut yourself and your teammates some slack. We’re all in the same work-from-home boat making the best of it. Expect to hear the occasional dog barking or see children coming into the room during virtual meetings. We may miss those lighter moments once we’re back at the office. It’s a stressful time, but we’re all working on getting through this together.

What does your work-from-home reality look like? Do you have any tips to share? Share your thoughts in the comments.

If you need assistance outfitting your remote workspace, you can chat with us while you shop our work-from-home catalog, or call us at 888-881-0812. Remember to visit our Together We Can page for weekly updates and work-from-home resources. Follow us on social too. #TogetherWeCan

Online Learning Update With Jay Bosch: COVID-19 and Beyond

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

This week in our Together We Can online learning series, AVI-SPL’s Jay Bosch shares feedback from educators on coping with a full-time virtual class schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bosch explores how organizations deliver online learning now, common challenges, and future classroom design trends. 

During my interview with Bosch, he covered how teachers are working from home and how they have adjusted to using virtual classroom tools. Our conversation also touched on digital classes extending into summer sessions and the fall semester for some organizations.

Additionally, digital learning and online collaboration may become a permanent part of delivering an interactive student experience. It’s possible that the online learning expertise gained during the pandemic may influence the design of the classroom of the future. 

Online Learning Trends With Jay Bosch

Class of 2020 Virtual Commencement

Insights include Bosch’s thoughts on what commencement could look like for the class of 2020. Some colleges are postponing ceremonies, while others are looking to deliver a memorable experience through virtual commencement ceremonies. For schools that don’t have in-house staff to set up and provide a live streaming commencement broadcast, AVI-SPL’s video production arm VideoLink is ready to help.

Virtual 2020 summer sessions

Jay explores possible summer session trends where teachers will return to campus, but still deliver digital classes to remote students. He talked about AVI-SPL’s lecture capture carts, a bundled solution designed to be shipped and installed quickly. 

AVI-SPL lecture capture carts provide schools and universities with an easy-to-use lecture capture system. This technology enables you to record, share, and manage all your video content for classes through your existing lecture capture software, which integrates seamlessly with popular Learning Management Systems.

Online learning beyond COVID-19

Bosch noted that at some schools, administrators are discussing extending their digital class curriculum into the fall semester, or even building permanent classrooms designed to host virtual classes. Solutions like Barco’s weConnect Virtual Classrooms include interactive whiteboards and large video walls that display each student. Using the video wall, teachers can see when students raise their hands and maintain personal connections while delivering classes online. 

Until next week, check our Together We Can online learning page for more resources and weekly updates.

Follow AVI-SPL on LinkedIn and Twitter. #TogetherWeCan

Keep Students Engaged in Online Learning and Manage Technical Glitches

AVI-SPL wants to help your teams stay connected and productive during this difficult time as most of us are working, teaching, and learning from home. Our Together We Can online learning series offers helpful ideas and resources. Below is this week’s edition. Read all Together We Can posts.

Whether your staff taught the occasional virtual class or had no experience, everyone just got a crash course in delivering a full-time online learning schedule thanks to COVID-19. Keeping college students engaged in online learning is an essential part of delivering quality education.

Below I’ve outlined ways to keep students engaged during online classes. Pass on these ideas to your educators to encourage their students to fully participate in virtual sessions. I also included tips on how to overcome some technical difficulties during live online sessions.

Outline your virtual class in short sections

Break up your online class into different sections or chapters. Presenting the class in short “chunks” can help you deliver an energetic class and retain students’ attention. Create a virtual class outline that can be turned into a short agenda to share with your students.

In your outline, include problem-based learning tasks. Communicate to your students that the solution to the problem lies in the course material that you will present online. This can motivate students to give their full attention throughout the online class to learn the solution.

Use different media formats

Mix different media formats in your virtual class to change the pace and keep students engaged. Share a video of you talking and add a recorded video. In between, share slides or other documents on the screen. Follow the tips in our Online Learning Best Practices for Educators blog when recording or sharing live video.

Design your online class for audio-only and mobile experiences

In a perfect world, your digital class will be delivered perfectly. But glitches happen. Taking proactive steps can help you overcome technical difficulties. While video is more engaging than audio alone, don’t rely on it. At times you may not be able to send video, or class participants may not see the video due to bandwidth or device issues. Note that having a student leave the virtual class and then log back on may correct audio or visual issues for them.

In case video is not available during your class, design your material so that students can absorb the information by hearing the audio portion only. Keep talking when visuals are on the screen. If all is well with sending the video, be sure to record it so students who had any issues can watch a replay later.

Also, consider that students may be using a mobile phone or tablet to attend class. Small screens can make information hard to read. Use large type and break up information on a few slides, instead of cramming everything on to one slide or page. View your materials on a mobile phone before adding them to your virtual class presentation. You’ll avoid a situation where students cannot easily see your video content.

Record a back-up session before live classes

Hopefully, you won’t experience your classroom technology going down completely. If you do, be prepared with a recorded session of your class. That way, you can have students watch the recorded session and keep the class schedule you designed. You can use Google Drive or Microsoft Stream to share links to recorded classes if needed.

Keep Online Learning Accessible

Don’t forget to keep accessibility for visual and hearing impaired students in mind when preparing course documents and tools. Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft PowerPoint include tools to verify accessibility. Add captions to your videos if possible. YouTube and many LMSs include an auto-caption feature. Double-check that your captions are correct before sharing a video.

Ensure students know how to use the system

Once you prepare your online class, ensure participants know how to log on to the Learning Management System (LMS) or video conferencing platform you will use. Send an instructional email a few days before class. Most systems will include a link to help participants test their devices before the session. This will allow time for students to address any technical issues.  

To further encourage your students’ success, share our online learning best learning for students with your class. You can also share a beginner tutorial video like this one from Zoom:

Share a clear virtual class agenda

Once you have an outline, start the class by briefly reviewing your agenda. You can share a PowerPoint slide or Word document and talk through it.

Sending the agenda and supporting class materials prior to the online session will help overcome any technical issues with video too. Students can refer to their materials if they can’t see the video during class. Also, include in your email how students can contact you with comments and questions during live and recorded online learning sessions.

Check in regularly during live digital classes

For small classes, pause occasionally and ask if anyone has questions. When presenting to large classes, turning on everyone’s mics may not be feasible. Ask students to utilize the chat or Q&A features in the LMS or video meeting platform. It’s helpful to have an assistant or student volunteer moderate this for you.

Maintain engagement between virtual classes

Since you can’t connect with students in person, include ways to keep them engaged between the virtual classes in your lesson plan. Consider these steps to keep students connected with you and each other during the online course.

Hold regularly- scheduled virtual office hours

Allow students to drop-in to your virtual office during designated hours. Send out a recurring meeting link for the times when you’re available to chat with students. For large classes, have students ask for appointments by email, or use a tool like Calendly.

Use social media to build a student community

Social distancing prohibits students from meeting in person. To help your class participants connect with each other and boost engagement, create a private Facebook Group, or another discussion forum.  Classmates can interact with each other online after class at their convenience. Ask a teaching assistant to moderate the group and provide feedback to you about common questions or learning roadblocks.

Ideas to get students engaged in digital forums:

  • Ask specific questions on discussion boards to facilitate student responses
  • Post recorded videos with FAQs or follow-up info based on student questions
  • Present problems that can be solved by reading course materials, or students’ virtual class notes

Gamify your online class

Add a gaming element to your virtual class that can encourage ongoing student engagement. Consider a scavenger hunt based on pictures or answers to questions that you add to your video or slides for students to find. Have online class participants include answers in their assignments to earn points for extra credit. Delete points for missed or late assignments too.

For classes delivered through an LMS, check if the system can award badges as students complete each class or assignment. You can create some friendly competition to get the most badges in a certain period. Likewise, set up automated LMS email notifications when classes and assignments are not completed on time.

Post assignments that boost engagement after class

Consider how you can maintain engagement when creating virtual class assignments. Ideas to consider include:

  • Have students complete video or phone interviews with professionals or each other.
  • Share recorded “mini-class” audio or video files with assignment details. Assign groups and have students collaborate online and record their answers.
  • Ask students to search for video resources to share on the course topic from YouTube or other universities.

AVI-SPL is here to help

I hope your educators find these ideas to keep students engaged in online classes useful. Have other ideas to share? Post them in the comments. If you need assistance with your online learning platforms, contact us or call your local AVI-SPL office.

For more online learning information, check out AVI-SPL’s Together We Can online learning page for weekly updates.

3 Tips for New Remote Workers

For organizations of all types — schools, businesses, government agencies — and millions around the world, the COVID-19 outbreak has seriously disrupted the way we work. Even if your company or institution had already embraced video collaboration among team members, you may not have used it to the extent you have to now. 

AVI-SPL wants to help by giving you the guidance you need to stay connected with each other and be as productive as you can during this difficult time.

That’s why we’ve launched our Together We Can initiative, in which we share tips, advice, and resources for reinforcing our connections, building new communities, and maintaining business continuity. This blog is the hub for much of that content, and the most recent resources are at the top of this list:

I strongly encourage you to bookmark the Together We Can page so that you will always have the latest tools, tips, and outside-the-box ideas for keeping your teams engaged and productive.

3 Tips for Remote Workers

In this post, Laurie Berg, AVI-SPL director of services product management, shares her insight into ways you can make remote work a productive, successful experience.

Remote worker, home worker, teleworker — it doesn’t matter what you call it, you are not working from an office for an extended period of time. I’ve been a home worker for the last decade and worked in the collaboration technology industry for two decades. I can say with confidence I have seen it all. But what I have discovered is that working remotely is as much about my state of mind as it is about the technology I have access to. Technologies evolve and trends come and go, but how I deal with my environment is completely within my control. Therefore, I wanted to share my top three takeaways from what I’ve learned over the years and provide a little guidance to the trial-and-error everyone is going through.    

  1. Make your tools work for you. Instant messaging, audio conferencing, video conferencing, project and task management applications, digital notebooks, file sharing — there seems to be a tool for everything you can think of. However, having access to tools does not magically make you productive or efficient. Take the time to learn your tools and discover how they best benefit your world. Personally, I have access to so many applications it can be overwhelming at times. There is always something buzzing or dinging somewhere. But what I find the most useful are tools that combine instant messaging, audio, video, and document sharing. I can have multiple conversations at once with the instant messaging, some with individuals and some with groups of a shared topic. But sometimes those chats need to escalate to a larger conversation over audio and/or video. That is as easy as clicking a button within the chat window, and I can invite others just as easily. And when all is said and done, notes and documents can be shared with others into specific topic spaces to keep things organized. We all know multitasking exists, and instead of trying to train myself not to, I use a tool that helps me do it better.  
  1. Etiquette. Etiquette sounds like such an old-fashioned term, but meeting with people down the hall, in a local meeting space, is not the same as meeting with people remotely, and even less so when everyone is remote. Think about not only how you interact with your colleagues, but how others interact with you. Remember things like: 
    • Minimize distractions. Working from home can bring all sorts of distractions. My dog, for example, is on a different schedule than me, and he is not concerned if his barking interrupts. So as you go into meetings, take a moment to mute your microphone and close your door, if you have one. Any minimizing that can be done to disruptions is a plus.
    • Utilize application “presence.” Applications that merge instant messaging with other capabilities, such as Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams, have a presence engine. In essence, it enables you to set yourself to “available,” “away,” “busy,” “do-not-disturb,” etc. This is similar to walking down the hall and seeing that the person you need is behind a closed door, on the phone, or otherwise engaged; therefore, do not interrupt. Similarly, if you are not available because you are trying to get something done, set yourself to “busy.”
    • Turn off your video when needed. It can be very easy to forget you are in a “working environment” at home. With shelter-in-place directives, stay-at-home orders, etc., we are faced with a constant barrage of phones ringing, kids rummaging around in the kitchen, someone or something needing your attention and immediate gratification. We are also faced with network congestion we have never experienced before, causing poor video quality. So while I know we cannot get rid of those issues, as you cannot lock everyone else away or make people get off the public internet, please turn off your video when you do need to step away, move to another place or want to decrease the bandwidth you are using. And let other attendees know. People are very understanding but be respectful of others. Often when people turn off their video, others think they dropped from the call.

 And my number one piece of advice for all of the new remote workers:

  1. Go to your virtual office everyday. This may sound silly. Of course, you are working every day. You are dedicated employees doing your part for your organization’s continued advancements. However, as I mentioned up front, this is about your state of mind. Get up, have your cup of coffee, bowl of cereal (my preference is Wheat Chex), get your family ready. All of the things you would normally do, but then continue your daily routine. You get ready. We would all love to wear a pair of sweatpants, a T-shirt, and baseball hat, but go with business-casual or a “jeans Friday” mentality. Do your hair, makeup, shave, whatever your routine would be if you were going into the office — continue that routine as best you can. Separate out lounging at the house/family time from work. And then go to your new space. This could be an in-home office, kitchen table, living room. Wherever it is, make it your workspace.

We know home demands on all of us are different than ever before. And none of what I mentioned can be done 100% of the time to 100% productivity. But if you take the time to make slight adjustments and create a “new normal,” your mind will more settled, your family will be more settled, and your work will be more settled.