Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 3, May 2005
Over the past year I’ve participated in three sets of videoconferences. Lessons learned have sometimes been positive and exciting, other times less so.
Thanks to MOREnet, Missouri has bandwidth available for videoconferences. The state does not, however, have a ubiquitous system for videoconferences to reach Missourians across the state.
The State Library has built a public library videoconferencing system, currently with fourteen sites. We chose to do this for many reasons, but the most important is because librarians told us they wanted training close to home without long drives across the state. The State Library reserves the right to use the videoconferencing system for training on a regular basis; individual libraries also use it for programs and activities to serve their clientele.
All of the sites configure their setup to reflect their own needs and desires. Some equipment is stationary in large meeting rooms, while others keep the equipment mobile for use in offices or various meeting rooms.
The lessons learned sometime relate to technology, but also to people — those operating the equipment or participating in the conference.
The ShowMe Connection research on school library media center services and student achievement was presented to the education community in ten sessions last spring, two by videoconference. One of the videoconferences was a success. The other would have been more successful as a face-to-face meeting. Difficulties begin with commitments from the videoconferencing facility. Negotiating the remote locations was fraught with problems, including finding sites with compatible equipment. Much of the equipment was incompatible. Still, we had a successful meeting. The people involved were technically competent and graciously hospitable.
Using public library videoconferencing for trustee training taught us other lessons. The importance of a technical person on site who can operate and maintain the equipment is critical. The technical quality of each training session varied, often relating to small details – microphones left on, cell phones not turned off. We found participants reluctant to talk and learned structured times to poll each site engendered more participation.
Trustees had mixed reviews of training by videoconference. Some missed the face-to-face participation, while many appreciated the shorter drives to sites. Participants at remote sites were tougher on their training evaluations. Of the seventeen trustees who participated in every session, ten attended at remote sites, a testament to the effectiveness of videoconferencing, even if technical quality, content and instruction were less than perfect.
Currently, the State Library presents biweekly updates on the actions of the Missouri General Assembly related to libraries. Fourteen sites participate, coordinated by MOREnet.
Again, people are often reluctant to talk. Nine sites can appear on the screen at the same time, which shifts depending on who is speaking. Communication improves with experience and participants prefer the split screens to a single talking head.
I am excited about videoconferencing. We get better every time we use it. As with any technology, continuing training and strong support are needed. MOREnet’s technical knowledge makes videoconferencing an effective way for Missouri to deliver learning and ensure participation.
Missouri State Librarian
Missouri State Library/Secretary of State
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