APR Update: Teleconferencing Technology: Possibilities for Instructional Design and Delivery
Considering its breadth and depth, the topic of technology can be infused into most, if not all, CFLE Content Areas. For example, the reciprocal relationship it has with individuals, families, and society can be addressed in Content Area 1: Families and Individuals in Societal Contexts. Or, medical technologies that impact genetics, reproduction, longevity, and sexual health are relevant to courses that correspond to Content Area 3: Human Growth and Development across the Lifespan, as well as Content Area 4: Human Sexuality. Also, communication and entertainment technologies have ramifications for building and maintaining family and interpersonal relationships while at work or play (see Content Area 2: Internal Dynamics of Families; Content Area 5: Interpersonal Relationships; and Content Area 7: Parent Education and Guidance. Further, technologies that facilitate computations and decision-making are germane to Content Area 6: Family Resource Management. Then, let’s consider the question: “Just because we can, should we?” If asked in the context of new and evolving technologies, it is pertinent to Content Areas 8 and 9, which focus on issues of policy and ethics. We are sure readers can come up with numerous other examples.
Instructional technologies are most appropriate for inclusion in Content Area 10: Family Life Education Methodology. Both of us have experience reviewing first-time and renewal applications for the CFLE Academic Program approval. We have looked at numerous syllabi for courses that post-secondary academic programs have developed in hopes of satisfying Content Area 10 expectations. In most cases, we have noted these courses feature microteaching and other kinds of assignments that call for students to learn about and utilize various types of instructional technologies. For example, students are often charged with demonstrating their knowledge of one or more electronic graphic presentation software programs and then applying best practices regarding their use as they develop and share a product (e.g., brochure, poster, series of visual slides).
It has also been our observation that most college courses, whether they are taught online or face-to-face, require students to use the learning management system their campus has adopted. Just as there are best practices associated with each type of electronic graphic presentation software, there are also best practices concomitant to optimal use of a given learning management system. Audience response systems or “clickers” have and continue to be a popular instructional technology found in family science and other classrooms. Many college campuses have centers for teaching, learning, and technology. The staff of these centers often deliver workshops and trainings that address these best practices. They also consult one-on-one with faculty and students to ensure ongoing and new technologies are utilized effectively.
There is one technology we suspect few readers have had experience incorporating into their courses: Teleconferencing. At Spring Arbor University (SAU), I (Marty) was requested by university administrators of my willingness to explore the use of a teleconferencing software called Zoom, which became available in December 2013. Since that time, Zoom users number over 40 million with over 65,000 organizations being paid subscribers. With this technology, it is possible to bring together students interested in the field of family science without geographical limitations. When executing a Zoom classroom, each student receives an email invitation that contains a hyperlink to the professor’s personal digital classroom. The students click on the hyperlink and the program is automatically downloaded to their respective computers or tablets. There are simple instructions to follow that enables the software to access the device’s camera and microphone. The set-up takes only a few minutes and, when complete, each student is sent directly to professor’s digital classroom.
Once checked-in, the screen of each participant’s device is populated with a live video and audio feed of every other participant (including themselves), each contained in a small window on the screen. Participants then have the ability to…
- mute both audio and video of their own feed,
- electronically raise their hand,
- send typed messages to their classmates both individually or as a group message, and
- share their screen and its operations with the other participants.
The host of the meeting (or the teacher, in this case), is additionally able to…
- mute any participant in the class,
- electronically lower a raised hand, and
- establish, monitor, and join breakout rooms for small group discussions and project work.
During a Zoom session, each participant’s computer or device functions as it normally does. The Zoom window can be minimized and assigned in-class projects can be conducted without leaving the Zoom classroom.
Zoom technology can be a useful tool for bringing together students separated by distance. For example, teachers can use Zoom technology to meet with students, either individually or in multiples, as they mentor them through their student internships or practicums. Many universities experience a shortage of classroom space. Zoom offers a reasonable and effective alternative by providing a “classroom” experience via technology in real time. This mode of delivery facilitates face-to-face interactions, as well collaborative, small group interactions using virtual breakout rooms.
I (Marty) have also used this technology to provide SAU faculty and student training sessions regarding the use of Zoom. Once a first-time Zoom faculty member receives his/her Zoom account through the university, a one-on-one meeting is set up. As the host of the meeting, I send out an initial Zoom invitation to the new faculty person. S/he clicks on a hyperlink in the invitation and is immediately directed to my digital classroom. A typical Zoom faculty orientation has the novice user working in the “student” mode of the Zoom classroom experience. The rationale here is to give the teacher a sense of what his/her students will experience while in their own digital classroom. During this phase of the orientation, which lasts approximately one hour, the faculty learner is oriented to the following:
- Overall layout of the Zoom screen,
- Placement of the various Zoom tools,
- Muting audio and video feeds,
- How students “raise their hands” in the Zoom classroom,
- Use of the Chat function,
- How to set-up a breakout room, and
- How to send out a Zoom invitation.
Once the faculty trainee is confident in these matters, the connection is terminated and s/he then sends a Zoom invitation to the trainer-host of the orientation. This now puts the Zoom trainee in the position of host. During this portion of the orientation, the faculty learner is given instruction about and opportunity to practice the following:
- Screen sharing,
- Establishing breakout rooms,
- Additional functions of the various Zoom toolbars,
- Suggestions regarding initial Zoom invitations to their digital classroom,
- How to use Blackboard as an additional tool/resource while conducting a Zoom class, and
- Final details for administrating a Zoom classroom.
Student orientations are carried out in a similar manner, yet are considerably shorter in length. They usually run between 30 and 45 minutes. The most time-consuming element can be helping students to successfully accept a Zoom invitation and getting the program downloaded to their computer. Once this has been successfully completed, the student orientation addresses the following:
- Overall layout of the Zoom screen,
- Placement of the various Zoom tools,
- How to mute audio and video feeds,
- How to “raise their hands” in the Zoom classroom,
- Use of the Chat function,
- What a breakout room experience is like,
- And how to share their screen with the others in the Zoom classroom.
Prior to their orientation, students are emailed a Zoom agreement form, which they must sign and return. By signing it, they are agreeing to the terms and conditions of a Zoom classroom, as well as a “Zoom Students DOs and DON’Ts List” that provides tips and suggestions for finding a space sufficiently private for their Zoom class, camera placement, classroom decorum, and equipment recommendations and needs.
It is not unusual for faculty and students new to Zoom to express their initial reluctance about using this teleconferencing technology as the delivery system for the educational experience. However, the formal and informal feedback I have collected from both groups of users has been overwhelmingly positive. For example, faculty have reported that teaching in the Zoom classroom is only slightly less enjoyable than teaching in a face-to-face classroom. As for students, they have recounted the ease in which they formed personal relationships with their fellow Zoom classmates that, in turn, resulted in a clear class identity.
Based on my (Marty) observations, teleconferencing technology has the potential to impact the delivery and deployment of family science curricula in these positive ways:
- The pool of potential students can be widened because teleconferencing technology is not geographically limited,
- Faculty can incorporate experts and guest speakers into the class by inviting them to “attend” class and address students without the expense and time commitment of a face-to-face visit,
- Departments can run multiple sections of required classes while circumventing the difficulty of finding limited classroom space,
- Departments’ can hire subject experts residing long distances from the university to serve as guest professors/instructors, and
- Students can develop skills and experience in the use of teleconferencing technology, leveraging this knowledge in their careers as family scientists and practitioners.
I (Marty) implement the last bullet point above is in a graduate Family Studies course that teach: FST 645 – Parenting in Context. During class time when my Zoom students are already on their computers or devices, I will task them with the job of doing internet searches for specific examples of programs, articles, blogs, websites, etc. that serve as “real-life” examples of family science/family life education in action. One of the most popular is when our class discussion focuses on a current, important topic such as bullying. Individually, students search the internet for real-life examples of anti-bullying programs, resources, posters, blogs, books, and articles. The Zoom software allows them to share their findings with everyone in class. What they have on their screens is what the rest of us see. This kind of informal student-to-student sharing is more efficient than would be the case in a face-to-face setting. Student presentations are so much more interesting. Each student can clearly see what his/her colleagues have found and can ask questions about and/or discuss various facets of a given resource, all while the presenter’s screen is being visually shared!
When I have utilized this method, students have participated actively and with enthusiasm. The discoveries they have made during their searches have been varied and interesting. In a sense, this technique, made possible through videoconferencing technology, is an improvement over that which I utilize in face-to-face classes. In face-to-face contexts, I would adjourn the class, telling students to reconvene at an area bookstore. Upon their arrival at the bookstore, I would direct them to search the resources there for good examples of educational interventions that address bullying. With this approach, students’ discoveries are limited to book or other print resources. By comparison, the learning activity in a Zoom class has the benefit of student discovery and learning from a variety of resources – whatever could be found using the internet. Finally, when students were ready to share their findings with each other, the bookstore would not be an optimal setting. To more effectively accomplish this segment of the activity, students would need to return to the university classroom, which would require more travel time.
In addition to Zoom, there are other teleconferencing software products. Among them are GoToMeeting, Join.me, ReadyTalk, and Onstream Meetings. It is always a good idea to do “comparison shopping” before making a choice. Here are some product features to compare and contrast:
- Participant capacity,
- Ease and convenience levels,
- Customer/user support services,
- Screen sharing capability,
- Recording capability,
- Mouse and keyboard control level,
- Mute and whiteboard functions, and
- Cloud storage
As with any instructional technology, an instructional designer/teacher must identify and fully assess the teaching-learning problem that is to be solved by using the technology. We urge readers to use teleconferencing technology when there are well-founded, legitimate reasons to do so. If, when, and how much to use such technology should be based on course objectives and the goal of maximizing student learning.
Marty Covey, Ph.D., CFLE, is Program Director for Family Studies at Spring Arbor University. He has been a member of NCFR since 1991, and received his CFLE designation in1993.
Staff, Zoom Video Communications, Inc. (2017). #1 video conferencing and web conferencing service.