14 November 2019

Videoconferencing, or not

We have a new module! I don't think I mentioned that in detail before, at least not since that post about designing it. It used to be the old Paleooceanography module. But we have no PalOc research groups anymore, and it just made sense to tone the module down a bit in that respect. And then you have time for other things. Jaco had an idea for it: he figured we could make it more applied. The students tend to like that! Applied things are very evidently relevant, and it gives them skills immediately usable in the workplace.

As part of the module, we would invite external speakers to come and give a lecture. Jaco had a lot of contacts in various sectors, like the oil industry, people working in environmental jobs, and more. One of them is actually an honorary lecturer (or something like that) right here, so that's easy, and one other lives so close she can just physically show up, but we have three speakers that will have to talk via videoconferencing. And the first person to do that would be my old PhD supervisor, Dick Kroon, who's based in Edinburgh. And the university can do that! We have a special room for it on the main campus. So I booked it for some of my lectures.

He would speak at 12. I knew the Edinburgh videoconferencing technician and our equivalent has liaised. I thought they would make contact half an hour beforehand. So I made sure to be there half an hour beforehand too! But the room was locked and there was noone there. I mailed our technician to say I was ready and waiting.

Nothing happened. Nobody appeared. The technician didn't answer the phone. What was going on? In the end I got him on his mobile number. And some unrelated person came to open the door. It was 12 already! It turned out the technician with whom I had liaised would not physically show up. He would sort out the situation from his office. Was the idea. But he had sent his colleague. He, however, had a different problem to sort out first, so he was late.

In the meantime we could see Dick, but not his slides. We could hear him though! We briefly caught up. And then, after a while, the technician appeared. It turned out he had only been asked to be there by 12. That doesn't give much space for trial and error!

Then the fight for making it work started. We were all stressed! And in the end, we didn't manage to get anything better sorted out than having Edinburgh sent us their powerpoint. We could click through the slides! But it was 12.45, and the students were timetabled the next slot too. And Dick had stuff to to. We had to cancel!

I found it very frustrating! We let the students down: there was no lecture. We let Dick down: we wasted his time. We were stressed and that didn't do anything for the technician who was trying to help. And he was stressed himself! So he was trying his best without feeling appreciated. And the bloke who had been in charge of all this had stayed safe in his office. I don't think communicating is his forte! Altogether it was a disappointment.

The next day we tried again; this time we went a lot less hi-tech. Our speaker talked to us via Skype. We couldn't see him but he could see us. And he had mailed us the slides; I would just click through them on his instructions. And that worked!

That Friday, Dick would have another try. I hoped it would go well! He's an excellent speaker and it would be awful to not be able to have his lecture delivered! But these distance lectures can clearly be a bit of a headache. We have notified the Head of School, hoping he can use his influence to convince the university that they need to employ enough technicians to make this sort of thing possible. I hope it works!

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