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Summary

Very specialized master's programs usually have the challenge of having only a very few experts at one location that can cover the entire thematic spectrum of the specialized field. One solution can be the implementation of video conference systems. In the following example three universities contribute weight-wise with different content offers to this master's program, the Master in Survey Statistics. The implementation of the video conference system serves to enable cross-site seminars and lectures. 

The courses are provided alternately by the three different locations. Every videoconference session is managed by one of the locations; the responsible lecturer as a rule usually holds a lecture and moderates the discussion. The students that are located at the respective other location follow the event within the video conference room of the own university. They have the possibility of participating in the discussion and asking questions. 

Table of contents

Course

Course title

"Master in Survey Statistics BBT (Bamberg, Berlin, Trier)"

Course typeSeminars and lectures
Lecturersin Berlin: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Rendtel and Prof. Dr. Timo Schmidt
No. of participantsapprox. 20 participants from all three locations
Duration4 semesters (the length of the master's program)

Tools

  • TabletPC with pdf annotation software allows the lecturer to annotate one's own presentation during the lecture.
  • Virtual network computing system (VNC) with whose help the lecturer allows the other presenters at the other locations to access his/her presentation slides in order to add notes and highlights.
  • Video conference system (at the Freie Universität Berlin: the video conference system LifeSize in the Henry Ford building) for the transmission and recording at the respective locations.
  • LMS (in Berlin: Blackboard) for the lecture materials, including recordings of the video conferences. 

All locations are equipped for this setting with a video conference system and virtual network computing (VNC).

Realization

In every semester four courses are provided. The courses take place in the form of video conferences. The students are in the video conference rooms of their respective locations at the time of the courses. For the transmission and annotation of the presentation slides the lecturer uses VCN and a pdf annotator as a second transmission channel. The courses were recorded and were stored on the LMS.

The video conference

For the video conference two projection screens are used:

  1. In one screen the participants of the video conference are shown. 
  2. Via a second projection screen the lecture slides as well as the integrated annotations are transmitted live.

The recording of the video conference and the related materials are uploaded at the respective location on the own LMS. Thereby the students can also use the content when preparing for the exam.   

In the summer semester a face-to-face block seminar will be on offer in Bamberg. 

Illustration 1: Video conference (gallery)

Setting up the video conference: The video conference is started by selecting the pre-prepared conference. Necessary for this is that the Multi Control Unit (MCU) in Trier is activated. Via the "remote control" the transmitting location switches its screen to the "control channel". The local microphones are activated so that one feels acoustically as if everyone is in one room. Sadly this requires a high level of quality with regard to the microphones and the students have to speak with a powerful voice in order to be understood at the other locations. This sometimes causes problems. By using another button of the remote control one can activate the recording of the content channel, the audio channel as well as the (scaled down) video images of the lecture halls. This feature, though, is only available at the FU. There are, however, also reservations by a few of the lectures against these recordings (decrease in the participants' face-to-face involvement). The students on the other hand welcome strongly this additional possibility. Especially when using statistics software, the documentation of the user screens and their operations is very helpful.      

Student participation during the video conference: If one does not directly address the students, then the students tend to consume the conference presentation as if it were a TV show. It is absolutely necessary to directly address the students who are present at the other participating locations. As the video camera, as a rule, is set up so that the entire lecture hall is shown, the students are relatively small on the screens of the participants. This can be changed by changing the variable focus and the direction the video camera is pointed; however, this possibility is basically only used by the lecturers. 

Course formats: Not only the lectures are covered with the video conferences. Often during these courses that are at an advanced level the exams are made up of the presentation of a poster. This exam format is also realized via the video conference. Principally it is possible to realize student presentations using the video conference system. Presentations, however, are not a part of the Survey Masters. The seminar has consciously been designed as a mutual block seminar so that the students can get to know each other personally. This offer is also gratefully taken up whereby Berlin definitely profits due to its touristic attractivity. However, the participants from Trier do complain about the long journey whereas the train journey between Bamberg and Berlin is accepted without a problem.   

LMS usage: Every university uses its own LMS. As the courses are an integral component of the local university, the materials are uploaded on the respective local LMS. Therefore there is no joint LMS for all participants. The participants actually have to register in two other LMS. This is a bit annoying but more efficient than actually maintaining an own separate LMS for the project. In the LMS the students can find the lecture slides, exercise sheets, supplementary texts as well as links to the video recordings. Even though it is technically possible, the lecture forums are barely used by the students. In the age of Facebook such contacts usually come about on their own once the need arises. Very comfortable for the lecturers is that all students can be easily reached via e-mail.  

Experiences made by the lecturer

The students exclusively use their own LMS so that the exchange with the other locations is made a lot more difficult. 

What wasn't successful all the time was actively engaging the students that were following the course via the video conference. What one could do here is, for example, to create application tasks after a short input that should be solved by the various different locations and, afterwards, these can be jointly discussed. 

The concept profited through technical support for the video conference system that was available on-site (in the Henry Ford building at the Freie Universität Berlin) and a student assistant for the support.

Further information

Support offered by CeDiS

  • Consulting services for the implementation of digital solutions in teaching: The Center for Digital Systems (CeDiS) has extensive experience of many years when it comes to the implementation of digital media and systems within the fields of teaching, learning and research. We offer a wide variety of consulting services on the implementation of these tools and systems within the entire academic scope and especially at Freie Universität Berlin. 
  • Training courses and workshops: For lecturers at Freie Universität Berlin (professors, employees, tutors) as well as lecturers of other universities CeDiS offers training courses and workshops on the topic of teaching and learning with digital media. These course enable participants to implement online elements within their own sphere of teaching.
  • The Executive Board of the Freie Universität supports e-learning initiatives: With the e-learning funding program financial resources are provided to lecturers that enrich and improve their courses quality-wise by implementing technological and media-related support. All of the academic staff teaching, the lecturers or even the institutions of the Freie Universität - without the Charité-Universitätsmedizin - can be supported within this program.

1 Comment

  1. Die Lösung mit VNC ist nun durch den Präsentationskanal des Videokonferenzsystems ersetzt worden, so dass diese als Datenkanal mittels H.239 Protokoll übertragen wird.

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