Committee recommends videoconferencing service improvements

Whitman lecturing to a classroom of students in a state of the art videoconferencing facility.
Kara Whitman, School of the Environment and William D. Ruckelshaus Center, conducts class discussion in the Spark G45, a classroom in‑the‑round.

By Debbie O’Donnell, Academic Outreach and Innovation

Washington State University’s Information Technology Strategic Advisory Committee has released a report analyzing WSU’s instructional videoconferencing capability and recommending ways to improve the student and faculty experience.

The report is the outcome of a request made last year by WSU president Kirk Schulz to evaluate and improve videoconferencing at WSU. Dave Cillay, vice president of Academic Outreach and Innovation, and Sasi Pillay, vice president of Information Technology Services (ITS) responded to the request and formed a videoconferencing subcommittee drawn from the Information Technology Strategic Advisory Committee. The group is comprised of WSU technical experts and faculty with videoconferencing experience.

“The subcommittee worked together to assess the current state of WSU videoconferencing, identify short‑ and long‑term improvements and lay the groundwork for the future,” said Cillay.

The report identifies four major topics or “layers” of the academic videoconference service that affect the teaching-and-learning experience. These included behaviors in the classroom related to videoconference challenges like audio delays, the design, layout and functionality of videoconferencing classrooms, administrative/operational support and updating of technological infrastructure.

To address these issues, the committee recommended the following actions:

  • All instructors who teach via academic videoconferencing should receive standardized training in how to manage student behavior in this unique environment, with an emphasize on best practices as indicated by satisfied, successful, experienced videoconferencing instructors.
  • The standards by which academic videoconference classrooms are designed need to be updated, so that new rooms are designed more effectively. Also, about 30 percent of existing rooms need minor updating to these standards.
  • Technical support across campuses requires some standardization, in part so that instructors do not have to be their own technicians.
  • In the next year, WSU should begin phasing out hardware-based videoconferencing equipment and replace it with more modern, software-based solutions. The transition should be completed in two years.

“We’re very pleased with the work the subcommittee has done to help identify videoconference improvements that will result in a much better user experience,” said Pillay.

The group also sought greater understanding of the existing system’s user experience.

“Our first task was to evaluate data to address a widely held perception that our videoconferencing system was not adequate for delivering highly interactive courses,” said videoconferencing subcommittee co‑chair Tom Tripp, Carson College of Business senior associate dean of academic affairs.

The subcommittee analyzed course evaluation data from every academic videoconference course from the 2017‑18 academic year. In addition, the group reviewed the results of a separate survey of instructors who taught a videoconference-delivered course. Overall, they found that approximately two‑thirds of students and instructors were satisfied with their experience.

“Even though the majority of users were satisfied, the one‑third of students and faculty who were dissatisfied expressed very legitimate concerns about the videoconferencing system. Their critique has been invaluable in determining our recommendations for improving the service,” said co‑chair Bryan Valley, ITS assistant director at WSU Spokane.

Their work is not yet over, however. “Next up,” Pillay said, “will be the development of the videoconferencing standards and the application of those standards to all classrooms used to deliver instruction.”

The Academic Outreach and Innovation team is currently in the process of assembling a working group of videoconferencing experts with the goal of creating a set of standards across the WSU system for videoconferencing rooms.

To learn more about the committee’s findings and recommendations, see the full videoconferencing report on ITSAC’s web page.

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