IVN Distance Learning

FAQ Index


    Distance learning is one of the most powerful new forces influencing the direction of education. Below are important points to consider when teaching via videoconferencing:

    • Course planning and organization
    • Verbal and nonverbal presentation skills
    • Collaborative teamwork
    • Questioning strategies
    • Subject matter expertise
    • Involving students and coordinating their activities at field sites.

    Course planning and organization

    This includes the knowledge of the videoconferencing equipment, and capabilities. Also included is incorporating multi-media and materials to supplement the learning experience. Instructors need more planning time, more instructional support and additional training to modify courses for all of the potential delivery methods.


    Any instructor who is scheduled to teach in a video classroom should first ascertain what type of system will be used and how many sites and learners will be directly involved. Too many instructors walk into a training room at the last minute and begin teaching. No video room has been designed to accommodate every single instructor and their needs. Good preparation is reflected in a well delivered class.

    Verbal and nonverbal presentation skills

    It is important for all instructors to be able to construct an organized presentation, to project enthusiasm for the topic and be able to pace a lecture accordingly. Be aware of how you look, sound and move in front of the camera. Some instructor traits such as movement and gestures can be diminished or exaggerated on camera. This category also includes the management of interaction with the far end site(s).


    Instead of being surrounded by familiar whiteboards, flip charts and overhead projectors, the instructor encounters an array of classroom oddities which can include annotation pens, a mouse, document camera, control tablet and others. All video tools are usually controlled exclusively by one person-the instructor. Teaching while operating these devices can seem very unnatural in the beginning.

    The only way to become comfortable with this technology is to practice until every tool is familiar and its operation becomes second nature. Extensive practice should be mandatory for all primary instructors. How much practice is recommended? If you have to stop and think what button to push, you have not practiced long enough. Some facilities recommend 8 hours of practice for every one hour of instruction. These are only guidelines and everyone learns at different levels.

    When teaching in a distance learning room, an important component is knowing your room, along with its layout and capabilities. Decide whether you will stand or sit and arrange any chairs and other furnishings accordingly. Move the document camera if needed in order to be able to reach and write at a comfortable angle. If you wander when teaching use masking tape or another object to mark the outer limits of movement; the tape will indicate at what point you are out of camera range. Set the camera presets to the optimum locations you will be instructing from, such as the whiteboard or a podium. Also set a few shots to the audience at your location (if there is one.)

    Besides adjusting the equipment, consider the non-electronic essentials of your presentation. Mentally walk through your presentation and check to be sure you have all other materials, papers, books, objects to display or demonstrate ready and at hand.

    Collaborative teamwork

    Distance instruction is more of a team effort than standard training room instruction. People need to be involved from all sites.


    Questioning strategies

    Interaction is an important part of distance teaching. Instructors need to know how to construct questions and also set rules for the asking and answering of questions. Don't wait for students to ask questions, but use directed questions to include and involve all sites and all learners. Call on sites and individuals to assure that students are paying attention and understanding the materials.


    Subject matter expertise

    Instructors need a solid mastery of the subject they are teaching. Any flaws will be magnified when teaching in front of the camera.


    Involving students and coordinating their activities at field sites

    Instructors need to be aware of the students at the far sites and as much as possible try to involve them in what is going on in the training room. This includes incorporating question and answer sessions and directing questions to specific sites.


    Although it is technically possible to link up many locations with two-way video technology, in common practice such systems are used for smaller numbers of participating locations. Two-way video classes typically connect less than 10 sites. The total number of students in two-way video classes more closely replicates the average attendance in a traditional classroom.

    Additional considerations for teaching at a distance include the following:

    • Camera angles and proper camera placement
    • Interpersonal "space" considerations
    • The student camera
    • The use of multimedia
    • Visual graphics

    Camera angles and proper camera placement

    Camera angles are very important because they allow direct eye contact between the instructor and the students at the remote sites. Without eye contact, students perceive that the instructor is not paying attention and therefore do not learn as effectively. This reinforces the tendency of students at remote sites to think of themselves as "watching TV" and not participating in a live, interactive class. Remind the students that you can see them.


    The distant students will see whatever the camera sees. The camera should be placed directly in front of the presenter and just above the remote monitor which shows the far site. By looking at the far site, you will also be looking at the camera. To assist with the placement of the camera and to be sure at all times what you are sending to the remote side, use the PIP window. While this covers up part of the remote monitor, it lets you be sure what you are sending when using slides or the "Show PC" feature.

    Interpersonal space considerations

    When in a point to point call it is possible to control the far-end site's cameras. When using this feature to focus in on a participant be sure to not get to close. The same as in normal face-to-face conversation, if a person is too close, the interaction can be strained and uncomfortable. It is best to focus the camera on a 2-4 person group that includes the speaker.


    Because of the landscape format of the camera, try to keep groups sitting close together. This eliminates empty space and keeps the instructor or remote site facilitator from using excessive camera movement.

    Students want to be able to see the instructor's face as they are speaking. When lecturing use a camera angle that shows the instructor from the waist up. This allows for the incorporation of gestures as well.

    Student camera

    Allowing students at the remote site to look directly into the home classroom at their fellow students is essential. When students are on camera they are reminded that they are expected to participate.


    The use of multimedia

    Using multimedia maximizes the effectiveness of videoconferencing. Changing the camera from the instructor to another media helps to retain interest. No matter how good an instructor is, they will have difficulty holding the attention of the far site without some variety.


    Some of the multimedia used in distance learning:

    • Slides
    • Overhead transparencies
    • Laptop or PC
    • VCR
    • CD-ROM
    • Objects on a document camera
    • Powerpoint
    • Internet
    • Smartboard

    Additional prep time is always needed to insure that transitions between media are smooth and all peripherals are working correctly. Making a script of your presentation with all transitions and cues can be helpful.

    Using visual graphics

    Here are a few tips on using Powerpoint and visual graphics in your video presentation.


    • Keep slides simple and uncluttered.
    • Leave white space around text and graphics.
    • Keep the slide organized. Line up text on the left hand side of the slide.
    • Create a path for the eye. Organize on the slide the most important from left to right and from top to bottom.
    • Make the most important element a different or brighter color to further emphasize your point.
    • Divide space in an interesting way.
    • Televisions do not adapt to portrait mode as well as a landscape format. Use landscape format if possible when preparing documents or overheads and leave a 10% border.
    • While building a presentation, avoid using Serif fonts such as Algerian. These fonts are difficult to read on screen. Be sure to make any font shown on screen between 18 and 36 points. Recommended fonts include:Arial, Futura, Avant Garde, Helvetica, Geneva (or any Sans Serif fonts).
    • Use light colored text on a dark background. Yellow text on a blue background works well.
    • Remember "The rule of seven." Limit slides or documents to seven lines of text and seven words per line to keep information and instruction manageable.
    • Run the presentation through the television monitors prior to the class to ensure that its appearance is acceptable.
    • Have a backup plan! Always keep a paper copy of the presentation handy in case something happens.

    Delivery techniques

    Briefly explain the technology and the number of other sites involved, if any. Also instruct participants on videoconferencing protocol:


    • Mute any open microphones at far end sites when not speaking.
    • Be aware of the microphone placement and avoid excessive noise.
    • Speak directly and project your voice as if talking across a large room.
    • Speak up or raise hand if there is a question and wait to be recognized.

    Verbal transitions between sections of the presentations can help the class stay focused. Explain what is happening as you go through the motions, such as, "I'm going to switch to a videotape segment now."

    Students learn better when information is organized into smaller pieces. Segmenting your presentation also allows for more interaction. It is recommended that, if possible, you allow a 10 minute break for every fifty minutes of instruction. Looking at the television monitor for long periods of time can cause eye fatigue and frequent breaks help alleviate this problem.

    Camera presence

    Teaching in front of a camera can be intimidating. Listed below are helpful hints to look your best:


    • Colors: Choose shades of green and blue. Avoid reds, hot pinks and electric blues. Also avoid high contrast stripes, plaids and complex patterns.
    • Jewelry: Less is better, do not wear any jewelry that dangles near the face or makes noise.
    • Eyeglasses: Be aware that lighting can cause a glare on glasses. Check on the monitor.
    • Voice: Practice a natural delivery of your voice. Be sure that all sites can hear you clearly.

    Nonverbal interaction can be just as important as verbal in engaging students to learn. Make eye contact and use appropriate gestures. Vary the pitch of your voice and facial expressions to avoid being a "talking head".

    Practice various camera angles and presentation techniques. Videotape yourself, if possible, and critique your presentation.

    Text and material was taken all or in part from the following sources:

    Cyrs, Thomas E., Teaching and Learning at a Distance: What it takes to Effectively Design, Deliver, and Evaluate Programs. Josey-Bass Inc., San Francisco. ©1997

    VTEL et al., Effective Distance Education Techniques: A guide for effective distance education using videoconferencing technologies. ©1999

    Illinois Video Network Effective Videoconferencing & Presentation Tips

    Effective Conferencing

    Try to put the main speakers in the center area to avoid excessive camera movement.


    As with most meetings, it's important to begin with introductions especially if some meeting participants are seated outside the camera range.

    Always let all sites know you are muting either audio, video or both.

    Try to have an agenda established and keep to the time frame. Remember that if you are in a multi-way conference, the bridge will automatically disconnect all sites at the scheduled ending time.

    Be conscious of the microphones. Do not place books or papers too close to the microphones. Remember not to tap pencils or fingers next to the microphones.

    Be aware that sidebar conversations can be heard at the remote site and are very distracting to conference participants.

    Address participants by name: it personalizes the meeting and keeps the flow of interaction consistent.

    Be aware of camera positions. Make sure if you are speaking that the camera is on you. Also, when using a secondary camera, be conscious not to turn your back on the camera.


    Videoconferencing is a visual medium. While it is difficult to plan your wardrobe around videoconference meetings, the following are a few tips that will allow a positive image to be presented.


    Wear solid colors such as blues or jewel tones. Some white or black is OK; however, too much of one color can cause you to appear washed out.

    Prints are very distracting to the camera and are not as visually pleasing.


    Always introduce all participants in a small conference.


    Always be aware of the far site and actively involve them in the conference.

    Speak to the site monitor, not to the preview monitor.


    Documents displayed using the document camera are best if presented in a landscape format. Fonts should be kept simple. The bigger the font the better. Fonts should be at least 40 pt and bold.


    No more than seven lines of text.

    Two lines are better than one.

    If displaying a Powerpoint presentation, chose transitions carefully. Top to bottom transitions flow better than side to side.

    Keep colors simple-bright colors show up well. Using contrasting colors is best. Yellow on blue presents very clear and readable.

    Be aware that going from a computer to a TV monitor can change some colors.

    Be aware that most shading will be lost during the video compression.

    VCR Tapes

    Watch the tape over the system prior to the presentation if possible.


    Be aware of high amounts of movement (a basketball game will not transmit well).

    Be aware that the quality will be slightly degraded.

    Just remember to act natural. Let the videoconferencing system be a transparent tool and use all the capabilities the system offers - it's not just for "talking heads".