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Low tech video conferencing suite

May 15th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Lst week I was aksed to provide video conferencing services for a meeting of the board of the European Educational Research Association’s Vocational Education and Training Network (VETNET).

The long running network has members from some nine different countries, but very limited funding. Six people were able to make it to Bremen for the face to face meetiong, another six wanted to particpate remotely in the meeting.

We experimented with a video conferencing link up last year, using the free UK Open Univerisity Flash Meeting and providing a link from the face to face meeting through a Panaosnic camcorder. This year was harder as I have managed to lose the power lead for the Panasonic, not realising until it was too late to get a replacement.

So I ended up using my Blue Snowball USB microphone for audio, set to 360 degrees, and a Logitech webcam, taped to a light stand and a data projector for those participating face to face.

This was all looking good, except that the camera was picking up the light, and adjusting the lense so that paradoxically the room appeared underlit. A couple of hastily borrowed desk lamps solved that problem.

And the the whole set up worked fine. The key part of the technology was the microphone. With video conferencing you can get away with poor quality video, but clear audio is vital. Also, higher quality microphones allow reasonably loud speaker playback in the face to face part of the meeting, without the risk of feedback. Other than that, having two moderators for the meeting is useful, one to moderate the face to face part of the meeting and the other moderating the online participation. Of course one person can do both, but it soon becomes very tiring.

All of which goes to show that you do not need expensive video confercing suites to effectively communicate on a remote basis. Flash Meeting works very well, and with a good USB microphone (cost about 90 Euro) and a standard webcam you are away and running.

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