Technology in Teaching Showcase

Collaborative Technology-Based Projects at Hamilton College

Videoconferenced Presentations/Conversations Project Overview

Description and Resources


Course Name:
GEOSC_297_01_SP2013: Planetary Geography and Remote Sensing

Course Description:

This course considered the geology of the planetary bodies of our solar system, including the history and future of solar system exploration and the applications of planetary studies to understanding the geology of the Earth. Emphasizes work with planetary images and planetary GIS. ITS supported videoconference-facilitated conversations between guest speakers and the students in the class.

Project Description:

Professor Tewksbury invited a number of guest speakers to deliver presentations to and engage in conversations with students in this class. These presenters--astronauts, geoscientists, engineers, and others--were, before this semester, connected to this class using Skype, a free videoconferencing solution that delivered changeable results. ITS partnered with Professor Tewksbury to evaluate a number of superior videoconferencing solutions. After settling on a solution that permits reliable, high-fidelity audio, video, and presentation-sharing connectivity, Professor Tewksbury was able to create highly immersive, valuable conversations with her guests on a weekly basis.

» Educational Technologist Ted Fondak
» Upson Chair for Public Discourse and Professor of Geosciences Barbara Tewksbury

  • Professor Tewksbury and Dave Tewksbury teach in a classroom preconfigured with an ideal setup for videoconferencing in this manner: a computer in the rear of the classroom transmitting video to a high-quality projector, a webcam installed in the front of the classroom that can capture the entire class, and a sensitive microphone that can detect sounds--for all intents and purposes--as effectively as another human in the environment.
  • Ted Fondak spent two hours with Professor Tewksbury and Dave Tewksbury in advance of the class and attended three hour-long sessions to ensure they ran smoothly.
  • The videoconference solution utilized for this class was Cisco's WebEx, which is, as of Spring 2013, not officially supported as the campus solution by ITS.
  • ITS intends to have a campus-wide, fully supported solution available by the Fall 2013 semester. Interested parties should e-mail coursesupport@hamilton.edu

Completed Student Projects

Goals, Process and Outcomes

Project Goals:
  • To create a high-fidelity, reliable videoconference connection with remote speakers that facilitated a virtually seamless, highly interactive interchange with the students in Professor Tewksbury's class
  • To evaluate a videoconference solution that could potentially scale to the entire campus, thereby permitting other faculty and staff with the means to connect reliably and well with remote conversation partners.
  • To ascertain and streamline the support requirements for such a class experience.
  • To help a faculty member achieve technological independence, permitting these conversations to take place regardless of availability of support staff.

Project Process:
  • Professor Tewksbury contacted ITS and arranged for planning and consultation sessions.
  • Ted Fondak met with Professor Tewksbury and evaluated the classroom; made recommendations for camera and microphone placement; demoed the solution; and created documentation to facilitate independent operation.
  • Initial conversations and test calls with remote speakers made by both Professor Tewksbury and Ted Fondak.
  • Initial first classroom events directly supported by Ted Fondak.
  • After three sessions and resolution of technical issues, Professor Tewksbury continued independently.
  • At the end of the semester, a special session was created to permit Professor Tewksbury to participate in student presentations at Hamilton from a location in Arizona--an inversion, as it were.

Learning Outcomes:

Universally positive outcomes occurred for this effort, both within the context of this class and the larger Hamilton community:

  • All scheduled conversations with guest speakers took place;
  • All conversations were, after being established and correctly configured, of high quality with regard both to the technology involved and the conversations it facilitated.
  • A standard support structure for Videoconferencing was created during this class, permitting ITS to be able to offer the service to the Career Center.
  • Feedback from Professor Tewksbury was combined with feedback from the Career Center, Professor Lydia Hamessley's Online Music in American Film class, and other videoconference events and permitted ITS to advance a conversation to acquire a campus-wide Videoconferencing solution.

Project Feedback:

Feedback from Professor Tewksbury and her students was universally positive.

Technological glitches were encountered during the process and largely occurred due to human interference with the preconfigured equipment. Some confusion about the videoconference solution resulted in initial misconfigurations, but the process became standardized and predictable after the first session or two.

Professor Tewksbury has been using and intends to continue to use this approach in other iterations of this class and for many other efforts.