Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

DIY Distance Learning

Last night the Self Knowledge Symposium hosted Sensei Fleet Maull in a live videoconference, after a showing of the documentary The Prison Sutras. It was our first foray into "virtual" events, and it was an excellent event for us. A few observations, especially for anyone else contemplating hosting a virtual speaker:
  • High-end conferencing isn't. High-end video conferencing facilities are available at many universities and at outlets like Kinkos, but the fees are astronomical and the options limited. Many systems, like the one at UNC-Chapel Hill were geared towards conferences between points in their own system, and you have to pay extra "bridge" or "conversion" fees to get connected with some other location. With fees at over $300 an hour, its hardly worth it if you're just trying to avoid the time and money costs for bringing a speaker in.
  • Do it yourself. You can get reasonably good videoconferencing with off-the-shelf internet technologies. We tried a number of video chat clients, and wound up using Skype because it was extremely firewall-friendly, easy to set up, and totally free. You do have to invest in webcams and maybe some decent microphones, but good webcams can be had for $50, and we used audio equipment we already owned (microphones, mix board, mike stand, etc.) to handle sound at the event.
  • Test, test, test. If you're going to do an event with a virtual guest, you have to test the bejeezus out of your setup. We ran tests prior to the event with connecting to Fleet Maull, and also testing making Skype calls from campus classrooms. While no technical challenge was insurmountable, there were lots of little things to check: can this laptop get on the network from this classroom? Is the lighting ok? Are the sound levels comfortable for everyone? How are we going to get the microphone to people to ask questions?
  • Have separate techie and emcee resources. For this particular event, I was being both the host of the event, and also the technical guy running the videoconferencing. In retrospect, I wish I had had someone else do one of those jobs. I was so nervous about making everything work that I couldn't pay closer attention to do doing proper introductions, monitoring the response of people in the room, etc.



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