Virtual Conferencing Defined

Long gone is the time where expensive equipment and software put limitations on who can hold video conference meetings. With so many affordable virtual conferencing options available, it is beginning to become a necessity for every business.

The following terms will allow you to become more familiar with the virtual conferencing space, so when the time comes for you to make a decision on a conference provider, your decision will be easier.

A “Webinar”, also called a “web-based seminar” is used to deliver workshops, seminars or lectures to a large group of people over the internet. Webinars can be used for educational purposes, sales and marketing and even training. Usually there is one presenter delivering a message to the audience, with limited audience participation. Audience members may be invited to participate in a poll or survey, or ask questions.

Like a webinar, a “Webcast” is aimed towards a large audience and used for educational purposes, sales and marketing and training. Used mainly for announcements or broadcasting live events, Webcasts are typically much less of an interactive environment than a Webinar.

Also known as a “web meeting” or “online meeting”, a “Web Conference” is basically a meeting held online. Most web conference applications allow you to share documents such as PowerPoint presentations, Word Documents, Excel Documents as well as multimedia files and slideshows. Unlike a webinar, web conferences are typically reserved for smaller audiences who are looking for more interaction and collaboration between attendees. Here are some other options that most web conferencing software provide -

  • Ability to share applications and presentations
  • Unified web browsing
  • Remote computer control
  • File sharing
  • Ability to poll participants
  • Live or private chat
  • Record and archive meetings

There are many different ways to define a “Video Conference”. It all depends on how the technology is being implemented. In general, a video conference is a way to conduct meetings through the use of video.

“Browser-based Video Conference” – Communication between two or more locations using video and an internet connection. There is normally no expensive software or hardware to install.

  • “Desktop Video conferencing”: Video conferencing on a personal computer – Usually used by individuals or in a one-on-one meeting.
  • “Multipoint Video conferencing”: Video conferencing with more than two locations/sites.
  • “Point to Point”: A video conference between only two locations.
  • “Point to Multipoint”: A video conference from one location to many locations.

When the time comes for your organization to jump into the world of virtual conferencing and collaboration, it is important for you to know all of the different options that are available to you and which one will best suit your needs.

Virtual Retirement Villages

“Welcome to Beacon Hill Village, where city living just got easier. A membership organization with a world of services and solutions, in your own home, in the neighborhood you love.”

This is a quote from the website for Boston’s Beacon Hill Village, not a place, but an organization. Founded in 2001, its members consist of a group of residents facing the decision of relocation to retirement communities. They loved their homes and were looking for an alternative to moving, but they needed someplace safe that provided the services they required.

For a non-profit fee of $600 per year for individuals and $850 for household memberships, Beacon Hill Village provides members with many of the services they would receive in a retirement community. The Membership Plus program subsidizes memberships for those who are unable to afford the regular fee. Beacon Hill also depends on funding from various independent and corporate donations. Many of the services are provided by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Types of services offered at Beacon Hill Village include:

- Referrals and information
- Grocery shopping, gardening, dog walking, house sitting, minor household maintenance, tax expert, the list goes on.
- Walking groups
- Exercise classes such as Tai Chi and Stretching
- Members only events and programs
- Discounts for various service providers
- Rides to and from doctor’s visits or other errands

Basically, you name it, they have it. If it’s not something they offer, they will try and find out how to get it. If you need a light bulb changed or a picture hung, it is all covered under their Concierge service.

You don’t have to live in Beacon Hill to join, as they also service Back Bay, West end and surrounding neighborhoods. The minimum age for members is 50, but most are in their early 70′s. They are, however, starting to see more Baby Boomers in their membership.

Virtual villages such as Beacon Hill fill a definite need within the community and this concept is catching on across the country. A few of these village networks include, Avenidas Village in Palo Alto, CA, Gramatan Village in Bronxville, NY, Lincoln Park in Chicago, Washington Park Cares in Denver, CO, and Vineyard Village in Martha’s Vineyard, MA.

EldersGuild.org, a group out of Berkley, California organize workshops that assist communities in creating their own social network. The group is promoting the concept of more age-friendly communities where people can maintain their independence, yet still enjoy their golden years in the comfort of their own homes.

News Production Workshop – The Underlying Facts

The term “News Production Workshop” refers to the newsroom which has to do with the sum total of activities in the newsroom.

News itself is a product of so many hands and it is called a bulletin. In the news room there is the newsroom personnel, the editorial board, the editorial meeting, the editorial policy and the News production process. Television News by its concept is a thing of beauty and the art you pick from the television that compliments the technology. Newsroom is the workshop, where things are created, bringing things that are nothing into something.

The reporter in the newsroom is the creator, that is, he or she is responsible for creating news. Those involved in the news workshop are the boss, his assistants, and the equipment. The bulletin is the last product of the newsroom. The production process of the news begins with the Assignment Editor who assigns the reporter to a beat. The reporter develops or produces a report (a film or a non-film story) and submits this to the Duty Editor who proof-reads and edits for technicalities or news-worthiness. The report is then given to a Production Secretary who types out a clean copy.

Again, the Editor will proof-read for possible typing errors, after which he assembles and aligns it with the other stories to make the day’s bulletin. Meanwhile, if it is a film story (for TV), the tape (or disc) containing the shots or rushes is taken to the Audio Visual Film Editor who edits the pictures to suit the story. While the final edited material is taken to the Transmission Controller (TC), the scripts which are now assembled in the bulletin are handed over to the Duty News Caster who rehearses it and casts it live on air.

The telecast itself is guided and assisted by the Studio (Floor) Manager, Studio Engineers, Cameramen and other studio hands. In the Transmission Control Unit, the Newscast is directed by the Transmission Controller (TC) and assisted by the Sound and Vision Mixers.

The News Production Process is concluded with a Post-Mortem analysis. Post-Mortem is a medical term that is borrowed into journalism to mean the final touch of the editorial crew. In journalism, Post-Mortem analysis refers to the meeting of all those involved in the production of the day’s bulletin where they discuss or analyze the successes or otherwise of the day’s News Production Process.

Graphically, the News Production Process follows in this order: Assignment Editor, Reporter, Editor, Production Secretary, Film Editor, News Editor, News Caster, Transmission Controller, and Post-Mortem. The process on radio is virtually the same except for the absence of visuals.

Radiophonics Workshop – How Culture & Technology Paved the Way For These Unlikely Pioneers

A long way from the HD and Sky+ world of visual media we enjoy today, the first television programs were crude recordings, with very little in the way of editing, mastering and certainly no digital enhancements. It was a small handful of engineers and technicians back in the 1950′s, all members of a young BBC, who were to change the way we saw and thought about television. The work of those who would form and contribute to the Radiophonics Workshop over the next 50+ years served as a benchmark for cutting edge broadcast sound design and a comprehensive encyclopedia of digital audio production and electro-acoustic engineering. The incredible reach and influence of a department that spent much of its later years struggling to remain open elevated it to an almost cult status within the sound industries. Names such as Delia Derbyshire became standard references for broadcast sound designers, recordists and musicians alike.

Generally the work of your average BBC department won’t achieve worldwide recognition and cult status, so what makes the story of the Radiophonics Workshop stand out? It is the cultural and technological environment of the time that set the foundations for the departments conception. A key word that is still frequently thrown around today is accessibility. It was the natural progression following the development of early television sets to bring them to living rooms across the country and for this new, larger and increasingly demanding audience the programs had to progress to suit. Of course being a rapidly growing, and promisingly integral medium in our day to day lives television productions and studios were enjoying huge amounts of publicity and popularity, and significantly – increasing budgets.

The first line of workshop co-founders’ Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Orams’s obituaries contain the adjective ‘pioneer’, with reference to their contributions to the electroacoustic, and broadcasting industries. Pioneering is an accurate word to sum up the workshops’ 60 year discography, which includes household theme tunes such as Doctor Who in 1963. Written by Delia Derbyshire and commissioned by Ron Grainer, it’s still used half a century later. Despite their substantial successes many would regard the members of the workshop as ‘unsung hero’s’ of sound design. Having started at the BBC in 1943, aged just 18, Oram spent years trying to persuade her employers to allow the workshop to go ahead, and only succeeded in 1958 when the growing popularity and accessibility of the Television industry called for higher production values. The workshop was set up in what is now the renowned Maida Vail Studios, with a budget of just £2,000. In 1959 however, as a result of the huge exposure and popularity of the work Oram took the decision to leave and pursue her music, not before leaving her name in the history books as the ‘mother of this great legacy’.

French composer Pierre Schaeffer was experimenting with a new musical composition technique called Musique Concrète. Another by-product of advancing technology at the time, the nature of Music Concrete lies in recording and cutting together electronic sounds on magnetic tape to create a whole range of sound effects and musical elements the likes of which no-one had seen before. Techniques such as pitch manipulation and echo effects are still important in sound design today. It was this technique that caught the eye of the Radiophonics Workshop and formed the basis of its early productions. Similarly to Schaeffer, the workshop realised very quickly how popular this new sound was, bringing additional public recognition to their work.

The nature of workshops earlier work was consistent with the cultural and technological progressions of the time, utilizing and experimenting with newly developed electronic synthesizers and recordings. By capturing a range of miscellaneous sounds, and using these physical cutting and editing techniques to layer and fade samples the team were able to create sound tracks, add effects and even produce electronic music, the likes of which had never been heard before. Little did they know at this point that their work would be referenced religiously over half a century later across the recording industries. As well as providing the perfect accompaniment to this new age of television programs this new technology opened up a world of experimentation, which would later pave the way for music production, studio engineering and many more media production techniques.

Notably, when considering the increasing speed with which developments in audio technology are taking place, it is significant that many of the techniques first used by the Radiophonics Workshop are used throughout the film sound and music industries today. Similarly parallels can be drawn between the increasing accessibility of audio production equipment that would later contribute to the eventual demise of the workshop. Especially with the evolution of digital technologies the next natural steps are to simplify the techniques and processes involved with audio productions, and therefore bring them to a wider, and ever increasing group of would-be producers and engineers.

The developments and creation of these technologies that brought the workshop so much attention was continued, not least due to the popularity these techniques and hardware was receiving and also became increasingly accessible. In addition, with rapidly increasing demand as another byproduct of the inadvertent promotion of their methods, production costs for the manufacturers declined as they jumped on the commercial opportunities that had arisen. It can be said that whilst these advances and increasing accessibility can be detrimental to certain industries and specialties, they can also provide great opportunities to those who are able to utilize the new equipment and techniques, but were previously unable to access it. This is something that is perfectly demonstrated by the contemporary music industry, with many new genres being shaped by digital technologies and recording/sampling techniques.

Having contributed to over 300 programs such as Blue Peter, Tomorrow’s World, Blakes 7 and The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy, and enjoying great success by the end of the 70′s, contributing factors such as over-accessibility and the resulting lack in financial viability marked the end of the workshop in the 90′s. In an unsteady financial climate, not dissimilar to our current recession, BBC Director John Birt was forced to order cuts on several departments, including the workshop. Despite being given 5 years to turn their balance sheets round it became apparent it wasn’t going to happen. A long way from the early years where the techniques and equipment used was the first of its kind and the productions were never previously seen, the inevitable demise became a reality. Many of the causes for which can also be attributed to its initial success. By 1998 only one composer, Elizabeth Parker, remained and the workshop was finally closed. Fortunately, in recognition of its importance, the BBC commissioned Mark Ayres to Archive the work of the Radiophonics Workshop the majority of it has been saved. This unique department grew from a unique set of cultural and technical circumstances, which cannot be repeated yet are often paralleled today, and left its permanent influence on an industry that is a significant part of our every day lives. Interestingly, the pioneers of the Radiophonics Workshop still remain unsung and virtually unheard of.

How to Set Up Author Virtual School Visits

Skype is showing real promise for schools and authors to connect. Making this connection via Skype or other video conferencing software is called a Virtual school visit.

It’s no secret that school budgets are being squeezed tighter each year which is limiting what schools can do for added beneficial curriculum. Authors may have a limited budget and time constraint to do in-person visits, so with the advance of technology, and software such as Skype, this is gaining positive speed as an option that is a win-win for all involved.

Having an author visit in-person certainly creates an impression that a Virtual visit may be limited on. But if done right, you can absolutely leave an everlasting, positive experience when using Skype or other video conference programs.

Depending on how many students take part in the Virtual visit, if small enough, it can provide a very interactive session. With a small group, and the help of the teacher or librarian, an author is able to ask questions with the students raising their hand and being called on. Question and answer time works well with a small classroom and gives each student the learning opportunity of approaching the webcam to ask their question.

A large assembly can still work well too if all the details are worked out prior to the visit. This may require the majority of the staff to take part in the visit to watch for any behavior issues so that they can be quietly corrected. With a large group, each classroom may want to come up with one question and choose someone to ask it of the author. But with a little thoughtful planning, a virtual visit can work for any size group.

Virtual visits typically last anywhere from 10-to-60 minutes and depends on the age of students. Authors will also want to work with the school in determining their needs. Do they want a presentation, a reading, or a workshop?

So you may be thinking, “What do I charge?” As of the writing of this article, fees range from free to $500. The average charge is $150-$200 which is for a 45-60 minute program. If you offer a 30-minute program you may need to adjust your pricing. Many authors will work with each school on an individual basis to determine the school’s budget and a price that works for both the school and author.

Once you determine your fee and programs you will offer, you will want to promote yourself as an author offering Virtual visits. A wonderful resource to get your name out there is a network called, “Skype an Author” (http://www.skypeanauthor.wetpaint.com). It was started by author Mona Kirby and Library Media Specialist Sarah Chauncey. This website connects K-12 teachers and librarians with authors who offer Virtual visits. As an author, you can set up a profile page just by signing up.

Setting up Google alerts such as “Schools using Skype,” Libraries using Skype,” and “Skype in the Classroom” will help you discover schools embracing this technology. You can then design an email or postcard mailing campaign to pitch your program to schools doing Virtual visits.

Just as doing in-person author visits, doing Virtual visits takes practice, organization, and some technical skill. When I first began offering visits via Skype I gave out ten free sessions to help work the bugs out. Not only did this give me practice, but also helped with gathering testimonials for my program.

If the school has a techie person on hand that always helps the school and the author feel a little more at ease should they encounter a challenge. But having done quite a few Virtual visits, knock-on-wood, I have not had any major glitches, and I don’t consider myself a techie person… just an author eager to share my message!

So embrace technology as a real positive as an author, and a wonderful avenue in which you can share your books with virtually anyone in the world!

For a free checklist to plan your Skype visits with classrooms visit, http://joyfulpaws.com/promote/planning-for-a-skype-visit-to-do-checklist/