Whether due to amalgamation, funding cuts or export education
strategies, many universities now face a problem of delivering
subjects, programs and courses across more than one campus. There
are significant costs to students, staff and faculty of this teaching
and administrative duplication. Information and communication
technologies offer potential to achieve economies of scale but
the effects on other things like student learning are not so clear.
The objective of this paper is to report the outcomes of a video
conferencing trial in a mass lecture undergraduate context. The
effects on staff, students and support issues highlighted through
a formative and summative evaluation are reported. Surveys, focus
groups, interviews and analysis of video record and reflective
diaries were the data for the evaluations. These results will
be useful for both decision makers considering a video conferencing
solution to duplication as well as staff potentially involved
in using the technology in a mass lecture context.
Information technology, Communication technology, Business education, Video conferencing, Teleconferencing, Evaluation
The modern university faces many of the same pressures as a business - namely, it must do more and better with less. Video conferencing is one potential solution academic managers are considering for reducing duplication. Laurillard's  observation that research on the effectiveness of information technology generally is severely lacking, applies particularly to video conferencing (Mitchell et al [8; p.73]). Frand and Ng [3; p.20] survey of learning technologies in US business education report a fair degree of users consider the technology ineffective. However, they conclude that it is too early to tell its real effectiveness. While research on video conferenced meetings, training (eg. Lundin and Donker ) and small group teaching (eg. Martin and Jamieson , Goddard , Treagust et al ) exist, research relating to large groups in a tertiary context in particular is extremely sparse if not negative (eg. Goddard [4; p. 211]).
The objective of this paper is to report the outcomes of a video conferencing trial involving mass lectures across a multi-campus university. Reporting these outcomes should aid decision makers considering a video conferencing solution to duplication. Potential users in a large group context can optimise student learning by considering the costs and benefits on staff and students highlighted in this paper.
The structure of this paper is as follows. Section 2 briefly elaborates the context leading up to the trial. The following section describes the mass lecture video conferencing trial. Section 4 discusses the results of the formative and summative evaluations. Effects on students, staff and academic managers are considered. Section 5 contains concluding remarks and suggests future directions.
Problems of duplication in the tertiary teaching context arose in the late 1980's in Australia from government amalgamation policies. For others, duplication has become evident as universities seek to establish new campuses. In response to government funding cuts, universities have sought to expand into export education, increasing their revenue base with off-shore campuses. This scenario applies to the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), a university supporting in excess of 23,000 students. The trial itself took place in a business faculty struggling under considerable financial constraints. Reasons for the latter include the relatively lower funding per business student (as compared to a science or medical student) and the relatively higher cost of teaching part time students (as compared to full time students).
A further complication was the faculty requirement that subjects taught and assessed on both campuses were meant to be identical in all respects. Given the well-documented power of assessment to motivate student learning (eg. Ramsden ), it is no surprise that this requirement caused student disquiet. Students had previously expressed concerns about the equity of delivery between campuses.
Other problems included the need for staff to travel the 18 kilometres to deliver subjects offered at the other campus. Apart from the explicit travel cost, staff incurred lost time in travel plus the inconvenience of being without their resources. Students also travel to the other campus when there is insufficient interest to justify duplicate subject offering. The final trigger for the video conferencing trial came in 1993. An external faculty review recommended video conferencing to resolve duplication and other pressures arising from the two-campus situation.
A video conference trial between the two Sydney metropolitan campuses was initiated in the second half of 1995. The object of the trial was mass lectures in a compulsory subject of the undergraduate business degree. No attempts were made to video conference tutorials or student consultations. The purpose of the trial was to evaluate the extent to which video conferencing mass lectures would
To achieve these objectives, a project team was established in July 1995. The team comprised computing, instructional technology, external consultants and academic staff. There was a five week lead time before the first lecture for the semester was scheduled. During that time specifications were established, equipment purchased and installed, lecture theatres modified appropriately and cables installed. Staff also had a one day training session where a typical, small-group video conferencing session. Strategies for using the equipment in a mass lecture situation were brainstormed. Following the training session, efforts were made to discover previous research in the mass lecture context. While a literature search proved unsuccessful, phone discussions with several inter-state academics involved with small lecture situations provided valuable hints for adapting appropriate teaching strategies.
There were 250 students were enrolled at one campus and 80 students at the other. The video conferenced mass lecture took place on a Thursday night between 5.30 pm and 7 pm for 13 weeks. The preceding lecture hour was booked for equipment setup and testing. To circumvent concerns about potential inequities highlighted in the literature (eg. Treagust et al ), the 'live' or local campus each week was alternated between the two campuses. The remote campus received the video image of the lecturer and/or teaching materials.
Video conferencing is typically used for small group meetings (with two to six people at either end as shown in figure 1). As such, the standard equipment entails one image from the remote view and the other screen showing the live image being sent. A coder-decoder system, or 'codec', enables images and audio to be sent between conferencing parties. Generally speaking, the broader the bandwidth of the link, the more natural the conference session. Utilising a leased VTel 227M Quick Frame System and transmitting via a microwave link between the campuses, a very satisfactory image and audio reception was expected. While the link could transmit up to the maximum bandwidth of two megabytes per second, close to television quality (at 30 frames per second) was achieved with 1534 kilobytes per second. This overcame the standard problem of non-synchronisation of image and audio experienced with 128 kbps (or even 384 kbps).
A mass lecture context however, is quite different
to a meeting. Even without video conferencing equipment, motivations
for attending are different and interaction is more difficult.
Preconceived perceptions are that lectures are more a one-way
interaction of presenter enlightening or entertaining the audience.
The content is typically much more structured than in a meeting
of peers with a common goal to achieve. Video conferencing complicates
the whole situation. Not only is it extremely difficult for remote
students in a mass lecture theatre to be seen, without a portable
microphone it is almost impossible to hear a student's question.
A number of pre-emptive strategies were therefore undertaken
to improve the learning context.
To improve student concentration in the mass lecture
context, it was felt that there should be more opportunities to
see the lecturer. To enable a larger audience to see, the image
was also projected onto a wide screen using a data projector.
Because of the large lecture theatre context, neither the standard
camera position (on top of the video conferencing system) nor
one at the rear of the theatre could be used. A camera operator
was therefore employed to provide a range of shots for the remote
end. Most were close-up images of the lecturer. During student-student
interactions, the camera operator would focus on some students
near him who were embroiled in the learning task.
Another problem to be overcome was that the codec could only allow one image to be sent at a time. The image of the lecturer could be sent or the image of the content points of the lecture. The solution was to use a laptop at the live end to link lecture slides through the University network to a second data projector at the remote end. This brought the number of devices under lecturer control to three, namely the lectern panel, laptop and video conferencing tablet. In case of breakdown, a backup lecturer was always available at the remote campus. This person also acted as facilitator by transporting a portable microphone during staff-student interactions. Guest lecturers also made presentations over the link. The specific teaching context of the mass lecture trial is depicted in Figure 2.
Given that mass lectures themselves are not in themselves conducive to student learning (Ramsden ), the evaluation set out to gauge effectiveness of the whole teaching and learning environment rather than focus on the video conferencing equipment per se. A variety of qualitative and quantitative techniques were used in the formative and summative evaluations.
Formative feedback was solicited through a staff interview (in
week 2), a student survey (n=239 in week 4), and three student
focus groups (n=25 in week 7 and 8). Unsolicited feedback from
peers and students during the semester was also used for feedback
and corrective action. Technical and academic staff regularly
reviewed the video record, session reports and reflective journals.
In line with a desire to focus on the big learning picture rather than just video conferencing per se, students were asked to rate various learning resources. Students rated nine resources on a five-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (= Quite useless) to 5 (= Really useful).
Few students (ie. 14%) perceived the video link as affecting their
ability to learn in a negative way. Comparison with other resources
indicates that the video link was neither their highest or lowest
learning resource. Overall subject satisfaction rating of 7.2
(out of 10) compares well to 7.5 from previous years where no
video link had been used and far higher than the co-requisite
subject undertaken by the same students. Analysis of the free-hand
responses to the best thing about the subject indicated some,
though not surprising, effects of video conferencing. About 16%
of respondents expressed a sense of excitement from being involved
in an innovative technology. Less than a handful felt that the
equipment was getting in their way of learning such that it became
the aspect in most need of improving. Both results suggest a
low profile for video conferencing. Since learning is the prime
objective of the subject, this outcome was welcomed by academic
Of the 25 students that participated in the three focus groups, students made far more positive comments (ie. 76 in total) than negative ones (ie. 59). These are summarised in Figure 3.
Students perceived various benefits including:
|Annotated solutions to homework||0%||2%||9%||31%||58%||4.5|
|Practice questions in lectures||1%||0%||8%||48%||43%||4.4|
|Practice questions in tutorials||5%||12%||30%||35%||19%||3.5|
|Computer based learning software||6%||6%||31%||33%||24%||3.5|
|Tutorial homework discussion||6%||14%||30%||32%||17%||3.4|
|Lecture guests from industry||6%||15%||41%||28%||10%||3.2|
Students also expressed various problems with the video conferencing. These included:
NB: Scale is 1=Disagree strongly 2=Disagree 3=Neutral 4=Agree 5=Agree strongly
Several strategies to minimise the effect of these unfavourable aspects of video conferencing were implemented. For example, students volunteering answers were not projected in tight focus. Because of reduced interruptability, more opportunities for asking questions were structured into the lecture action plan, including a conscious attempt to alternate them between campuses. The final evaluation below records the effectiveness of these strategies.
Summative feedback at the conclusion of the video conference trial included a student survey (n=246), three interviews with selected students and formal peer review by two colleagues. In addition, transcripts of focus groups and interviews were analysed, as were the reflective journals kept by academic and technical staff. The effects on students, staff and support issues are each discussed in turn below.
The feedback from students attending the video conferenced mass
lectures indicates a number of perceived costs and benefits.
Table 2 confirms the focus group finding that shows that equity
in assessment and learning is critical. Only 9% of students disagreed
with statement 1.1. The equity aspect was aided by the quality
of audio and images (in statements 1.2 and 1.3). In each case
only 10% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed. Statements
1.4 and 1.5 indicate that substantial progress had been made on
several fronts by the end of semester. Only 28% of students surveyed
still felt too self-conscious because of the video link. 39%
still felt it was more difficult to interrupt when the lecturer
was live at the other campus. However despite preventative efforts,
nearly half (ie. 48%) felt that remote students were still disadvantaged
(in statement 1.6). This confirms previous research by Treagust
. The only consolation to this fact is that the disadvantage
was equitably shared since the remote end was alternated each
Free hand responses yielded similar results to the previous survey. Some 9% (or 10 from 115 responses) attributed the video link as the best thing about the subject and not one student indicated that the video link was the aspect needing most improvement. Some 44% (or 39 out of 88 responses) attributed the equity of access to expert and material as the best thing about the video link. Ranking on other positive aspects mirrored the focus group responses in Figure 3. The aspect of the video link most needing improvement was better remote images (24%) followed by better remote audio (20%). While some 17% indicated that it could not be improved, the remaining reasons included disruptive remote students, intrusiveness of camera and lost learning time.
There are a number of benefits to staff involved in video conferenced teaching. These include:
The disadvantages to staff of video conferencing mass lectures included:
There is a range of effects academic support managers need to consider in regard to video conferenced mass lectures. There are potential gains in:
The costs of video conferencing mass lectures for academic support managers include:
The extra costs of video conferencing these mass lectures amounted conservatively to $53 per minute! With overseas transmission currently several multiples of that figure, exporting video conferenced mass lectures also appears not cost-effective.
This paper reports the outcomes of a video conferencing
trial involving mass lectures across a multi-campus university.
Prior expectations were that mass lecture video conferencing
would more cost-effective and improve equity in access concerns
expressed by students previously. It was also expected that the
quality of learning for students would improve because staff would
have incentives to be better prepared and the technology would
enable better presentations and interactions.
Only one of these expectations was realised to any
extent. The primary benefit students perceived was the equal
treatment and access to experts and information they could receive
because the mass lecture was video conferenced. While the document
camera in particular was a valuable teaching aid, it can be used
independently of the video conferencing equipment. Student satisfaction
with lectures and the subject were unchanged on previous years.
Echoing Goddard [4; p. 209], students and staff felt
the lecturing, learning activities and interactions were not improved
but went more slowly. Other disadvantages were the time lost
through technical difficulties and the greater likelihood for
distractions at the remote campus. Students at the remote campus
felt disadvantaged despite preventative strategies implemented.
The equipment could become more cost-effective than
experienced in this trial if it were integrated into the network
system so video conferencing could be transmitted to many rooms
adequately fitted. However, its usage in a mass lecture context
is less attractive given the additional pressures and stresses
on academic staff in delivering material, and given what we know
about how students learn. A cheaper option, given the constraints
on interaction in a mass lecture context anyway, may be to simply
video-tape the lecture. The tape could then be replayed at multiple
times and other locations and the video conferencing equipment
could be used effectively then for questions at the end. The
tasks for which the medium was really first designed, namely administrative
meetings, small group teaching and research seminars, appear to
offer greater and significant productivity improvements. Hence
a permanent video conferencing system appears inevitable when
these uses can be included in the cost-benefit equation.
In terms of future directions for video conferenced
mass lectures, further research is needed to clarify when and
how it can work better. The messages from this experiment relate
to technical, staff and organisational factors. They comprise:
1. Ensuring any system is simplistic to use and comes with upgrade and maintenance guarantees.
2. Using video conferencing in a mass lecture context only if lecturers have some motive for participating, are confident with their content, competent in crowd control, are adequately trained and are supported by reliable and efficient technical services.
3. Resolving any organisational encumbrances to its success (eg. timetabling, equipment booking) and initiating an awareness and incentives program to maximise the chances of success.
4. Implementing an ongoing process of evaluation.
The author gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Reg Collins, Jo McKenzie and Graham Partington. All errors remain the responsibility of the author.
 DAUNT, C., YOUNG, J.,  Videoconferencing users' manual - for Lecturers,
Teachers & Trainers, Central Queensland University,
 DOYLE, K., CROCKER, M.A., BERNASCONI, R.J., ROBERTSON,
S.C.,  "Three University Study of Student Costs Using
Activity Based Costing Methodology", Evaluations & Investigations
Program undertaken by Ernst & Young and funded by the Department
of Employment Education and Training, June
 FRAND, J.L., NG, H.A.,  Eleventh Annual
UCLA Business School Survey: Use of Learning Technologies in Business
Education, University of California
 GODDARD, J.,  "Perspectives on video
conferencing", ASCILITE'95 - Learning with Technology, Science
Multimedia Teaching Unit, Melbourne University, pp. 205-213
 LAURILLARD, D.,  Rethinking University
Teaching: A Framework for Effective Use of Educational Technology,
 LUNDIN, R., DONKER, A.  Report of the Evaluation
of the Queensland Government Trial of Compressed Videoconferencing
between Brisbane and Townsville, Queensland Government Media and
 MARTIN, E., JAMIESON, P.,  Teaching cross-campus
with video conferencing: how researchers and teachers make sense
of this mew electronic classroom, HERDSA'95 - Higher Education:
Blending tradition and technology, pp. 508-513
 MITCHELL, J., ATKINSON R., BATES, A., KENWORTHY,
B., KING,B., KNIGHT,A., KRZEMIONKA, Z., LATCHEM, C., SCHILLER,
J.  Video conferencing in Higher Education in Australia,
Department of Employment, Education and Training, AGPS
 RAMSDEN, P.  Learning to Teach in Higher
 SCHILLER, J., MITCHELL, J.  "Interacting
at a distance: Staff and student perceptions of teaching and learning
via video conferencing", Australian Journal of Educational
Technology, 9(1), pp. 41-58
 TREAGUST, D.F., WALDRIP, B.G., HORLEY, J.R.,  "Effectiveness of ISDN video-conferencing: a case study of two campuses and to different courses", Distance Education, 14(2), pp.315-330