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Videoconferencing at UVa

Communication Model

Two distinct modes of workplace communication may be facilitated by video conferencing. The traditional meeting in a conference room is one mode; the two-person collaboration is the other. These two communication modes differ significantly in several ways.

  • Focus: the focus of attention in a meeting between two people is a simple assumption. Unless there is a significant difference in the rank of two persons, a meeting between them is usually an exchange of ideas and statements in a predictable sequence. Each participant is attuned to listening to the other. In a group, the focus must shift from one speaker to another. There is usually a group meeting leader (the "chair" who determines the order of topics and even the order of speaking among participants.
  • Activities: group meetings involve formal presentations more often than two-person collaborations do. Two person meetings are often work sessions which include document editing, design, or brainstorming. Two-person meetings may involve active note-taking and drawing.
  • Products: the results of group meetings are usually conceptual in nature, such as an exchange of ideas, formalization of plans, or approval of a process. Two-person meetings may also have these outcomes, but also often have tangible products such as a document, a graphic, or a program.
  • Peripherals: the person who is conducting a group meeting often has control of audio-visual aids such as an overhead document projector, audio playback device, or video monitor. The leader may relinquish control of these aids to another participant as needed. Two-person meetings, since they are driven more by collaboration rather than presentation, more often involve use of printed documents or graphics that can be marked up by both participants.

These differences are also manifest in the videoconference applications appropriate to the two types of communication.

  • Focus: top-of-the-line group video conferencing systems include a self-focusing camera that swivels to frame the current speaker. This mimics the shift of attention that meeting participants must exercise. Other systems may actually make use of a human operator to reposition the camera on the speaker. Room-based systems which simply provide a static view of the conference table do not aid the remote viewer who must try to determine who is speaking by recognizing a voice or by watching for facial movements on a less-than-ideal video display. Two-person desktop videoconference systems simply provide a head-and-shoulders view of each participant, which is sufficient since the focus does not need to shift.
  • Activities: group video conferencing systems usually consist of the video window itself and an auxiliary document display (a camera trained on a copy stand) that may appear in place of the video of the participants or in a separate frame. The auxiliary input may alternatively be connected to a VCR. Two-person videoconference systems often include not only a video window, but also several applications to assist collaboration. These include file transfer utilities, shared whiteboard (or notebook), the capability to share applications, and text-based "chat" windows.
  • Products: group meeting systems often do not result in a tangible product other than an exchange of concepts among the participants. Two-person conferencing systems may produce transcripts of text-based exchanges, screen captures, and updates to word processor and spreadsheet (for example) data files.
  • Peripherals: group conferencing systems usually consist of one or more video cameras, a directional microphone in the center of a conference table, a video monitor, and a control device similar to a television remote. Individual participants in a group meeting may have no direct contact with any of this equipment. A typical two-person conferencing system has a small camera, a clip-on microphone and external speakers or a microphone mounted on a headset, and a personal computer. The PC is used to display the video window and output the audio signal. The keyboard and mouse are necessary to control the application. The PC is also used to run the collaboration tools.

The communication modes that are facilitated by room conference systems and desktop conference systems differ in many areas. The room systems emphasize the speaker and his or her presentation. The desktop systems facilitate the active, product-based exchange between individuals. For this reason, attempts to use a desktop system in a group meeting situation, or a room system for collaboration between individuals, may be unsatisfactory.

Page Updated: 2012-02-16