A week ago, Steve Wheeler was supposed to present on Edupunk in the Forth Online Round Table of educamp. Unfortunately, his tech equipment and the university servers left him in the lurch. While Steve was trying frantically to get back online, Graham Attwell rescued the situation with PowerPoint Karaoke over Steve’s title slide (you can watch the entire session in Elluminate) and brought along the discussion.
After his failed session, Steve wrote a blog post entitled “Can anybody hear me?” about is intended presentation and his frustration of attempting the humanly possible to get online.
That was the first time that I was in an online session and a presentation could not take place due to the fact that the presenter could not be heard / get back into the system despite previous checks. During CCK08 we had a problem once when slides could not be uploaded to Elluminate, but that was solved quickly by viewing the slides on Slideshare and giving the occassional reference in the chat window to the current slide for late comers.
This debacle led me to think about the question “What is the plan B for online sessions?” When we teach or present at conferences, we usually have a “Plan B”, an alternative, in case the technology we want to use is not available or does not work. I used to have a set of overhead transparencies for presentations and important training material in my luggage. I abandonded that because rooms are now generally well-equipped and sometimes do not have an overhead projector anymore. I still make screenshots of web pages in case the internet does not work and I want to point out something on a live site. Backup copies of the material I need are always stored on a USB stick, sent to my email account and / or uploaded somewhere online. I could even do without the visual support if needed as long as I do not loose my voice.
However, as I have never presented online, I had not thought about what to do when problems occur in the virtual space. Problems like the one we had in CCK08 are manageable when the slides are available online for viewing / downloading. But what can be done when the presenter cannot be heard? A presentation cannot be typed into a chat window. All possible scenarios I came up with always require the internet and another system that allows for synchronous audio discussions. Of course, that requires that the presenter as well as the audience have access to it. That requires a lot from the tech support for online sessions, and I dare say that it is not doable as there are so many factors that are in the dark. Would one have to test two or even three systems in advance to make sure that at least one works?
Less favorable alternatives are the re-scheduling of the session after the tech problem has been solved satisfactorily, a write-up of the presentation as Steve did, or the actual presentation as a post-recording done by the presenter alone at home. Although the latter two are better than not doing the presentation at all, they certainly lack the interactivity with the audience.
So, the question still remains: What’s plan B?