DIY Low Cost Learning Spaces: Blended Learning + Blended Audience Experience

Tools used for the session.

I recently helped setup and moderate a professional learning session with over 50 participants.  Generally, that’s no big deal.  We (anyone who reads this blog) do that on the regular, in our sleep.  However, this one had some challenges that I thought worthy of a quick post.

The most important thing I wanted to make sure we kept true was the fidelity of the learning.  Meaning, I didn’t want to sacrifice “the ideal experience” for some technology trickery.  I wanted the technology to remain transparent and allow ALL participants to simply focus on the content.  (side note: this was extremely high stakes content).  Here were the requirements:

  • 40+ participants live and breathing in the room
  • 3+ different locations with other small groups of participants
  • Project up on large screen presentations (Power Points and live web sites)
  • Presenter needed to be able to control slide advance most of the time
  • Distance locations needed to see the presenter + audience at times
  • Distance locations needed to hear the room (presenter + audience questions)
  • Distance locations needed to see on their screen the power points and websites live (essentially screen sharing)
  • Main room needed to hear any questions from the distance locations
  • Record and archive all sessions for a few groups that were unable to attend.
  • The big requirement:  no high dollar video conferencing equipment or any additional purchases.

Long story boring… I was able to gather up some stuff I had, and basically knock it out and turn it over to the folks leading the content and be pretty much hands off and enjoy the content learning.  It didn’t end up being some miraculous technology feat… It ended up being kind of boring and just working.


We used a $40 Logitech web cam (I’ve since purchased a new one and passed the one pictured to someone else), the Gorillapod grip tripod, a cheap tripod, the Trek Super Mount (to clamp the webcam to the tripod),  Kensington Wireless Presenter, a pretty loud speaker attached to the laptop, of course a projector.  The machine running everything was a decent (not “honking”) Windows 7 Dell laptop.  We had to use the PC due to the recording requirement.  My MacBook Air could have done everything minus the recording.  Again, we had everything needed – no purchases – nothing special.  In the end, we posted the archived video (the video contained the presenter and the screen recording) to a Skydrive share.

And of course for all of this the x-factor was Lync Online – one of the tools in the Office 365 set.   Watch a demo video (from Microsoft)

Outcome/ Perspective (per stakeholder):

From the presenter standpoint, they could control and see/hear everything and everyone well.  They sometimes forgot, through their talks, to pull in and include the folks who were not physically in the room.  That’s a skill that needs to be gained.  For the presenter the technology stayed pretty transparent.  I’d give the presenter experience a B – , mainly because it could have been better.

For the participants in the physical location, the experience was consistent had we not had all of the other requirements.  I was pleased and would give it an A.   For the participants in the distance locations, feedback was very positive.  They didn’t have to travel, and they could participate.  They could hear most of what was going on and could see the screen of the presenter (PP and Websites) with very high quality.  I’m going to give it a B + because I think there is some room for improvement and I think feedback was super positive mostly because people expected it to be a really bad experience and it wasn’t.

For anyone who watched or watches the archived video.  The video and screen resolution from the presenter is really good.  However, the audio that was recorded is not.  You can hear and make out everything fine.  But if you are an audiophile you’d poke something blunt in your eye.  The grade is a C -.  Doing this again, I’d play with a lapel or bluetooth microphone setup somehow.

Overall grade from the user experience standpoint = Solid B + (which is a lot higher than I was expecting)

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