Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

Your presence is required

Published on 08 May 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

This post describes the latest stage in our continuing experiments using open tools and video to support online events and learning. On Wednesday 17 April 2013 we at Diplo discussed some key online learning questions: is social media an integrated part of the online learning? And can we learn from Massive Open Online Courses approach? This was discussed in an ‘Online Learning Day’ live event:

YouTube player

Working with my colleagues in the field of online learning in the past few years I have noticed that the majority of them are convinced that the approach to online learning is exactly the same as the traditional way. To be precise, two basic tools of in-situ classroom are addressed in online events:  direct exchange of ideas (Instant messaging system) and a (web) presence.  I say the majority, simply because some of them are still baffled by the term ‘presence’.  Is a web presence the same thing as an analogue presence?  Can being in front of someone provoke the same reaction as when you look at her via web-cam? Debate on this question can easily end up in the realm of philosophy, but discussing the practical issues and developing new ways of communication with student is what Diplo does the best. So let me stay at the practical level.

Most of my colleagues were indeed sceptical when we introduced video as a part of our online learning experience (in webinars and Online diplomacy tutorials). Like actors from silent films they were all afraid that their first ‘sound movie’ would reveal their ‘weak’ spots. This was partly because many of them were comfortable with not being visible, just a name or a profile. This web ‘invisibility cloak’ can be encouraging for people to overcome their possible stage fright and share some of their knowledge. In addition to that, we must keep in mind that the actual content of lesson determines how much impact their presence will have (as is the case in practical diplomatic issues)

On the other hand, our students are quite pleased with the new video feature.  In fact they are more likely to revise the lectures if there is a video summary. They are keen to use features unavailable in the analogue world, such as replay ‘the day at school’. Why are we using video, and not just voice? Well in answer to this question let’s acknowledge that online learning is not a popularity contest (or show biz) so your visual appearance does not affect the judgment of your learning methods, on the contrary it strengthens your presence, gives more credibility to your lessons and your students are more likely to come back and revise the lecture again.  There’s no need for stage fright, you are not on a stage, you are in your living room (or a familiar working place).

Many of my colleagues embraced this new approach of using video during this recent event. The technology platforms we used were:

  • Google Hangout’ for video, echoed into YouTube so that multiple participants could watch and listen to the conversations (as illustrated above)
  • CoveritLive’ service for real-time chat presence and social engagement.

These kinds of technologies have been around for quite a while so it’s interesting to understand why our users are ‘letting their guard down’ now.

First: Video technology is getting even better, more reliable and interwoven with basic everyday online tools, such as e-mail. Diplo is hosting email accounts using Google (as do many companies and private users), so to use Google Hangout and go ‘ON AIR’ you are just two clicks away. Everything is broadcast on YouTube and can be embedded in any web space. At the same time, up to eight of your co-workers can join you on an instant video meeting, and/or share documents.  Videos can even be in a higher definition. The entire Internet infrastructure is developing toward the capacity and stability of systems needed for large video data to be moved faster.

Second: more and more organisations include regular video meetings with their employees; more and more international organisations provide remote participation and live video coverage from conferences and annual meetings. Allowing people to participate remotely is to recognise that these solutions are not expansive and can/will trigger a new age of people’s participation in decision making process. More and more online learning solutions request video as mandatory and more and more of your colleagues are using it.  

Just like at the end of silent films era, people are demanding complete ‘experience of presence’ and just like that time some new stars will emerge.  




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