Virtual Meetings – Optimise their effectiveness

bernadette-parry-headshot Bernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. A self-confessed Moodle ‘geek’, Bernadette loves to discover new ways to navigate and make the most of Moodle and online facilitation. Today Bernadette offers advice on how to get the most of virtual meetings.

At eWorks we like to practise what we preach, so we have fully embraced the use of educational technology in our working lives, including the use of virtual meetings and flexible working arrangements. At any of our daily WIP (work in progress) meetings, staff join from interstate, from home, from their car… you get the picture.

Here are some great tips for how to get the most out of your virtual meetings.

Camera

Keep your camera on – you wouldn’t put a bag over your head if you were in the meeting room. Think you look terrible? You don’t! Seeing yourself on video is like hearing your recorded voice – it sounds or looks far worse to you than it does to others. And you will get used to it. You can always hide your image from yourself so that you don’t need to look at it.

Adjust the angle of the camera so that your colleagues or clients can see you clearly. The camera should be at eye level and on the monitor you are using. Other angles can be unflattering and off-putting for others.

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Placing the camera on the screen you are using enhances the connection between you and your audience by giving an eye contact like effect. Your audience will feel you are looking at them just like you would in a face to face meeting.

Make sure you look into the camera when you are speaking – makes you more ‘engaged and present’ to your audience.

Sound

Test that your sound works – before going online!

The mute button is a great addition to virtual meetings. Turn your sound off /mute yourself unless you are speaking – background noise can be annoying and distracting, but remember to check your sound is not muted when you speak.
Speak naturally, not too quickly, and pronounce words clearly. Speaking to a screen can often make you think that you need to speak louder to ensure the audience can hear you but a good quality microphone can encourage you to speak more naturally and add to the feel of a normal face to face meeting.

Try not to speak over others. If this seems to be an issue with your call, perhaps use the ‘raise hands’ feature or messaging. Avoid side conversations – they don’t work well on a call.

And…

  • Behave as if you were in a physical meeting. Keep focussed, it’s easy for your audience to tell if you aren’t fully present in the call.
  • Limit excess movement as it can appear jerky on the screen.
  • Make sure your room is well lit and the background is appropriate for a work meeting.
  • Everyone’s time is important, so be respectful of this and be punctual.
  • If people don’t know each other, introduce yourselves.
  • Your clothing – stripes may play havoc with the camera. Pastel colours are usually recommended because red, white and black can also have distracting effects on the screen.
  • Make sure you are familiar with the software you are using, and double check your equipment before the call. Most webinar services will allow you into the room early for testing.
  • For large meetings, you may be advised to have a moderator to monitor chat messages.

Physical virtual room!

We do have a room permanently set up in the office. This suits our large meetings, and meeting with clients who come into the office – where some participants call in. If you are lucky enough to have a permanent room for virtual calls, then it is recommended that you have:

  • A booking system for the room! Make sure the room is available.
  • A PTZ camera – this is a camera that can Point, Tilt and Zoom. The camera can be controlled remotely with software such as Zoom.
  • The camera placed directly underneath the screen everyone is looking at – this helps the remote people who feel that the people in the room are looking at them when they speak.
  • Ideally two screens in each meeting room – have the faces of virtual participants on one, and screen sharing on the other.
  • Microphones hanging from the ceiling and over the table work well – they pick up voices without getting vibrations from people tapping on the table, etc.
  • If the room has lots of smooth hard surfaces that interfere with the sound (maybe an echo affect), then it may be worth investigating some form of cushioning for the walls.

When it works well, virtual meetings are fantastic! So get in and make sure your talented staff can make the most of this opportunity!

For further information, watch ‘Video Conference Etiquette for Dummies’.

Improve your Moodle page load times

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. A self-confessed Moodle ‘geek’, Bernadette loves to discover new ways to navigate and make the most of Moodle. Today Bernadette offers advice about a common frustration – Moodle pages that seem to take forever to load.

Are slow page load times driving you nuts?

When you click on a link in Moodle, are some of the pages taking longer than they should to finish loading? Frustrating, isn’t it? And you’re not alone. The speed at which pages load is called the Page Load Time (PLT) and is measured in seconds. There are various extensions you can use to measure this, such as the ‘Page load time’ extension in Chrome. I expect my Moodle pages to load in less than two seconds, and not more than three seconds, and I think this is a reasonable expectation. So how do your PLTs compare, and do you know what to do about it if they are not ‘up to speed’?

What can I do about my pages loading so slowly?

The most common cause of slow page load times is having large images or video on the page.

Images

With images, you could improve your PLT by:

  1. Using image editing software to reduce (compress) the size of the image.
    Many products such as Photoshop enable you to choose the quality of the image. The lower the quality, the smaller the size. 96dpi is a good option.
  2. Resizing the image
    You can reduce the size of the image by specifying a smaller percentage for the image size. This can easily be done using products such as Paint.
  3. Using a screen capturing product such as ScreenHunter
    This will make capturing an image in an optimum size simple. If you have an image that is large, an easy way to reduce the size is to add the image to a Word document, make it the size you want, then use a screen capturing tool to capture it.
  4. Using online products such as Image Optimiser to get the best size and quality of your image.
  5. Using a screen capture tool to capture the image
    These can usually create a copy of the image that is 96dpi which is sufficient quality for online use. With a tool such as this you can easily:

    1. load your course page
    2. capture the slow-loading image with a screen capture product
    3. delete the slow-loading image in the course
    4. replace it with the image you just created.

Video

With video it is a good idea to use the Page resource instead of putting the image into a Label. Labels load when you open the page, whereas you need to click on the Page to see the video. This means the video only loads up when the student wants to see it, so the overall page will load a lot more quickly.

Google Analytics

For more suggestions you might like to use Google Analytics to analyse your Page Load Time (PLT) – Note: some of this is quite technical…:

If you have access to Google Analytics for your site:

  1. Log into Google Analytics
  2. Click on Behaviour > Site speed > Speed suggestions
  3. Next to the pages listed, there is a ‘Page Speed Suggestions’ column for each page
  4. Click on the link in that column
  5. A pop-up will offer suggestions.

You will see that there are many pages analysed!! Fortunately you can use the search box if you know what you are looking for.

Still stuck?

Moodle is our thing. So Let us know if you need a hand.

HTTPS and how to view blocked content

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. She is also our ‘go-to’ for answers to random questions from our clients and larger community – here she covers https and how to view online content when our browser ‘says no’.

What is HTTPS?

HTTPS stands for HTTP Secure. With HTTPS pages, encryption is added to requests sent and received. It has three main benefits:

  1. Authenticity – the browser checks that it has opened the correct website.
  2. Data integrity – the browser can detect if an attacker has changed any data it receives.
  3. Secrecy – the browser can prevent an attacker from eavesdropping on requests, tracking websites visited, or stealing information sent or received.

What is mixed content?

Mixed content is where a HTTPS web page which starts with https:// contains links to a sub-resource HTTP page which starts with http://. Examples of sub-resource pages may be images, videos, extra HTML, CSS, or JavaScript.

If you are using a Moodle site where all pages are HTTPS and you link to a video that is on a HTTP page, then this is an example of mixed content and the connection will be only partly encrypted. Mixed content weakens HTTPS as these requests are vulnerable to an attacker eavesdropping on a connection, and seeing or changing the communication.

How to avoid blocked content

Unfortunately you are unlikely to notice mixed content until it is too late and you have clicked through to a blocked page. Read on for advice about how to view blocked mixed content if this happens.

If you are responsible for creating and maintaining online content, now might be a good time to review links within your secure pages to ensure that you’re not inadvertently frustrating your readers by sending them to http:// pages and therefore blocked content. Then, where possible, link to https pages instead. You may also like to let your readers know what to expect – and what to do – should this happen. No surprises!

How to view blocked mixed content

By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer 10+, Firefox 23+ and Chrome 21+. When mixed content is blocked, you will see a blank page or ‘Only secure content is displayed’. This can be frustrating, especially when we’re in a hurry.  Try this next time it happens:

Firefox

  1. Go to the top of the page, left of the address bar, and click the shield icon https_firefoxshield
  2. In the pop-up window, click the down arrow next to ‘Options’, and click ‘Disable protection for now’.

Chrome

  1. Click the shield icon on the right side of the address barhttps_chromeshield
  2. In the icon dialog box, click ‘Load unsafe scripts’.

Internet Explorer

  1. Go to the bottom of the screen, and click ‘Show all content’.

Keen to learn more?
Good old Wikipedia offers comprehensive information about URI, TLS, TCP/IP, certificate authorities HSTS, SSL, stripping and much, much more. And I might get around to writing on each of those topics one day.

Moodle Competencies for evidence of learning

bernadette-parry-headshotBernadette Parry is the Client Support Coordinator at eWorks. Her role involves juggling all sorts of client-focused tasks including start-up TVC training, advanced Moodle training and support services. A self-confessed Moodle ‘geek’, Bernadette loves to discover new ways to navigate and make the most of Moodle. Currently she is excited about the inclusion of competencies and learning plans in Moodle 3.1, and ways that this function can be applied to the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector.

Moodle competencies

For those of you who don’t know already, Moodle 3.1 comes bundled up with competencies and learning plans. This is perfect for the VET sector, where there is such an emphasis on demonstrating skills rather than simply knowledge. If you haven’t started using this feature, now is the time to get started.

What are competencies?

Competencies track what your students have demonstrated that they know or they can do. Instead of simply seeing which courses a student has completed, you can also see which competencies the student demonstrated whilst doing the courses. This is a powerful feature, especially when training students to work in practical fields such as trades.

How do we set up competencies?

Competencies can be set up in Moodle in three, easy steps:

  1. Make sure you already have the scale you require, such as ‘Not Yet Competent’, ‘Competent’. This can be set up by going to Administration> Site administration> Grades> Scales, see Scales.
  2. Set up a framework for a set of competencies – this needs to be done by an administrator in your site. I would suggest that you use a separate framework for each Unit of Competence, and add the year, eg ‘BSB20115 – Cert II in Business 2017’ to the name in case you want to update the framework in the future. This will also help your course creators to find the competencies they need to use. Instructions are available in the manually set up a competency framework video.
  3. Add competencies to this framework. Once again, I’d suggest adding the year to the name, eg ‘BSBWOR204 2017’.

This is a tedious process, and it is suggested that you use the Import competency framework plugin to do this. Instructions to use this plugin are available in the video importing the competency framework. This plugin will be in core Moodle 3.2!

Using competencies

Once the Competencies are set up, you can use them in courses.

  1. Add the appropriate competencies to the course
  2. Apply the appropriate competencies to the activities.

This step will ensure that you can track the competencies that your students have demonstrated by completing courses or activities. Information about doing this is in the applying competencies video.

Further information

Of course assessing competency is a little more complicated than that. Your VET students will need to demonstrate that they can do something more than once, over a time period and so on. To manage this, you may like to restrict access to an activity until the required skill is demonstrated in another activity, then award competency. For example, by completing activities A, B and C, a student demonstrates that they are competent in a competency. The student can’t complete activity C until activities A and B are successfully completed. The student is graded as competent once activity C is successfully completed. Or you may award competency manually. In any case, taking the time to set up competencies correctly, will save you time and effort when tracking whether or not your students are capable of doing what you, and their future employers, need them to be able to do.

Once you have competencies set up, you may like to look at implementing learning plans. More on that in a future blog post, but not until I get back from my imminent holiday to India! See Moodle docs for further information, read my colleague’s blog that introduces competency frameworks, and let me know if you have any queries.