Audio conferencing. Can you hear me, now?

Recently I was contacted by the Education Institute a project of a consortium of Canadian library associations to do a second lecture for them on a topic pertaining to genealogical librarianship. I did my first lecture for them in November, a lecture called”Romancing the Genealogist” and found it a pleasant and interesting educational experience.

What’s an audio conference? The audio conference is a teleconference and it works like this. The Education Institute is the host. On lecture day I call a toll free number and reach an operator. She connects me with the person hosting the event in a virtual “green room” as they say in the TV world. Just before the lecture, those registered call in on a regular line and punch in a password to identify themselves. They assemble in the “lecture room”. The registration seems to be so much per line. If at the listeners end of the line there are 18 or 2 people listening in, the cost per line is the same.

So the appointed time comes up, the operator explains that the first 40 minutes will be one way from me, and the last 20 will be two way so I can handle questions. The operator introduces the host, and she introduces me.

Before the event every person has downloaded my handout. Now with handout in hand they wait for me to pontificate words of wisdom. Meanwhile I am sitting in a very comfortable chair, my telephone headset on ( a great invention I’ve used for three years now) and my notes before me.

After 45 minutes I wrap up my lecture and take questions. The host or operator identifies the questioner and their location. I had previously been sent a list of those13 registered but did not know who was with them. I listened the questions and responded. It went very well. I was impressed.

So impressed was I with theconcept that I called my local phone company and checked out the costs. It was really very economical. Think of the possibilities. Can you imagine having a guest speaker from Florida at your local society meeting next month in Oregon or Manitoba? You pay the speakers fee. You have no hotel, air fare, meals, ground transportation expenses. You have the speakers phone charge, and your phone charge and the cost of printing handouts and setting up you the call is sent through your speaker system.

Tell me, what do you think about this?


3 responses to “Audio conferencing. Can you hear me, now?

  1. Kathleen Trevena

    While I don’t have any experience with audio conferencing in a genealogical environment, I have been on the listening end of a number of audio conferences at work. Initially, we had “fancy” conferences which included displaying handouts on the listener’s PC and allowing them to ask questions either verbally or by typing them in. Through time the conferences got simpler and involved less audience interaction. It seems that software engineers at least are not good at eliciting or asking questions over they phone. Now we are back to taped presentations or traditional classes.

    Coming back to your particular example, I’m assuming your audience was made up of librarians who would be using your information in their jobs? I suspect this is an ideal audience for an audio conference. They were educated, attentive, and seeking specific information. This may well be the case with a variety of other special-interest genealogy groups.

    However, I’m not sure that video conferencing would be effective for the monthly meeting at a local genealogical society. An effective lecture seems to be a much more personal experience. Genealogists have a natural interest in other people, although granted a lot of them are dead! Why do we want so much to gather in regional and national conferences? It’s not just the information. It’s a chance to ask Elizabeth Shown Mills a question about gg-uncle Beaufort that we wouldn’t be brave enough to ask in public. It’s sitting next to Thomas Jones at a conference luncheon, learning what he thought of his own certification process. At a much more modest level, those of us who lecture at local genealogical societies personally connect a variety of people to a wider world of genealogical expertise. We look them in the eye, we wave our arms, we shake their hands, we stay until the last hesitant questionner has left the building.

    OK, I’m off-subject, but my point is that I think you are absolutely correct that audio conferencing could be a valuable conduit for genealogical knowledge in some situations for some audiences. However, I don’t see it effectively replacing traditional speakers in other situations. Of course I may just be arguing in favor of my own very part-time avocation!

    Any ideas about where you think video conferencing would be most effective?


  2. Kathleen, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I do not think that a Society could use this audio conference on a monthly basis, but for an occasional event, yes. It might lend itself to a group of focussed genealogists, like the Scottish special interest list of a Society who want to have Sherry Irvine speak on using Sassines. I cannot see it working without a very comprehensive handout. And I think the host or speaker needs to be a good moderator to draw out audience participation.


  3. Steve, Head Sheep

    Video conferencing is my business. I am a techie for a government agency that provides these services to colleges and other agencies. Let’s say that Saskatchewan has 20 remote sites (library, community center, genealogical society) with conferencing capabilities. The group might want to hear from a particular lecturer who lives near a South African university with an Internet 2 connection (hypothetical, I don’t know if there are I2 connections in South Africa). I have the 6-figure price tag equipment needed for such a large conference and tell everyone how to connect to it. The video conference is more personal and people who would never have access to a resource like this person now do. I’m excited to see where it’s going, there’s a lot of good that can come from it. At my job, we have adults take college courses remotely from their community centers where no other college exists, and yet they get a major university education. Very cool, I think.

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