Thoughts on tech support, infrastructure, and video conference connections

This post comes out of my very real gratitude for our amazing staff of student tech workers here at Stanford CCR: shown here hard at work prepping for a video conference, Jonathan, Anya and Eethar are all now in their second year working with our project, supporting the video conferences, and every day I am grateful for their help.

We didn’t always have student tech support — while our Stanford Tech Guru, Bob Smith, has always been on hand to help us out with our connections, for several years, Alyssa and I have balanced the logistics of curricular planning with the hands-on reality of hooking up wires, checking for hot ethernet ports, troubleshooting bad network connections, solving echo problems, realigning webcams — all the very necessary work that goes into trying to create a “transparent” tech interface for our students to use in talking with their globally distributed partners. And, in fact, ironically, despite our strong student staff, some of our connections this quarter are completely UN-supported for the very first time (because of scheduling conflicts), leaving the instructor to field the tech issues him/herself during the session. Of course, this is the situation that many of our partners face every time they connect with us: we know that many schools that we work with DON’T have any infrastructure to support video conferencing and that it is in fact the teachers who are managing the tech aspect of things on their own.

It occurs to me that we need to think hard about the tech requirements of participating in a video conference exchange. As much as we try to streamline participation in the project, what level of tech expertise is still necessary on the part of the instructor? And what is the base level of buy-in needed from the university’s tech support structure to make these connections work? How can we best facilitate these exchanges from a logistical point of view, both for those with tech workers, and those without?

I’d be interested in your ideas about this issue!

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