Monday, March 8, 2010

Using VideoPhones: On-Line School Programs and Audio Conferences


You may have read or heard success stories using videophones to connect to family, friends, co-workers and make relay calls. Did you also know videophones are also useful for participating in audio conference presentations / calls if you are enrolled in an online course/degree program?

I'm currently enrolled as an on-line MBA student with the University of Maryland University College. This term has weekly presentations, demos and discussions with the professor and/or guest speakers. The length of the online sessions have ranged from anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours.

How it Works
I use my Z-340 to connect to the audio portion of on-line conference, which is hosted by the professor using a web-based conferencing software (Wimba). A laptop is used to connect to the web-based conference to view a PowerPoint presentation and/or web pages. Both a laptop and Z-340 are set beside each other at location that has a good Wi-Fi or LAN Internet connection.

In order to be able to call into a conference session that has audio, the speaker has to enable call-ins with a phone number and pin (depends on the web-conference software capabilities and options). When you call a ZVRS (or any other vrs) interpreter, tell them you are joining a conference call, when prompted, you can either enter the conference code/pin using your Z-340 keypad, or have the interpreter enter it for you.

Tip: Once in the call, have the interpreter and your laptop muted to prevent audio feedback. The interpreter can turn on his/her mike when you want to speak, or your microphone if you want to use voice carry over (vco) where you can speak for yourself.

If your professor plans to use / uses a web-based on-line presentation tool, I suggest conducting a trial call-in session beforehand so you both will know how it works before the actual scheduled meeting to ensure a trouble free conference.

At the beginning of the term, we had to consult with the software manual and vendor to figure out how to call into the conference since nearly everyone was initially relying on audio output from their computer speakers - which does not work for relay calls. After some research, it was found that Wimba’s capabilities does allow for audio call-ins with a phone number and pin - which was exactly what was needed to make this work for the weekly sessions.

Ironically, Wimba’s (and possibly other providers) documentation still references the use of a phone relay (TTY) service - which is obvious that the documentation is outdated but still relevant. You can use your preferred method of relay service to participate in on-line class audio sessions by videophone, TTY, or Internet/chat relay. However, the use of video relay services for audio conferences is said to be more efficient and quicker than by Internet/chat text or TTY relay.

Other Features

Some on-line web-conferencing tools may also have a small window feature for short chats - this allows meeting participants to ask questions and be responded to (if monitored and used by meeting moderator).

Photo: Z-340 and Mac on a call (screens simulated for confidentiality purposes), gives you the idea of participating in an on-line conference and use of a audio line.

Lastly, you are not limited to the laptop / Z-340 / ZVRS set up. If you have a wide-screen monitor you can have both the presentation and Z-4 (or other soft video phones) side by side on the screen. You can also use other vp devices or a preferred vrs provider, you can do pretty much the same thing, using your preferred tools. You will have to experiment and find what solution works best for you.

Donald Moore is a Freelance writer and blogger at

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Daryl Crouse said...

Thanks for a great description of your use of VRS for online education. It exemplifies the true and valid use of VRS when connecting to a webcast or any other kind of teleconference. It also follows the same rational I advocate for when deciding whether a VRS call is permissible.

Would a similarly situated hearing person make the same call but for the deaf callers disability VRS is used?


Dr. Chad E. Smith said...

Great suggestions with regard to using the ZVRS line of video phones. We use Wimba within the online Deaf Education Teacher Preparation Program at Texas Woman's University. Our instructors voice and sign allowing students access via audio and video. We often suggest students to hearing students who struggle with the audio portion to call-in. We also need to encourage our students who are deaf/hard of hearing to use ZVRS when they are experiencing video issues with Wimba. It is easy to overlook valuable resources that are often available right at our fingertips.

This blog entry makes a great "how-to" for accessing synchronous online learning environments.

Ecommerce website developer said...

Yes, I have heard the success stories using videophones to connect to family, friends, co-workers and make relay calls and I believe that it also useful for participating in audio conference presentations / calls. Thanks for sharing the useful information with us.