Tips and tricks to teach and communicate online

Eric Singer

Get ready to copy and paste some of this vital information to a Word document to help you teach and communicate with internal and external stakeholders. Veteran reporter and journalism professor Brian Rackham from Northern Arizona University was on the PAST Fusion Cell News line with me to talk about being remote-ready. Initially, it’s about choosing the right online communication platform. Professor Rackham believes Zoom, Teams, Skype and Google Meetings are fairly similar, but according to Rackham: “I happen to like Google Meetings because it’s pretty secure and easy to use. Teams is a good platform. I think Zoom is one of my favorites but unfortunately there are some security issues. I know that Zoom is working to clean that up. I think Skype can be unreliable in audio quality but it seems to have gotten a bit better over the years. If I had to choose one, I would choose Zoom.”

Professor Rackham also acknowledged that all of these platforms are a little clunky when it comes to going to graphics in the presentation: “I think you will be seeing a lot of that improve and the bar will be raised for everybody because so many people will be using this software.” Another item on your to-do list, according to Professor Rackham, is to remember that for any presentation, good lighting, microphones and webcams are crucial: “I think we have sorely neglected the look and feel of any presentation. All of it needs to come together.”

  • Professor Rackham says you need to purchase a web-camera: “The best ones are made by Logitech. The models I keep hearing about are the C920, C922x and Brio. Amazon has numerous off-brand webcams but I think you need to stick with what you know and what’s safe. You can also connect some late model Canon DSLR cameras with software. And you can purchase other interfaces to allow you to use high-end video cameras or other DSLRs as a webcam.”

  • Lighting is the second consideration, says Professor Rackham: “You need three types. The key light that shines on your face. A fill light that fills in any shadows that might be left by the key light and then a light on the background. You want a good well-lit background that pops. It should be neat and not sloppy. You could also put a white screen or a green screen behind you. Software like Zoom can add a virtual background and you can create your own background with logos or whatever you want.”

  • Audio is the final of the big-three components to consider says Professor Rackham: “In terms of sound, a good USB podcast microphone like the Audio-Technica 2300 series or the Blue Yeti. Those are some good microphones. You can also get a USB interface if you are using more than one microphone and want to use a professional grade microphone. I have a USB interface box that is powered by my computer. It is tiny. It is made by Shure. It is hooked up to my Audio-Technica microphone that I used when I was a radio reporter. I don’t recommend lavaliers unless you are walking around because those that clip to your shirt can be noisy. They work well for phone use if you are careful.”

The entrée for this remote-ready meal is what you are going to communicate or teach on your platform, and Professor Rackham has learned from students in his online courses: “I asked specifically for feedback and I discovered they wanted to hear more from me, participate more and hear from their classmates. The key is to keep them from wandering on their computer and to stay focused on what you are presenting.” Professor Rackham says to prevent wandering you could have more than one presenter, use engaging graphics or video, and have breakout rooms: “You can put teams of people working on a project in their own chatroom and report back to the larger group as a whole. Various online platforms have this ability or will have it because of how the world has had to communicate during the Coronavirus pandemic.”

We are in a new era of communication and the tools will be getting much better, says Professor Rackham: “I think you are going to see things get much fancier and we are going to be using these tools even after the pandemic. Now is the time to get ahead of the curve and start learning about them.” Thanks for reading this story and don’t forget to click on the Mp3 link below to hear my entire interview with Northern Arizona University Journalism Professor Brian Rackham.

Flash Briefing – May 20, 2020