What's an ITV classroom like?

Physical layout

The furniture of the ITV classroom features the usual desks — or tables — and chairs. Even in this essential, however, differences abound between ITV and traditional classrooms. A tour of sites on the World Wide Web concerned with distance learning and featuring photos of ITV classroom setups at various institutions reveals that at most sites tables seating two or three, rather than the individual desk-chairs more common now in traditional classrooms, are the norm. (See an example on the video here). As in the traditional classroom, various factors including class size and teaching approach may dictate arrangement of the tables in a U-shape, in straight rows, or in V-shaped rows. In contrast to the traditional classroom, in the case of the ITV classroom we must add the number and positioning of studio cameras to the list of factors affecting decisions about seat arrangement. The arrangement of tables in rows facing the instructor, as shown in Figure 1, is the most common configuration; this way, a single camera mounted above the instructor's head may tilt, pan and zoom as necessary to capture the image of any student in the classroom more or less in full face. If students sit in a U-shape, the ITV technicians must employ different cameras and angles to capture different students' images, adding to the complexity of their work. The camera's capacity for creating a unified point of view on screen may be exploited for instructional purposes, as shown in this example.


Behind the scenes

The ITV medium requires the participation of many specialized technical personnel, including engineers who work behind the scenes to operate cameras, compose onscreen images, monitor and adjust sound levels, manage the sending of signals, and troubleshoot. Cooperation between these engineers and the teacher is essential for management of the ITV classroom, and for this reason the teacher often gives explicit instructions regarding class management for the benefit of the engineers, as in this example.


Teacher's station

The instructor in the ITV classroom sits at a special “station” at the originating site which consists of a chair and table plus special technical equipment, and faces the class. This furniture configuration is similar to that in the traditional classroom except for the presence of the additional equipment. The presence of this equipment and the necessity of avoiding sudden moves out of camera range limits the instructor's mobility and creates a certain amount of separation from the students he is facing.


Tools for the student

Students in the ITV classroom have direct control over microphones placed on the tables or desks in front of them. In some cases, every student has a microphone, and in some cases microphones are shared, usually among two or three students. Some types of microphones are activated by a button that toggles on and off, and some by the more traditional sliding switch. The preferred practice is for the student who wishes to speak to turn on the microphone, identify herself if the instructor has not already done so, speak, and then turn the microphone off. Student microphones are generally not left on, as this creates audio feedback. Because voices are amplified in the ITV classroom, and also because students (particularly those at receive sites) cannot all see each other at any given time, if more than one student speaks at once using the microphones then the potential for disruption of communication is even greater than if several students speak at once in the traditional classroom. Students not visible to one another may make simultaneous bids to speak, and without visual cues may find smooth turn-taking difficult. Instructor management of turn-taking can ameliorate this problem; improvement is also seen with increased student experience in the classroom. Audio interaction is mediated technologically by technical personnel handling the control board, who must constantly readjust the input levels from various sources to avoid audio feedback. Because of the potential for audio feedback, instructional strategies that would require all students to turn their microphones on at the same time are not advisable. The instructor's microphone, on the other hand, is usually kept on throughout the class.


The visual presenter

The visual presenter is an important tool in the ITV instructor's array, allowing full-color display of materials placed on a flat surface, including written or printed materials. Here is an example of the use of the visual presenter to display realia/authentic materials.


1999 Stephen Fleming, NFLRC, University of Hawai‘i.All rights reserved.