What are virtual meetings?
I am sure that at some point in your professional or academic career a meeting was scheduled but one or more of those involved were unable to attend. Whereas in the past a person missing the meeting would have to follow up with meeting minutes or otherwise be informed of what was covered, now a variety of tools can be used to connect people in different parts across the world. One of these tools includes the use of virtual meetings. Virtual meetings are real-time conversations and interactions that use the internet to connect people in differing places. These meetings can be in the form of text-based instant messaging, they can be voice-based conference calls, or fully audio-visual in the form of video calls.
Along with the ability to interact face-to-face with people around the world, many virtual conference services allow one to share computer screens and/or allow for multiple people to work on a document while the meeting is taking place. Such a feature mimics how an in-person meeting would take place, with one person presenting material to those in the meeting, while allowing others to critique or make changes on that material.
Furthermore, many virtual meeting services allow for administrative control. For example, the individual running the virtual meeting would be able to control who speaks at a given time. Such a feature would cut back on the amount of cross-talk and/or off topic conversations that often creep into an in-person meeting.
Resources, time, and skill
Like many knowledge mobilization techniques, certain resources and time as well as a certain level of skill is needed in order for virtual meetings to work effectively. The resources associated with virtual meetings are related to the service or medium in which the meeting is taking place. For example, if one were to host a meeting using Big Blue Button, a meeting attendee would simply need to call into the meeting in order to attend. However, if one were to host a meeting using Second Life, a meeting attendee would need to download the game client and its associated plugins, have reliable high-speed access to the internet, and have a moderate familiarity with on-line gameplay.
Although the use of virtual meetings can be a powerful tool to connect individuals seeking to meet online from remote locations, there are some key considerations that must be taken into account. For example, although individuals from differing areas can connect online, virtual meetings would be a poor choice if one or more of the individuals wishing to meet lack internet connectivity. Similarly, the infrastructure available to a person who wishes to partake in a virtual meeting must be taken into account if such a meeting is to be successful. Relatively powerful computer hardware and software as well as moderately fast internet connection speeds are needed in order for virtual meetings to take place.
Furthermore, the technological prowess of the individuals seeking to connect online could prove to be another potential barrier to virtual meetings. If someone is unable to understand or is unwilling to learn how virtual meetings work, they will be unable to participate.
Finally, time zone differences must be taken into consideration when hosting a virtual meeting. For example, a meeting taking place at 8:30PM Eastern Standard Time in Ontario, Canada would have to take place at 10:30AM the following day in Japan.
The take away
Virtual meetings are powerful tools that enable people to connect via online interactions. They are applicable in the academic, professional and personal setting. Indeed, virtual meetings can be used to connect with distant family and friends, allowing one to interact face-to-face with others. For example, face-to-face virtual meetings have allowed members of the Deaf community to interact using Sign Language.
That being said, virtual meetings may not be the best choice when some of the individuals involved in the meeting fail to have access to a computer and the internet. In these cases, accommodations to meet in-person or using telephone conference calls may be best.
The following is a list of other resources and services related to virtual meetings:
- 7 things you should know about virtual meetings – a pdf document outlining many of the pros and cons to virtual conferencing: https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7011.pdf
- Web conferencing wiki – Wikipedia’s entry on virtual meetings: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_conferencing
- Big Blue Button – a free virtual conference service that accommodates both online and telephone conferencing with the ability to share screens amongst multiple people: http://bigbluebutton.org/
- Skype – a video conference service that allows for face-to-face video meetings between individuals in different locations around the world: http://www.skype.com/en/
- GoToMeeting – a web conferencing tool that allows multiple people to interact via online and telephone connections: http://www.gotomeeting.com/online/enter