Random Notes

No MAGIC

Posted by mfluch on April 26, 2008

The following is the reply I gave in a survey about MAGIC, a group which “runs a wide range of postgraduate-level lecture courses in mathematics, using Access Grid videoconferencing technology.” I am 100% sure it won’t change a thing but still I could express my disappointment and anger about the step back in teaching quality at my current university due to MAGIC.

In my opinion the MAGIC system is a waste of effort and money.

The splitting of the visual components into three channels makes the very difficult to extract information and follow any lecture.

The video recording of the lecturer is plain useless since:

  1. The video image is of very low resolution.
  2. The low quality cameras produce a image which has far to high contrast.

For me this channel of information was complete useless and my attention to the video transmission was close to 0%.

The information transmitted on the white board is limited because it is very difficult to follow where and how the information is presented there (the information appears out of nothing; you cannot see where the lecturer is going to write until it the writing appears, not always at the place where expected by me) and more over: the lecturer cannot point at the transmitted drawing.

He could of course try to figure out where the lecturer points on the video transmission, but this involves going from one visual channel to the other one (which causes an interruption), and more over the video image quality is bad and usually until one could have figured out what is going on there (if it is at all possible) the information has already passed.

The additional screen for online presentations lacks again the possibility for the lecturer to point at it.

In my opinion the misconception of the MAGIC system is that the video quality of the lecturer is so bad that it gets factual useless and that the lecturer cannot interact with the white board transmission nor with the projected lecture notes. This makes the information presented extremely difficult or nearly impossible to extract and reduces the possible teaching quality very much to zero.

In my opinion the only way an video conferencing style lecturing could work is having a high quality, wide screen video transmission in high resolution which covers the whole lecturing area. For this one would of course need more professional equipment (amongst other a proper video camera in each lecturing room) and a much more bandwidth for the transmission of the video signal. A separate transmitted presentation notes could support (!) the lecture transmitted by the video/audio channel…

From my opinion the current equipment is not and will not be capable to provide any teaching experience even close to a real, proper lecture in the way that I could take it serious into considerations to attend any further lectures.

My experiences are based on two lectures I attended, one where the lecturer was in the same room than me, and the other was transmitted from a different university.

In the latter case — even though the lecturer was very competent and the topic interesting and well presented — the high rated (definitely overrated!) technology spoiled the whole lecture. After a few weeks I gave up because it was just a waste of time for me to go there. The benefits of this lecture for me where none.

The other lecture where the lecturer was in the same room also suffered a lot due to the constraints given by the technology! It was of course better, but still the lecturing quality suffered because the lecturer had to adapt to the limitations: small white board and limited possibility to interact with the transmitted white board or the presentation.

Maybe small improvements can be made to the system but without radical changes the main problem of MAGIC will not be addressed as the main design mistake and design failure will not be corrected.

It is a pity: MAGIC has caused the teaching quality at my university to take big steps backwards: proper live lectures (2 a term for PhD students) have ceased to exists and been replaced with the MAGIC which is in my opinion a catastrophic failure. It is really a pity to see this. And just that it is new and exciting technology does in my opinion not justify this set back. I am really disappointed that this has happened and will not be corrected. :-(

For myself I will not attend any events transmitted on MAGIC.

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