The Equipment System and the Social System

The Equipment System And The social system  

The equipment system is the hardware and the software necessary to support teleconferencing augmented by Visual Telefacilitation. For example, the FAX machines and audio conference calls used in grass roots VTF constitute the most readily available equipment system; whereas full video teleconferencing with shared computer applications is a more exotic and expensive system.

The social system is the group dynamics and social roles which take place during the teleconference. For instance, the traditional teleconferencing group plus one recorder used in grass roots VTF is the simplest, most nondisruptive Visual Telefacilitation situation; tag-team discussion leaders with all group members recording their own text-graphic inputs is more socially radical.

The Equipment System Dimension Of Visual Telefacilitation  

The Visual Telefacilitation project advocates an open system, equipment independent approach. Facilitation techniques will be developed that do not depend on one particular hardware and/or software system, but which can work with any of them. In this way VTF will allow telegroups to make maximum use of the equipment they have right now, and then enable them to take advantage of higher bandwidth when it becomes available.

For instance, if a telegroup has only audio conferencing and paper FAXes, that's fine. Grass roots VTF can help the members communicate with each other. Then later, if they get more money and can add video to the audio, Visual Telefaciliation will still be adding value when they can see each other too. In each case the visual telefacilitator is making a text-graphic record of the detailed ideas and context, and continuously distributing updated copies to all members of the telegroup, thus freeing up the audio and/or video channels for live discussion, interpersonal management of group dynamics, auxilliary information display, etc.

In the VTF project, the phrase "slow windows on a big desktop" is used to describe the level-0 equipment system used in grass roots VTF. Equipment at this level is paper FAXes plus phones (audio conferencing)      the simplest, most readily available equipment      and the visual telefacilitation methodology must work for it. The graphic record of the meeting is one or more pages, and the group uses this shared record in focusing their discussion by saying things like "as Jane said on page 2" or "in the diagram on page 4" [see figure 1]. For additional viewing convenience, the FAX content can be put on acetate and displayed for the subgroup using multiple overhead projectors, one per page.

The basic premise of VTF is that a real-time, text-graphic record of a meeting divided into pages will work effectively to support all levels of teleconferencing hardware and software. This general idea we call the "windows on a desktop" model; and, as noted, at the grass roots equipment level they are slow windows. The goal of the VTF methodology is that it must not only work now with paper FAXes and phones, but that it must also be upward compatible with the more expensive emerging technologies when and if they become cost-effective. For example, it seems inevitable that soon, for some groups, "fast windows on a desktop" via computer screens will be a practical and affordable equipment system [figure 3].

Figure 3. Fast windows on a desktop model