Saturday, May 26, 2018

Projectors and microphones - devices we just can't get used to

No matter how digital we may be today there are some devices that we don't seem to ever come to terms with.

My first example is the projector. At every conference or meeting I attend someone has problems with these deceptively simple devices and sometimes these problems can escalate into lengthy battles as the audience murmurs sympathetically and knowingly in the background. We've all been there. You have your slides ready, connect the laptop to the projector but nothing happens ... no signal detected.  Even hardened tech professionals can be reduced to looking like embarrassed novices when confronted with a cranky projector. Projectors are totally unpredictable creatures who can be affectionate and happy one minute and then suddenly act as if they've never seen you before. They tend to be faithful to only certain devices and bitter enemies to all the rest and they really take objection to newcomers. Most conferences therefore play safe and insist on uploading all presentations to a computer that they know the projector will trust. Anyone who tries to plug in an outsider simply gets what's coming to them. If you're just going to show a slideshow then that's fine but if you're going to log into different web services and tools during your session it's very complex doing so on a strange device that may object to the sites you try to log into and your own device just works seamlessly. Even when you do make contact with the projector it nearly always chooses a bizarre screen resolution that means that my screen appears in magnified format and you need to play around with various controls to get something that the audience can see properly.

If I was asked to be counsel for the defense, I would probably build my case on how difficult it is for a poor simple projector to adapt to the myriad of settings and applications that people have on their devices. Older projectors simply can't keep up with the pace of chance and maybe it's unrealistic to expect them to do so. However, I do wish we could find a way for laptops and projectors to understand each other a little better.

My other example is the microphone. Here there are two issues: the device itself and our attitudes towards them. Wireless microphones have a habit of running out of battery power in the middle of a session or there's some loose connection somewhere that cuts off the sound at regular intervals. If there's no reserve device close at hand this can result in major interruptions and irritation. This problem is of course easy to remedy with good preparation. The other, trickier issue is people's extreme reluctance to use microphones at all. Even if the venue has microphones ready to use there are always speakers who ask the rhetorical question, "I don't need a microphone do I?" and the audience seldom objects. However those whose hearing is not 100% will seldom raise an objection even if they can hardly hear what is being said. If we are serious about inclusion in education the default should be to use a microphone. It doesn't hurt and everyone can hear you.

I admit that headsets can be awkward to put on but do it before you start and you'll be fine. Handheld microphones are trickier and you need to hold them close to your mouth. I've seen so many speakers gesticulating with their microphone hand or holding the mike too far from the mouth and so only the front rows can hear them at all. But with a bit of concentration and a positive attitude it works well and everyone can hear you. Let's see microphones as inclusive technology and use them better.

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