Synchronous Hybrid Committee Meetings


Supporting Dissertation committee interactions via videoconferencing

Hagerman defense cropped

Michelle Schira Hagerman (a new EPET PhD … congratulations Michelle!) approached the Design Studio a couple of weeks before her dissertation defense. She had 4 faculty members on her Committee but one member was unable to be physically present. Michelle had used the videoconferencing app GoToMeeting before and she wondered if it could be used for her defense. (Note that since then MSU as an institution has selected a similar app called Her question: what would be the best setup so that everyone – face-to-face and online – could fully participate?

Obviously the stakes were very high, and having every committee member be a rich part of the proceedings was crucial. To achieve this inclusive communication, we decided to have all the participants online – even the face-to-face members. We did this by having GoToMeeting on laptops in front of the members as they sat at the conference table, giving everyone an equal presence in the videoconferencing screen (see image).

tall camera 1.1Michelle’s defense was held in Room 133-F, a larger conference room with 2 wall-mounted monitors. She presented at the front of the room with one large monitor behind her and one monitor to the side. GoToMeeting was running on 5 laptops – 3 for the face-to-face committee members, 1 for Michelle to show her presentation and herself, and 1 for the technology navigator (see LINK for a description of this role), who used a separate USB camera to show Michelle from different angles as she was presenting. The effect was to have all participants fully represented online, instead of making one committee member the sole online participant. As committee member Rand Spiro put it:

One of the dissertation committee members couldn’t be there.  I’ve seen several different approaches to dealing with that situation, with and without video, but never one that worked so well.  The technology operated without a glitch, and the interface was ideal — functionally and aesthetically, it was almost like the distant committee member was right in the room (from her perspective and from ours). Terrific!

We like a number of things about this experience. Working closely with Michelle meant we were able to match the technology set-up to her needs – not the other way around. We also liked how a new technology set-up emerged from our discussions and considerations together. Finally, the new design brought new insight into how we can come closer to creating comparable experiences for people who engage one another in both a face-to-face and online setting simultaneously. Creating comparable experiences is the core goal of synchromodal designs and we feel the dissertation defense was a great context for us to apply this philosophy. Michelle expresses it this way:

Having all of the members of my committee join the virtual meeting space really ensured that the committee member who was joining in from a physical distance was truly a part of the discussion. Everyone was able to engage in the virtual space in ways that ensured the defense was as inclusive as possible but also enabled very real discussion of questions that every member of the committee posed. I loved that the committee members could see one another on their screens — and I really loved that I was able to speak directly to my “virtual” committee member as though she was actually in the room.

Do you need to do something similar or does this spotlight spark an idea for something you’d like to try? Come see us in the Design Studio (401b Erickson Hall) or contact us at We’d love to be a part of what you do!

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