View from the bridge: Videoconferencing


View from the bridge: Videoconferencing

Sioux Lookout – Ontario

Tuesday, 13 December 2011, 11:36 AM
By Lyle Johnson, videoconferencing bridge coordinator, K-Net, Keewaytinook Okimakanak

This story is adapted from a VideoCom research paper (#50) about Videoconferencing for First Nations Community-Controlled Education, Health and Development. The full paper has been accepted for publication in the Electronic Journal of Communication.

Building a successful videoconference space requires determination. I remember a young Keewaytinook Internet High School graduate who left his home community to join his father, who was ill in a remote First Nation in Quebec.

At his new home, the student completed all his required courses online. When the time came to graduate, he participated in an online ceremony with three other graduates from Saugeen Nation in northern Ontario. We worked together to set up his computer with CMA software, and he connected with the ceremony through his neighbour’s Wi-Fi.

I remember talking him through the process. He propped up his laptop in a window frame to get a good signal. Then he got dressed up for the graduation ceremony. I remember he had a chance to participate and speak at the online event. Everyone was so pleased to see this young man make the technologies work for him.

Lyle - VC Training
Lyle doing videoconferencing training during a First Nation SchoolNet youth employment initiative

KO-K-Net has one of busiest videoconferencing bridges in Canada. As the coordinator of this bridge, I create communication spaces that connect dozens of remote and rural First Nations. My job as bridge coordinator is like putting together a puzzle. For the communication space to be a positive experience, every piece counts. Sometimes these pieces connect point-to-point locations, while other times I link participants from more than two locations – called multi-site videoconferences.

A videoconference from 2007 – for the Northern Ontario Women’s Leadership Forum

To me, videoconferencing involves social as well as technical networks. Participants come from different communities, regions, or even countries. I think that videoconferencing is becoming more practical. As people become more familiar with the equipment and the meeting environment, it becomes easier. Participants can now switch screens for a better sense of who they are videoconferencing with. I’m always toggling audio and colour levels to improve the quality of meetings. Desktop solutions like Polycom CMA are available, and I’ve even heard of videoconferencing apps for iPads!

Lyle (right) and Terrance Burnard, Network Technician at KO-KNET stand in front of the NICSN earth station in Sioux Lookout. Read about their work in this news article from Metro Canada.

These technical tools are important, but just as important are communication skills. Since all this work is done over telephone or by videoconference, patience and good humour are important. Training and troubleshooting are everyday experiences. I think my job involves more than being the ‘invisible person’ working behind the scenes. Often I’m encouraging participants to turn off their microphone, and working with them to develop effective online meeting spaces.

Videoconference launch of the 2010 report Putting the ‘last-mile’ first

If you are interested in learning more about this job, I’m happy to talk to you about my experiences. You can reach me by email

Find out more

VideoCom research about videoconferencing and technology in First Nations