Hosting Virtual Tours: A Primer

June 4, 2019

Amy and I met online, at the time another maker-oriented organization was running virtual tours. Amy was a part of leading these tours and I became hooked on attending and learning about makerspaces around the country.

I had just moved to New Hampshire after seven interesting, crazy, and rather humid years spent in Washington, DC and was challenged as I attempted to find information and best-practices from other higher education institutions as we researched what we could do for a makerspace here on our campus (Coming Soon!). In Washington, I was surrounded by spaces, I had a makerspace I was helping build and run in a large urban public library system, we had foreign dignitaries and librarians from around the country visiting us to see what we were doing. We met visionary folks, like one of the founders of the now-defunct TechShop who wrote a book on making.

When I moved to New Hampshire I perceived the world quite differently. We had some makerspaces in New Hampshire and at first, I joined all of the community spaces. But as time went on, I had less personal time to visit these spaces. Between my commuting and the location of my institution in the north, I did not have enough time to visit the spaces (both located in the Southern part of the state – south of my work and my home). I instead focused on what I could do at work – virtual makerspace tours.

Plymouth, NH at its heart, is a rural community. The population was 6,990 at the 2010 census. In order to see what is possible and happening in makerspaces, virtual tours were for us one of the best ways to continue to share and collect information for our future space. I reached out to Amy and the rest is history.

Choosing the Tool

At Plymouth and at Boise, we use Zoom which allows for video conferencing and recording. It was clear to me that it would be a really handy tool to host our tours. Knowing we would be likely starting small, we began by using Zoom (which ours is restricted in terms of size, at Plymouth we can request to host a meeting for more than 50+ people using an additional form, fortunately for us the Makeher team has not yet met that threshold) and sharing our URL. There are other lower cost options. You could use Google Hangouts (limit 50 participants for Education subscribers) or Skype (limit of 50 folks as well) to host a virtual tour or conference. Then using a screen recorder like Quicktime (on a Mac) or the wonderful OBS Studio, would allow you to record and then upload your calls and share them far and wide.

We found some best practices along the way to create a good environment for hosting virtual tours.

1. Testing the tool with our hosts at spaces. Around 1-2 weeks in advance, we generally have a test call to see how things go with our hosts. We try things out like using book carts for a nice streamlined view of a space, test out microphones, phone vs. computer use and of course the selfie view vs. the outward facing side of a cell phone camera. We’ve found these tests to be essential to completing a successful virtual tour.

2. Always mute first. Audio feedback and chatter can be an issue. In order to reduce this, we select the mute on arrival function for Zoom.

3. Chat is your friend. We use the chat function to encourage virtual tour attendees to ask questions and focus on that as our main means of communication during the tour, at the end attendees are welcomed to ask questions and we (Amy and I) as moderators direct those questions when appropriate.

4. Send email/messages to communicate. We typically send out all of our tour information and our expectations for the virtual tours in messages over our Google Group again prior to the tours typically an invite is sent out at least two weeks in advance to allow people to reserve time on their calendars!

5. Refine. After the tours we typically post an edited version on YouTube, given our open-ness and our open education initiative at Plymouth State, I prefer to post these as creative commons licensed files. I always mention this as we prepare our hosts to assure that they want to opt-in to our sharing of their tours. As a former video editor, I take care of some quick and simple editing in Adobe Premiere Pro before posting the files on YouTube for consumption and delight.

6. Respecting Time. We set these tours to last no more than one hour, to respect the time of the host and attendees and we also look into time(s) that work for different time zones. Amy is located in Idaho, and myself in New Hampshire, which means we try to respect time differences across the board. Looking to the host first always, but making recommendations where necessary as we go.

These are the key first steps to making virtual tours or conferences that work for us and for you – the other important person in the equation – the curious discoverer of virtual information.