Remote Defense Tips from the Graduate College

Tips on hosting a virtual defense  

This decorative info graphic shows a brown laptop with a yellow wi-fi signal symbol on its screen.

Which platform to chose

The requirement for a public portion of the defense is currently suspended: however, public defenses can be held remotely using WebEx (wmich.edu/webex) or another virtual platform.  Graduate Students may use any virtual platform for their dissertation or thesis defenses and should use whatever works well for their committee. We recommend using WebEX, since that is available to all students, faculty, and staff and is a secure connection. If external committee members do not have access to this platform, other options include MS Teams, Zoom, or Google Hangout.

Schedule

  • Attendees should join the meeting 5-10 minutes before the start time, and committee members should join 15 minutes before the start time to resolve any technical difficulties.
  • In WebEx, the meeting organizer (generally the student or committee chair) will send a link to committee members or to the department, and participants simply click the “Join Meeting” link.

Minimize Distractions

  • The meeting organizer can turn off the signal that indicates when attendees join the meeting to minimize distraction.
  • Meeting attendees should mute themselves (click microphone icon) during the presentation to reduce feedback that can interfere with the audio.
  • Attendees other than the committee members should turn off their video (click camcorder icon) to decrease the chance of lag on the video feed.

Viewing

  •  Committee members should be on video so they can indicate when they have a question and can provide some visual feedback to the student.
  • The student will be able to see a list of participants, even if your video and audio are off, so their support will be noted even if the student can’t see them.

Public Questions

  • If questions from the audience (other than committee members) are requested, attendees can indicate that they have a question in the chat feature (in WebEx, this feature is indicated with the conversation bubble icon).
  • When the committee chair calls your name, unmute yourself and ask your question. You can turn on your video during your question, if you like. After your question is answered, mute yourself again and turn off video.

Private Questions

  • Once the public question period is over, participants other than the committee members will be asked to leave the meeting. 
  • Only the student and committee should be in the meeting for the private defense, when the committee continues to ask questions until the defense is over. If committee members want a private discussion, they may ask the student to leave the meeting then ask them to join again after the discussion is complete.

Contingency plans

We suggest that you have several contingency plans, including possibly asking the non-committee attendees to leave the meeting to increase bandwidth for the student and committee or using FaceTime or a conference call between the student and committee to ensure that the defense proceeds. Be flexible and supportive. Defenses are stressful under the best conditions, so please make the student as comfortable as possible.

With thanks to Dr. Sharon Gill for sharing her tips, which formed the basis for these suggestions.
Download these remote defense tips in a handy image format

Managing uninvited attendees

WebEx is the preferred platform, due to its advanced security. If you use Zoom, here are some tips from the FBI, Zoom and other experts to prevent "Zoombombing":

  • Keep meetings and classrooms private. Do this by requiring a meeting password. Additionally, the "Waiting Room" feature can help hosts control who enters.
  • Do not share invites to Zoom meetings on social media. Instead, send the meeting password directly to attendees.
  • Use a random meeting ID, so it can't be shared multiple times. According to Zoom's website, this is safer than using a "Personal Meeting ID."
  • Change screensharing settings to "Only Host," so no one but the host can control the screen. The host can also mute participants in their settings.
  • Lock a Zoom session that has already begun so no one else can join. Do this by clicking "Participants" in the bottom of a Zoom window, then clicking "Lock Meeting."
  • Remove participants by hovering over their name in the Participants menu, and clicking the "Remove" option. The removed participant will not be allowed back in, according to Zoom's website.
  • The FBI advises users to make sure they have the most updated version of Zoom's software. A recent security update added default passwords and disabled the ability to scan for meetings to join.