The board of review, like most aspects of Scouting, works best in person.
But sometimes, for a number of legitimate reasons, that’s not an option. That’s why, as outlined in the Guide to Advancement (section 126.96.36.199), the BSA allows units to conduct boards of review by teleconferencing, using tools like Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom.
Even before the coronavirus prompted families to be justifiably concerned about face-to-face meetings, this option has existed. In the past, it has been most commonly used in two situations:
- young people who have gone off to college or the military
- young people who live in remote areas
But the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the coronavirus makes this an appropriate time to turn to videoconferencing solutions, as well.
(For questions about how the coronavirus is affecting Scouting where you live, please follow the guidance of your local council. Because the impact of the virus varies greatly by community, your local council is best equipped to answer specific questions. Find your local council here. For the latest official national information about COVID-19, go to coronavirus.gov.)
If you have decided to use videoconferencing for a board of review, here’s what you need to know.
Please note that “Scout” or “Scouts” in this article also refers to Venturers or Sea Scouts as appropriate.
When is a board of review required?
Cub Scouts: Boards of review not required at any level.
Scouts BSA: Board of review required for every rank from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout. (See rank requirements here.)
Venturing: Board of review required for Discovery, Pathfinder and Summit awards. (See a Venturing board of review guide here).
Sea Scouts: Bridge of review required for all ranks. (Learn more here).
What guidelines should be followed in a video board of review?
The following is adapted from the BSA’s Guide to Advancement (section 188.8.131.52).
- For Eagle Scout boards of review, the local council must grant permission to hold it by videoconference. Other ranks do not need approval but should follow the requirements below.
- Test all equipment, including cameras, lighting, microphones, software, and internet connection.
- Make sure everyone is visible — including all members of the board of review, the Scout and any observers with the Scout. No one within hearing range on either side shall be off-camera. It is important to consider your technical capabilities when planning how many board of review members to involve. Observers should be minimized for any board of review, and this applies especially to videoconference reviews. Their presence can change the discussion dynamics.
- A parent or guardian of the Scout, or two registered adult leaders (as required by the Guide to Safe Scouting) who are familiar with these requirements for videoconference boards of review, must be directly present with the Scout at the beginning of the conference. The Scouters may be from the nearest council, district or unit. Their role is to verify that the Scout is in a safe environment and that the board of review appears to be in compliance with these requirements. Once all the members of the board of review are present on their end of the call and introductions are completed, and the review is about to begin, anyone present with the Scout must leave the room or move out of hearing distance unless they have specifically been approved to remain as observers.
- Once the review process has been concluded, if the Scout is under age 18, the Scout’s parent or guardian, or two registered adult leaders, must rejoin the Scout. Their purpose is to be available to answer any questions that may arise, to join in the celebration of the Scout’s accomplishment, or to be party to any instructions or arrangements regarding the appeals process or the reconvening of an incomplete review. Once this is done, the board members end the call and sign off.
- Videoconference boards of review must not be recorded.
- If an appeal is necessary (as outlined in the Guide to Advancement), this may be conducted via videoconference as well.
- Look presentable. Just as you would want to look sharp in your uniform for an in-person board of review, the same should apply to one conducted via video.
- Find a quiet space with a clean background. Try to minimize audio and visual distractions.
- Test your equipment. Enlist a friend or family member to help you test your connection, making sure they can see and hear you with minimal lag.
- Try for eye contact. Though your instinct will be to look at the screen to see the board of review members, spend some time looking directly into the camera. It may feel strange, but it will look better to the people watching.
Free videoconferencing options
Note: Each of the options below has a paid option, but I’m outlining the features of the free tier.
- Google Hangouts: Easy to use, no time limit, allows up to 10 participants
- Zoom: Great features, 40-minute time limit, allows up to 100 participants
- Skype: Good stability, four-hour time limit, allows up to 50 participants
- UberConference: Excellent video quality, 45-minute time limit, allows up to 10 participants
Have you used any other free videoconferencing providers, either through your job or at home? Leave a comment below.