Is Academia finally ready for Videoconferencing?

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The current recession has persuaded institutions of higher education to look in new places for significant savings. And so, rather than flying cross country for a conference, imagine being able to take part in sessions, or even delivering a paper, right from your office or from a specialized videoconferencing facility on campus.
Professor John Nash and Professor Robert Socolow, for example, have given several keynote addresses via videoconferencing. Says Professor Socolow: “The Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and the Center for Human Values sponsored a video conference lecture last spring for the popular Ethics and Climate Change Lecture Series. Robyn Eckersley of the University of Australia at Melbourne presented a virtual lecture entitled: “The Ethics of Carbon Trading” to an audience which was very receptive to the videoconference.”
The lecture and more information about the series are available at the ECC website.


Socolow continues: “Videoconferencing gives me the convenience of being more present globally, while at the same time keeping my carbon footprint in check. Kris Kauker of OIT/Media Services has been indispensable to us in helping us work with Web-Ex and other formats to help us use videoconferencing so we can easily connect to faraway places such as New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Portugal, and so on. It’s also a wonderful option for places close by and saves an enormous amount of time and money that travel would require. Kris is a fantastic resource and always goes the extra mile to make things very easy for us on this end. The connections are seamless. It’s as though we are in the same room with those on the other end of the world.”
And, here at Princeton, a working group at Princeton’s Benheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing has been using videoconferencing for nearly five years. A group of faculty, students, post docs and staff at Princeton and Columbia meet twice a month during the semester to present papers and to review their research. Participants here and at Columbia can view the speakers and their Powerpoint slides, and communicate very much like a real gathering. Regina Leidy, Communications Coordinator in Population Research reports that the videoconferences support a healthy discussion and interaction.
Of course, as these examples suggests, videoconferencing is about more than saving money. It may also permit you and other speakers from other campuses to make very productive use of your collective time. You can use videoconferencing for interactive teaching, for research collaboration, for meetings with colleagues at a distance, for interviews on network television, and for sharing your expertise with outside groups.
Imagine bringing a guest lecturer from a distant locale into your class without infringing on their time or the huge expense of travel, or sharing your own expertise in a lecture at Harvard. You could also use campus’s videoconferencing technology to consult with outside staff and faculty who share your interests, to even to conduct interviews with potential job candidates or students.
Videoconferencing simply involves two-way audio and video communication.
Princeton makes available to its faculty, staff, and students several different types of videoconferencing facilities that support a full range of audio-visual interactions.
But be sure to plan ahead. Socolow emphasizes: “With each use of videoconferencing, we are reminded that the technology is in its infancy. Each connection takes advanced planning, and most connections require at least a dress rehearsal. In most cases, Princeton is more advanced than our partner, who struggles to make the connection work. One of the reasons for choosing videoconferencing is to encourage the development of capability in other institutions.”
Videoconference Rooms at Princeton
There are five Videoconferencing rooms on campus with specialized equipment that will permit individuals or groups to interact with a remote group or even multiple groups.
One of the rooms is at Friend Center, two are in Robertson Hall, one is in Wallace Hall, and one is at the Peter B. Lewis Science Library. All five rooms support Internet (IP) and specialized telephone (ISDN) connections. There is an additional charge for telephone connections, but Internet-based sessions have no connection fee. Internet connections are encouraged whenever possible because Telephone videoconferences can become quite costly.
Desktop Videoconferencing
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The University supports desktop videoconferencing, essentially one-to-one interactions or one-to-many interactions directly from your own computer. Software, notably WebEx and Skype, permits you to communicate directly with others in academia so long as you have a camera and microphone attached to (or built into) your computer. With WebEx, for example, you can host a meeting or conference with an unlimited number of attendees and share any application or content on your desktop or on any of the attendees’ computers. To get started, see the Knowledge Base articles on WebEx FAQs and setting up a WebEx session or contact OIT’s Help Desk.
Portable Videoconferencing Systems
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When you want to communicate with a group of people, but need to do so from your own office or classroom, it is also possible to bring in portable videoconferencing equipment.
The University maintains two portable Video Teleconferencing units that are best used in an office, a small classroom or conference room with an active network connection. The entire setup is usually brought into the room on a small cart outfitted with a computer monitor for the other site. Rental and labor charges apply, and can depend on the host room’s capabilities.
For additional details on costs and getting started with Princeton’s videoconferencing facilities, look at the Videoconferencing at Princeton web site. The site previews all five videoconferencing rooms, contains a list of frequently asked questions (with answers), and offers useful tips for making sure that all of your videoconferences proceed smoothly.
The last question in the FAQ is: “Why don’t more people do this?” The answer: “Good question. It saves on travel, hotels, and time. It can also bring a world of content to your classroom or office.”

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