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Instructional Technology Conference 2009

Title: 21st Century Videoconferencing

Name: Dr. Roland Untch

Audience: Faculty, Instructional Technology Specialists, General

Audience Level: All

Length: 1 Hour

Abstract: The notion that videoconferencing requires dedicated facilities and expensive equipment is obsolete. Videoconferencing solutions have recently emerged that are very consumer friendly and provide facilities beyond simple interactive video, such as shared whiteboards and browsers. Several of these technologies, such as ConferenceXP or Access Grid or DimDim, are free of cost. This session introduces these new technologies and considers how they can be used in an academic setting for collaboration and synchronous distance education.

Description: In the past, it has been difficult and costly to approximate genuine face-to-face human interaction across computer networks That has changed dramatically in the past few years. Historically, videoconferencing (VC) began as point-to-point two-way televised sessions; one site was designated as the local site and the other as the remote site. In the late 1990s the use of expensive ISDN (switched circuit) communication lines gradually gave way to inexpensive Internet-based communications. However little else changed in the conventional VC model. In particular, most videoconferencing used expensive dedicated equipment, from a limited set of vendors, to outfit special VC rooms for point-to-point communication. These rooms could cost tens of thousands of dollars and required major technical expertise to set up and operate. Interaction was usually limited to whatever the cameras and microphones could capture and a record of the meeting was often little more than a videotape of the local site.

The confluence of several technological advances has given rise to several new videoconferencing systems. Network bandwidth has increased while costs have decreased, personal computers have increased in performance and ubiquity, and consumer digital audio/video components have improved considerably. Leveraging these advances, several new systems geared for interactive distance education and collaboration, such as ConferenceXP, Access Grid, and DimDim, have recently been deployed successfully. These systems offer more features than traditional videoconferencing systems. Features such as chat areas, shared desktop applications, whiteboards, and easy recording/archiving/playback are available as fully integrated components. Unlike dedicated vendor-based solutions, these systems run on standard commodity computers; moreover those computers need not be solely dedicated for VC---when not in a videoconference they can continue to be used for other applications. Importantly, PC-based videoconferencing systems can be portable; they can be moved in and out of traditional lecture rooms and offices as needed.

These new videoconferencing systems are also much easier to use and operate than previous systems. Unlike previous "identity-based" systems where the address information for each participant has to be entered in order to make a connection, most new systems are "venue-based"---a fancy way of saying that you need only select a (virtual) meeting room to join in the interaction. This venue-based approach, coupled with capable network connections and late-model computers, also facilitates multipoint communications. Practical desktop videoconferencing with multiple remote sites is possible.

Finally, many of these new VC systems are free; some are even available as open source software. The use of commodity PCs, consumer components, and cheap software make these new systems very inexpensive to deploy and operate.

This presentation will demonstrate and showcase a few of these new videoconferencing systems. In particular, it will highlight why the use of these 21st century systems is as different from old-style videoconferencing as, say, cell phone use is different from using a phone booth. Uses of these systems in an academic setting for collaboration and synchronous distance education will be considered.

Session Type: Lecture/Presentation

On-Site Equipment Requirements: Wired internet link and a digital projector. I will bring computer and other equipment.

Contact Information/Affiliation:
Dr. Roland Untch
Department of Computer Science
Middle Tennessee State University
MTSU Box 48
Murfreesboro, TN 37132-0048