The Power of Video Conferencing in the Academic Research Arena

Over the decades and centuries, the academic world has evolved massively, and over recent years our quantity and quality of knowledge has increased exponentially. If you look back 100 years, collaboration between academic establishments was often strangely missing.

In answering many of the great questions of the day it was a race against time, and against each other. These days, we live in an interconnected world. No longer do we have to rely on annual conferences and symposia for the sharing of knowledge. Research papers are open to everyone, and the Internet has transformed the way that we see and share information.

A major shift we have seen is that of academic groups working from diverse locations around the world with a central Internet based repository of information, and platform for communication. Video conferencing is the wave of technology that we are seeing develop with increasing vigour.

Video Conferencing in Universities

Video conferencing provides the opportunity to have real-time, face-to-face, high definition conversations. A researcher in the UK can discuss Quarks, solar flares, wave theory, Alzheimers, and other high-level topics, with an expert in Australia, the USA, Dubai or anywhere else; or with all of them at the same time. It is even possible to co-ordinate and integrate multiple conferences and forums through video conferencing, as in the case of the Annual US Community Genetics Forums.

There is no longer the need for workgroups to sit in the same room to pass files to each other, or even work off the same ‘sheet’. The combination of interactive white boards, file sharing and other tools frequently used in business, with the simplicity of video conferencing, is changing the way scientific breakthroughs are able to be made.

Budgets are always stretched to breaking point in the academic arena, and so the time and money saved through the use of this technology is a massive driver to efficiency and new research possibilities; it makes some projects that would otherwise be impossible, possible.

It isn’t just in the dynamic of academic to academic communication that video conferencing is invaluable. Many establishments have begun to use video to get geographically distant expert knowledge in front of students. In this way, lecture halls can benefit from the knowledge and experience of the best experts and lecturers, who are sometimes on the other side of the world. The academic arena truly is becoming a smaller and more accessible place.

Let’s take a look at some of the academic establishments around the world which are using video conferencing to facilitate their work.

University of Exeter, Pathfinder video conferencing project
As far back as 2007 universities were incorporating VC in their lecture processes. An innovative and scientific evaluation of the process was made by Exeter University. An HEA and JISC funded project assessed the benefits of using the technology across multiple sites, over the course of a 14 month period.

Video conferencing was used to deliver somewhere in the region of 460 teaching sessions across the Exeter and Cornwall campuses. The study found that almost 100,000 miles of staff travel were eliminated, 34 tonnes less CO2 were omitted from the process, and a mammoth 63 weeks of academic time was saved. In a simultaneous study of 429 video conference teaching sessions across 4 sites, almost 62,000 staff travel miles were eliminated, 22 tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided, and 43 weeks of staff time saved.

These benefits are enough to make you sit up and take note. However, the findings also highlighted how:

  • Students appreciated the video conferencing process, and that it facilitated their access to lecturers that otherwise may not have been within their reach.
  • Lecturers adapted their teaching methods to incorporate more technology, such as online resources and PowerPoint.
  • Students greatly appreciated access to recorded lectures to re-cap on what they had learned live.

 

Colorado State University
Colorado State University has video conference facilities across 12 rooms on campus. They provide the opportunity for live communication between students, staff and faculty experts.

When a member of the university wants to have a conversation with someone elsewhere in the State, around the country, or somewhere else in the world, all they need to do is schedule a room and choose the technology they want to use.

Colorado benefits from Access Grid, web conferencing, and H.323 room-based video conferencing. They have large room solutions for up to 20 people, providing multiple video inputs, high-definition video and sound, and multi-display environments. They also offer smaller rooms, for 3 or less participants wanting a more intimate VC environment.

They use a combination of Life-Size video conferencing equipment and Secure Meeting software to facilitate a secure environment with collaborative and file sharing functionality.
Testimony to the fact that the technology is popular in the academic arena is that the 12 facilities have to be booked ahead of time in order to use them.

The South East Physics Network
Video conferencing is, as mentioned above, being used to facilitate academic networking and collaboration. The South East physics network drives collaboration between Royal Holloway University, Sussex University, Southampton University and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

According to Dr Alexander Belyaev, video conferencing is driving the development of particle physics by providing an environment for faster dialogue, and more of it.

Experimental and theoretical particle physicists have, throughout history, worked somewhat in isolation. This new technology is helping to integrate the discipline and is leading to more answers, and more questions too.

There are very few environments in which collaboration over distance can be as beneficial.

Whether teaching the next generation of experts or sharing findings and discussing theories, video conferencing provides an edge. It is making the academic world a more connected place, and as well as saving time, money and reducing CO2 emissions, it is bringing the best minds in the world together more often.