University of Arkansas Moving to Mobile Video Conferencing

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With a new video conferencing system installed last fall, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is now developing courses in which students will be able to access a live video stream of lectures remotely from their mobile devices.

The new courses, focused on agriculture and food law, are among several new applications of high definition video conferencing launched by the university since it adopted a system designed by LifeSize, an Austin-based company acquired by Logitech in 2009.

“The infrastructure we previously had was a hodgepodge of people who had appliances in their classrooms, but there was no centralization,” says Eric Gorder, program manager for the university’s IT services. Not only is the new system centralized, but Gorder says it is more cost-effective because it reduces travel costs for faculty and students who collaborate with departments on other campuses and for administrators who interview job applicants remotely.

Multi-Device Video Conferencing

The LifeSize system features a tool called ClearSea, which enables students to access video conferences via their desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile phone. Using this tool, distance classes are more interactive because students remotely watching the live video streaming can ask and answer questions in real-time and not be relegated to communicating through a chat window typical of most online classes.

“Rather than just perceiving the class as watching a lecture on television, they will be able to immerse themselves in the lectures and discussions, and participate as though they were in the room with the rest of their colleagues,” says Randy Thompson, director of the university’s law library and information technology services.

The courses will be tailored for attorneys who want to develop expertise in agriculture and food law and are working on their Master of Law degree. With the remote video conference capability, students from around the world who cannot leave their jobs and travel to Arkansas will be able to take one of the new courses.

Facilitating Collaboration

Students in the university’s nursing program have also benefited from the new video conferencing system since it allows them to collaborate with faculty at the University of Arkansas Medical School, which is three hours away in Little Rock. For example, a researcher who used a nursing student to simulate symptoms at the medical school could engage nursing students at the Fayetteville campus in the training since they could view it remotely and diagnose the condition.

Faculty who don’t want to deal with the hassle of leaving their offices to drive across campus for a meeting are using ClearSea to conference with colleagues from their desks. If they don’t have the video equipment in their office, they can access it from other rooms equipped with the LifeSize boxes.

Installing the video conferencing system requires a “pretty significant capital outlay upfront,” Gorder says, and to equip each classroom with a codec, or video conferencing tool, costs $2,999.

For the University of Arkansas, the benefits and savings have made the investment worthwhile, since the new system has opened up a new world of possibilities for both teaching and managing campus operations.

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