How Video Conferencing Is Changing Higher Education

Among the institutions most changed by Internet access, higher education has pushed the envelope of technologically assisted learning in innovative directions. Increasing access to higher education via online courses, free courseware, and online access to public and private universities has created an almost à la carte menu of educational offerings to address all interests across all age groups and demographics. Enthusiastic adoption of videoconferencing technology from small community colleges to world-class universities is changing the face of education as we know it.

Reasons for Using Videoconferencing
Just like other institutions, colleges and universities need to keep an eye on their budgets and allocate their funds in the most efficient manner that also fulfills their educational mission. While colleges and universities have always had a technological edge, often being on the leading edge of development, some aspects of technology have taken longer to develop and implement than others. Videoconferencing – once expensive, demanding of resources, and difficult to deploy without a team of computer engineering students – is now inexpensive, readily accessible, and usable by even the most tech averse of the faculty. Some of the uses to which videoconferencing has been put are:

• Hybrid classes where students attend in both a physical location, and attend other portions of the same course online. A professor might have his students perform lab work on campus but offer the lecture portion of the course online.
• Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs are free university online courses open to anyone to create a forum for learning without necessarily being matriculating at the institution in question. Massachusetts Institute of Technology is one of the largest MOOC providers.
• Intercampus courses can allow a single faculty member to teach one course to students at different campuses. For instance, a professor can teach a course from his position at UC Berkeley, and have students at other UC schools attend online.
• Professors from various campuses within the same system can collaborate on a syllabus and then team teach or co-teach a course.
• Professors, faculty advisors, and teaching assistants can also extend their office hours and make themselves available to their students and to each other when they are not normally on campus.
• Group projects among students can be held after campus hours, from anywhere, in order to facilitate work on group projects or allow study groups to meet face-to-face in real time.
• Departmental meetings, administrative meetings, and training sessions can be held in webinar or videoconference format in order to decrease travel time and disseminate large amounts of information all at once.
• First-round interviews for faculty, staff, and executive positions can be conducted by videoconference in order to reduce travel expenses for applicants, and to ease the strain on the university’s travel budget.

Reasons to Change to Cloud-Based Videoconferencing
Back in the early days of videoconferencing, a videoconferencing room could cost $1 million or more and was rarely deployed except in the heady reaches of high finance or multinational corporations. The equipment was slow, expensive, required maintenance contracts and trained operators, and could not interface with other systems, making its use somewhat limited. Cloud-based systems, such as Blue Jeans higher education, are much more versatile, scalable, and adaptable than traditional software/hardware systems. In addition, cloud-based are less expensive, and more user-friendly so as to fit in almost any meeting room, or meeting style. The cloud is no longer a buzzword, but in active method by which businesses, individuals, and institutions can reduce expenses, increase efficiency, and engage users at all levels. Inc. Magazine estimates that by 2020, 80 percent of the smallest businesses will be using the cloud in their day-to-day operations.

Change, is anyone in academia knows, does not happen overnight. There is a learning curve to a new technology that many will find daunting and off-putting. According to the Emily Post Institute, the adoption of a new technology relies upon upper management to set the course by embracing and using the technology with confidence and familiarity. One key person can influence an entire department into enthusiastic adoption and use of the technology, combined with active promotion of potential and actual achievements can bring users on board. Commitment and engagement are vitally important factors in any endeavor whether in business, industry, or education. Everyone has had that conference call where you knew very well that people were reading their email, working on other assignments, or playing Candy Crush for lack of anything to do. There is a degree of disengagement in audio only meetings that is not present in videoconferencing. Gigaom’s research showed that 87 percent of remote users felt more connected and involved when using videoconferencing. They felt engaged in the process and other team members, and were less likely to multitask instead of participating, and engaging directly with other attendees.

About Author