The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (UA) is using video conferencing comprehensively to improve learning and control operational costs. Originally used for occasional standard definition applications, we are employing high definition for everything from the classroom to committee work. We’ll soon enable video conferencing on students’ mobile devices, to make distance learning portable as well.
UA is a land-grant university, with some 25,000 students, and 7,000 faculty and staff. It is distinguished as a “very high research” organization – a classification reserved for the top two percent of the nation’s 4,600 universities. Partly because of that status, the University also is the home of a statewide high-speed optical network to connect all four-year and two-year colleges. Once that happens, the University of Arkansas will be at the center of a video conferencing initiative among all academic institutions in the state.
The early days and building out the infrastructure
Video conferencing at UA started with administrative uses and occasional classroom applications in standard definition. At the time, only a couple of endpoints on campus were dedicated for high definition video. We knew we could get the most from our video conferencing investment across a wide range of administrative and educational uses once we built out a specific IT infrastructure to carry the system.
A committee tested solutions from all of the major video conferencing vendors. Video endpoints from LifeSize, a division of Logitech, were already used on campus for administrative purposes, so it was an each choice to standardize around that technology.
Now, each department or college now has its own IT infrastructure instead of a few individual video conferencing endpoints scattered across campus. This infrastructure and standardization allows us to bring more users together in a more structured way, and gives the IT departments across campus the power to use video conferencing solution in more sophisticated ways.
Cost-effective service to students
One of the biggest benefits of video conferencing at UA is the enormous time savings for faculty members or students in commuting to other campus locations. Both the University of Arkansas Medical School and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, for example, are more than a three-hour drive from our Fayetteville campus. With the capability to participate in live high definition conferences and to record and stream content, we have found that video conferencing has become a fully functional addition to the technology of the classroom.
The University of Arkansas School of Law can now connect with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law. This lets students take part in mock trials over high definition video. The school also uses video for “overflow” classrooms, when there’s not enough room in the physical classrooms to seat all of the students. In that case, the school uses another classroom connected by high definition video endpoints.
The agricultural college takes video conferencing a step further. As a land-grant college, the University of Arkansas has ties with Washington, DC and the state government in Little Rock. College representatives use high-definition video conferencing to coordinate communications with the USDA and Little Rock state offices.
Both the nursing department and the University of Arkansas Medical School use video conferencing – particularly because the Medical School is, as mentioned before, a three-hour drive from Fayetteville. Improved high definition resolution, recording and streaming capability has been a great boost to their use of the technology in learning.
Another valuable application is integration with Blackboard LearnTM. Classrooms are equipped with cameras to record classes for students to access and review. As a result, we can now offer degrees entirely online – as a graduate degree in education technology and an online nursing degree are two examples. The students can just log in to the platform and watch the lectures at their convenience from any location.
For the future
Mobility is a key part of UA’s video conferencing plans. In the fall of 2014 we’ll launch the first-ever mixed-use application of both mobile and fixed classroom video conferencing. This will be a live, interactive class, with conferencing accessed by students on their own software-enabled mobile devices.
The entire state is poised for better connectivity, collaboration and cost-savings with the development of the Arkansas Research and Education Optical Network (ARE-ON). The statewide high feed fiber-based optical network is an economic initiative wholly owned and operated by the Arkansas higher education community and housed on campus at the University of Arkansas. ARE-ON will tie together all of the four- and two-year campuses in the state.
Once that is completed, these academic institutions can start on their own video conferencing infrastructure.
The benefits of high definition video at the University of Arkansas allows us to put students first, reduce operating expenses and grow the state’s knowledge-based economy, to make a real difference for the state and the nation.
—Eric Gorder is Program Manager at the Faculty Technology Center for University of Arkansas IT Services. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.