Uses of Videoconferencing
ViDe Videoconferencing Cookbook
As the previous sections describe, videoconferencing can be used very effectively
for meetings and classes. Travel costs and stress can be reduced while personal
interaction can remain high. More people can be reached with knowledge and
information when videoconferencing is used in the classroom. This section
will describe going past the mere communication of presence or presentations.
Collaboration is the process of working together. Videoconferencing systems
can be designed to support rich multimodal interactions between sites.
A videoconferencing terminal will generally come with a number of software
tools including electronic whiteboards, ftp, and chats. The whiteboard can
be useful for dynamic lectures, collaborative diagramming, brainstorming,
and sharing notes. ftp can be used to transfer files quickly without the
need for a separate operating system window. Chat can be useful when audio
quality is poor or unavailable for some participants or when a subset of
participants needs to communicate privately.
An interface is often provided to enable sharing of third party applications
that may be installed on participating workstations. This is particularly
useful when group work is supported by project-specific software applications.
Optimally, communications between the terminal end stations -- while they
are sharing these tools and applications -- should be standardized to ensure
the highest level of interoperability, access and accuracy. The most common
implementations are supported by the ITU standard, T.120. As stated in the
DataBeam Tutorial on the T.120 Series Standard, "Established by the
International Telecommunications Union (ITU), T.120 is a family of open standards
that was defined by leading data communication practitioners in the industry.
Over 100 key international vendors, including Apple, AT&T, British Telecom,
Cisco Systems, Intel, MCI, Microsoft, and PictureTel, have committed to implementing
T.120-based products and services."
Two terms often heard in discussions of T.120 are application sharing and
data collaboration. The distinction here primarily revolves around who has
control of material or application. In application sharing, the owner of
the material or application is allowing the other participants to view it
only. In data collaboration, the owner of the material or application is
sharing both the view and the ability to modify the material (or run the
application.) We will illustrate the use of these through several examples.
Videoconferencing endstation clients that support application sharing and
data collaboration often do so through buttons or pull down menus. In most
cases, a button will be clicked or menu item selected while the relevant
application window is active. The process is very simple. A mouse click will
be assumed in these examples. (See
Practical Videoconferencing Examples
for full graphical examples.)
Lecture: Large class distributed over several sites - You are an instructor who has the need to show material
from a presentation, web page, or other application. In this case
you want to present the material in one direction.
So after activating the window, you simply click on the application sharing
button. The material immediately shows up on the screens throughout the conference.
As you navigate through the application during the lecture, each local screen change mimicked on the remote screens. (Note:
it is not necessary for the application to be resident on the receiving machines.)
Lecture: Small Class - This case is similar to the one above except that
you are working with a much smaller class. In this case, you might want to
have more than just video and audio dialog between yourself and the students
(and student to student.) Perhaps you'd like to include some problem solving
aspect to the class. You might bring up an electronic whiteboard or other
application and start up the shared data collaboration so that each student
might present their ideas on a topic or solutions to particular problems.
Presentation Planning - You are an educator, scientist, engineer, or technologist.
You have been working on a project in your
field with others who are separated
by quite some distance. Several of you are doing a team presentation so you
would like to prepare your slides together. After activating the call between
the presenters, one of you will bring up the presentation software and click
on the button for application sharing (if only one person will be typing)
or data collaboration (if all of you will be entering material.) You are
able to discuss the material, analyze the potential audience, and schedule
each section in your face-to-face dialog. As you agree on layout and topics,
you can enter them directly into the presentation.
Proposal Preparation - You are an information technology director who is
working with another information technology director at a different school.
The two of you are proposing a joint project in educational technologies
over advanced networks. You are preparing your material in your favorite
publication software. After activation of the call, one of you will bring
up the document and click on the data collaboration button. The document
will appear on the other director's screen. Each of you can now type into
the document. Control is transferred back and forth simply via mouse clicks.
Changes will appear on each screen.
Student Projects - It is very common to assign group projects, particularly
in higher-level classes and as term projects. This is a good team building
strategy that allows the students to tackle larger problems and learn from
each other. As long as the students have been located at the same campus,
or reasonably close by, this works well. While application sharing and data
collaboration could still be used locally (say for those night owls who don't
want to drive late at night), a great deal of diversity can be added to the
project if the students are in separate locations. Students in environmental
studies might be teamed together from diverse locations such as a coastal
environment, a mountain environment, a desert environment, etc. The students
can use data collaboration to prepare their final reports, run data analysis
for all to see, and then prepare and present the results to the rest of the class.
Scientific Research - You are an engineer and you are studying aircraft
wing design with several colleagues who are distributed around the country.
You have implemented a large-scale application on a parallel computing system
at one of your sites (actually, it could be anywhere on the network!) The
person at that site can begin the application and click on data collaboration
so that each of you can interact with the model as it runs and see the results
as they happen. You are also using CAD software (which runs in an X-Windowed
environment) to analyze the output further. One of you will start up the
CAD software and click on application sharing. All of you can then view the
structures and discuss what happened, what to try next, and so move onto the next phase.
These are but a few examples of the diverse uses of videoconferencing for
collaboration. In thinking of your own scenarios, consider aspects of your
project work or instruction activities where information is being passed back and
forth in the form of file or document transfer but where the information is currently being acted
on or viewed individually. If manipulation of this information is really intended
to support the development of a common product or understanding, these are
aspects of your collaborative work that may be enhanced through application
and/or data sharing.