In the 1990s Chadron State College (CSC) was an established leader at the forefront of delivering synchronous instruction through the use of videoconferencing technology in higher education. The delivery spanned multiple transmission modalities, including dedicated satellite uplink/downlink over a Nebraska-owned satellite (NET3), telephone circuit-switched networks, and eventually the widespread use of optical fiber networks. My employment at CSC started near the peak of CSC’s Interactive Distance Learning (IDL) program.
The IDL program delivered instruction in a number of disciplines; these comprised MBA, MA, and MS degrees and transmitted well over 500 hours of monthly instruction to classrooms spanning the state of Nebraska. At the time, videoconferencing technology was highly specialized, expensive, and subsequently place-bound, requiring substantial technical support and monitoring for reliable instructional delivery.
From IDL to Web
The World Wide Web was in its infancy at the height of CSC’s IDL program. As the Internet developed, significant changes occurred in technology and instructional delivery. The changes ranged from the demise of classroom fax machines and specialized videoconferencing equipment to personal computers installed in classrooms, to the birth of online instruction and the availability of inexpensive high-speed networks. Videoconferencing standards also emerged and began to take advantage of common hardware and network infrastructure, further breaking down cost and communication barriers for group-based “classroom” videoconferencing systems.
CSC continues to use IDL classrooms now referred to as campus ITV (Interactive Television) classrooms. These classrooms have been upgraded with economical standards-based videoconferencing systems and the ability to utilize low-cost shared network infrastructure. A dedicated videoconferencing system is built for reliability and incorporates management and hardware features specifically designed to support group-based conferencing.
Room-based systems often comprise multiple displays, microphones, and pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras essential for interaction for large group venues. The ITV classroom model effectively supports interaction between virtual student classrooms and guest speakers alike while remaining simple to operate. In addition to videoconferencing, the equipment installed in ITV classrooms can be further utilized to support streaming and recording of classroom instruction.
In 2011 CSC extended videoconferencing capabilities into the desktop and mobile arenas. Vidyo technology was implemented as an extremely versatile software platform providing desktop (personal computer) and mobile videoconferencing capabilities to campus. Vidyo is primarily designed as a solution for enterprise desktop videoconferencing but is unique in the ability to bridge together disparate and multi-vendor videoconferencing and collaborative technologies.
Vidyo integrates live video streaming, archiving, and sharing functionalities into mobile, desktop, and room-based videoconferencing environments. Vidyo connects remote students and guest participants over desktop and mobile platforms into existing ITV classrooms and group system environments. Recording and streaming capabilities are often utilized to provide lecture capture and simple-to-use video sharing without dedicated hardware or expensive contracted services.
In 2013 CSC contracted with Microsoft to bring Office 365 capabilities to campus. Skype for Business (formerly Lync) is currently included in the campus subscription as a component to the Office 365 services providing access to a familiar Skype videoconferencing environment. Skype for Business uses a proprietary protocol that is incompatible with other mainstream videoconferencing solutions; however, Microsoft continues to integrate functionality inside other Office 365 services. Office 365 Video is a newly created service (not yet implemented at CSC) that could likely merge the Skype platform with Microsoft video streaming, archiving, and sharing services similar to that provided by YouTube and Vimeo.
As the popularity of Skype for Business increases, companies such as Zoom and Blue Jeans Networks offer fee-based bridging services making the closed-loop application compatible within multi-vendor environments. Companies such as Polycom and Vytru are also taking advantage of Skype for Business popularity and incorporating features into products that may eventually accommodate large group videoconferencing venues more effectively.
BigBlueButton is another noteworthy open-source web conferencing platform that CSC has been developing for several years. BigBlueButton has recently been adopted as the official “meeting tool” within the Sakai community. Thus, Sakai, CSC’s learning management system (LMS) will soon feature integrated videoconferencing (meeting tool) that may encourage more synchronous events in formats that are more typically asynchronous. Instructors in online courses will have various videoconferencing options, including tailored permissions to allow student-initiated and group-moderated meetings that can also be recorded for later review.
Faculty interested in learning more about videoconferencing technologies, including lecture capture, streaming, virtual guest speakers, and similar opportunities are encouraged to contact the TLC for additional information. Increasingly, the TLC will focus its efforts on reporting emerging technologies and identifying communication and training opportunities that enhance teaching and learning on campus. As we review technologies within the TLC, we will hold informational seminars and workshops, and will invite faculty to participate in a testing and review process. To discuss training opportunities and/or suggest “new arrival” gadgets, please stop in for a visit or contact the TLC’s IT Analyst, Jereme Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org or 308.432.6234).
Jereme is the IT Analyst for the TLC. His work focuses on the use and support of technologies in teaching and learning environments. He specializes in videoconferencing and synchronous learning capabilities. Jereme oversees mediated classroom technologies, specialized videoconferencing technologies, and is administrator for several server‐based applications and services offered through the TLC.