Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

University Uses 'Visual Teleconferencing' to Take Education to Students

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

University Uses 'Visual Teleconferencing' to Take Education to Students

Article excerpt

Do more with less"--this is the challenge of the '90s, a challenge for individuals, business and certainly for universities and institutes of higher education.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions of the United States, serves a state that is home to about 12 million people. About three-quarters are concentrated in the greater Chicago area, while the rest are dispersed in a number of smaller centers and rural areas. Three quarters of the state is farmland, and the economy has a strong agriculture base.

To reach out to its community, the university is using a software product called VIS-A-VIS from WorldLinx Telecommunications Inc., of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. With it, they now offer a whole new method of instruction called "visual teleconferencing." Specially equipped classrooms are set up in off-campus locations; the instructor delivers a course from an oncampus classroom.

Fred Mastny is the program director for Media-based Instruction at the university. In 1989, his office purchased VIS-A-VIS to deliver instruction off-campus for both the Office of Extramural Programs and the Office of Guided Individual Studies. "VIS-A-VIS is an extremely effective way to take education to the people," says Mastny. Using this software, his office has delivered courses in horticulture, educational psychology, engineering, special education, food science, animal science, social work and continuing-education administration.

* Being in Two or More Places

For instructors delivering courses using VIS-A-VIS, the most obvious benefit is reduced travel time. Many professors deliver a full day's instruction and then have to board a plane or drive for several hours to deliver a night course in another community. With VIS-A-VIS, not only can instructors deliver courses from the convenience of their office, they also send to more than one classroom simultaneously.

Bob Henderson, a professor who has delivered his special education course using VIS-A-VIS, comments, "I have to do more upfront preparation for my teleconferencing classes, but the investment in high-quality visual material means the classes run very smoothly, and the students have good material to take away after class." Visuals can be scanned images, still-camera images or graphics developed using paint and drawing software." The materials are also useful for my oncampus classes," he adds.

The biggest challenge in using this new technology for an instructor is compensating for the lack of eye contact with students. Mastny's department provides instructors with guidance on how to overcome this hurdle. Classes need to be more interactive, Mastny explains, and instructors are encouraged to use techniques that promote discussion such as brainstorming, panels, role playing and case studies.

* Students' View

Reduced travel time is a benefit also enjoyed by students taking the classes. But the bigger benefit for them is definitely the "economy of scale" provided by visual teleconferencing. …

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