Online Treasures: Distance Services: Researching Today's State-of-the-Art Technology

By Balas, Janet I. | Computers in Libraries, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Online Treasures: Distance Services: Researching Today's State-of-the-Art Technology


Balas, Janet I., Computers in Libraries


In last month's column on new technologies I briefly discussed the ELITE Project at the University of Leicester in the U.K. At the time I was interested in the use of videoconferencing in libraries for remote reference service, but I noticed that the project also included an emphasis on distance learning. It seems that I have been hearing about distance learning for years, but any discussion focused on its potential rather than on its actual use. As more libraries forge partnerships with schools as a means of providing increased support to students, the libraries, because of their longer operating hours, seem like the obvious choice to provide distance learning services to students in remote locations. The topic has been raised in brainstorming sessions among libraries in my local area, so I thought it might be a good time to actually see what the "state of the art, is in distance learning services in libraries and whether it's "ready for prime time" in my own library. Videoconferencing Now:

Some Recipes for Success

To learn about the current state of videoconferencing technology and how it is being implemented for distance learning, I turned to the Video Conferencing Cookbook, which was prepared by the ViDe, the Video Development Initiative. The mission of ViDe as stated on the Cookbook site is "to promote the deployment of digital video in higher education by leveraging collective resources and expertise towards addressing challenges to deployment." The Video Conferencing Cookbook, now updated to Version 2.0, seeks to further that goal by providing information useful to both beginners and experienced users of videoconferencing technology. The document begins by discussing the history of videoconferencing from it earliest use in 1930 (yes, 1930!) to its current state which, as the authors admit, is not yet a simple plug-andplay technology.

The Video Conferencing Cookbook discusses standards for videoconferencing technology, applications of the technology, and practical steps to follow when planning a project. There are also sections on network requirements, PC selection and configuration, and advanced functionality and management. A glossary is provided for readers who are new to the terminology. Even though the Cookbook provides a great deal of technical information that may seem daunting to beginners, it is presented clearly. The authors have also paid attention to human factors in a discussion of videoconferencing etiquette.

The Video Development Initiative group that prepared the Video Conferencing Cookbook is composed of academic institutions, and its goal is to extend the use of videoconferencing in higher education. Another site that also seeks to provide an introduction to videoconferencing, but is not limited to institutions of higher education, is the Videoconferencing for Learning site from Pacific Bell. It offers information for K- 12 schools, libraries, community colleges, and community organizations. Visitors to the site who are new to videoconferencing should start with the section entitled In the Classroom, which provides an introduction to videoconferencing, examples of its use, and discussions of the equipment and techniques, including a section on evaluating the videoconference. The site also sponsors what it refers to as a "collaboration collage," which is a mailing list (ed 1 vidconf), and an archive of the list for those who use ISDN lines (Integrated Services Digital Network telecommunications lines) for videoconferencing. Complete instructions for subscribing to the list and accessing the archive are provided on the site.

Another useful resource is a directory of over 600 ISDN videoconferencing sites composed of school, community college, and public library locations, with links to other directories including Videoconferencing Adventures (a list of virtual field trip sites). The Other Resources section includes links to additional videoconferencing resources on the Internet and a glossary of terms. …

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