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Funding of videoconferencing
The survey in Chapter 3 gives details of the ways in which current higher education videoconferencing is funded. There seems to be little in the way of general policy and much seems to depend on whether you belong to a ‘chosen’ institution. That is whether your institution has been one earmarked to benefit sooner rather than later from infra structure improvements and funding. Some end users have to pay for using videoconferencing facilities and others, once they have the necessary hardware and software (for desk-top, fairly inexpensive) can use what is then effectively a free service making videoconferencing more cost effective than a normal telephone call! The larger, broadcast TV type services can entail high costs but can also be very cost effective because of the numbers of students that can be reached. The funding picture as in almost all other aspects is very patchy in higher education.
There do not seem to be many attempts at co-ordinating videoconferencing services within a single institution as in the way for example Staff Development or Computer Services are co-ordinated. Perhaps this will come next. This approach would not nec essarily lead to an overly centralised service — each department feels happy deciding when and which computer to buy next but knows that Computer Services is there to advise and co-ordinate. It also provides large scale services to all staff and students that smaller outfits would not be able to provide. The difference is that with videoconferencing, skills from many different current services would be re quired. This requires genuine co-operation and co-ordination in order to work well. See Subject Section: Management of Videoconference Services.
Management of videoconference services
One strategy for the implementation and management of a videoconference service is suggested here:
The process can then begin again, depending on the results of the evaluation.
- Establish the need for videoconferencing
- Conduct a user requirements analysis
- Select appropriate systems/facilities
- Implement and manage the chosen system(s)
- Evaluate and act on the evaluation
Other subject sections have dealt with details such as selecting appropriate systems. This section focuses on the implementation and management of the service and the evaluation process.
Implementation and management.
For successful implementation and management of a video conference service, the most important factor is probably communication. It will be necessary to ensure that communication is good between you and the following people:
Communication with external service providers and suppliers.
Before deciding on external service providers or suppliers, consult with UKERNA as they may be able to help. Once you have made your decisions:
- External service providers and suppliers
- Other management personnel
- Users/potential users.
Communication with other management personnel
This is probably the most difficult part of optimising your service. As described here there are many groups within any one institution who may be managing videoconferencing services or advising on videoconferencing. It is important that good communication mechanisms are developed between these groups. That is, groups such as:
- Take responsibility for asking for what you want both be fore and after the contracts are signed.
- Negotiate terms and conditions, guarantees and support contracts.
- Arrange for supply, connection and testing alongside any room refitting taking place, taking into consideration any disruption this may cause.
- Take responsibility for initiating regular communication with the contacts you have.
- Take responsibility for feeding back to your service providers/suppliers: your complaints, your praise, new needs you have identified, areas you want to be informed about.
It may be that certain groups ‘specialise’, for example, Computer Services may specialise in PC based systems, Audio Visual Services may specialise in TV-type broadcast systems. If this is the case, make it clear to users and potential user perhaps through the newsletter.
For the above and many other reasons, it can be very help ful for all groups concerned to produce a joint policy on videoconference use. Policy could be agreed on:
- Audio-visual Services
- Computer Services
- Staff training and Development
- Network Development
- Library Services.
- the aims of videoconferencing within the institution. This should include current and planned availability of services, priorities of user groups, if any, with reasons given for these priorities.
- the best use of videoconferencing. This should include guidance on which kinds of task are suitable for video conferencing and which are not so suitable. If there are priorities operating for certain kinds of task, this should be made clear, along with reasons for the priorities and consequences of not respecting priorities (e.g. expanding the service unnecessarily or requiring very long reservation times).
- Charging end users/user groups for costs incurred in video conferencing. Whether or not there is a policy of charge-back will depend largely on the aims of video conferencing and how it is seen as a service. It must be made clear if there is a charge and if so, what the rates are.
Because of the growing convergence of IT and telecommunications, it is worth thinking about an institution-wide IT and telecommunications strategy so that long term planning can take place in a coherent fashion.
Communication with users and potential users
This will need to be done in different ways at different times with different people.
General Announcement Whether or not you choose to an nounce “the arrival” of videoconferencing will depend on your own institution's culture and size. If there is such an announcement, it could be included in a newsletter, TV broadcast, demonstration, memo, e-mail or whatever is appropriate. If this is being done, remember to say:
- whether or not a pilot or experiment is being undertaken
- which users are the first target group(s) and why
- that videoconferencing technology is an additional tool and is not aiming to entirely replace face to face communications
- if the service is open to people outside the target group(s) and if so when
- who the contact point is for further information
Informing the first user groups
At this stage, the first users should already be aware that videoconferencing is being introduced. (They should have been involved at stage 2 and possibly 3). It should be made clear to the users in what ways videoconferencing is seen as being a useful tool for them. Considerable effort will need to be put into providing adequate training and support and users need to be reassured that they will be receiving this.
Increasing the user population.
At some stage, you may wish to encourage new users to try videoconferencing. Simply announcing its availability does achieve this objective. More effective action includes the following:
- where possible, contact potential new users personally
- be realistic about the advantages and disadvantages of videoconferencing
- as far as possible, target potential users that have a real communication problem
that your videoconferencing service could solve
Continuing information dissemination
Set up appropriate mechanisms which will enable you to inform users ( and potential users) of any changes that have been made to the service.
service. If possible, use a mechanism allowing 2-way communication so that you can receive reactions to the news you give out, e.g, e-mail.
Provide adequate user support and training.(See page 23)
Manage the service day-to-day (See page 25)
Know who is using the service and for what. Make it your business to know who in your institution is using videoconferencing and what they are using it for. It is useful to gather this information for all the videoconferencing systems being used and not only your own.
At appropriate points in the life of the service it will be necessary to carry out an evaluation of videoconferencing in order to plan future strategy/policy.
- use appropriate objective and subjective measures for eval uation
- evaluate in terms of goals produced and any new goals identified.
- identify any other organisational effects caused by videoconferencing
In summary, then, a videoconference service is likely to be successful if:
- there is a real need for videoconferencing
- the service matches the needs of the intended user groups
- the service is well managed providing adequate technical and user support
- the service is regularly evaluated so that it can respond to changing requirements or technology
- the evaluations are acted upon.
Virtual Environments Visualisation