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THE CURRENT PICTURE
Current uses of videoconferencing technology
Current uses of the technology (in order of popularity) are:
A variety of other specialist uses are described below. In most cases, the equipment is being put to more than one use.
- Personal communication (technical and managerial meetings of all descriptions).
- Collaborative work (including distributed seminars and the control of projects across sites).
These uses were mainly the ones that were anticipated before the equipment was bought. Other comments included:-
- “That’s what the funding bodies expected as well!”
- “If equipment exists which provides a facility, I will rapidly find uses for it.”
- “I don’t know what we anticipated; we just tend to use it because it’s there.”
The majority of personal calls are to colleagues and collaborators (who may be at same site, within the same organisation but at a different site, at other British Universities, or at other establishments abroad involved in the same work).
Topics discussed using a video medium tend to be of two distinct types:
- Subjects discussed by those who are using videoconferencing as a tool to aid communications activities such as contract negotiation, committee meetings, project management meetings and technical groups. In these cases the topics tend to be the same as would be discussed in person or via e-mail. Video does not really change the content of the conversation; it just helps “bring it alive”.
- Topics pertinent to those who are researching and developing videoconferencing itself, and will therefore be discussing technical details of the technology (e.g. video and signal quality).
Collaborative work is mainly conducted with the academics and researchers, from within the same organisation to within numerous other HE and FE institutions world-wide. The uses to which videoconferencing is put overlap strongly with the personal uses described above (i.e. project management activities, technical project issues and the conducting of interviews). The distinguishing feature of collaborative work is the use of shared documents, graphics, etc.
For those involved in the development of the tools themselves [such as the development of new Multicast Backbone (MBONE) tools, for example] collaborative work takes place between academic institutions and manufacturing site, and between customers and suppliers.
In this context, presentations are taken to mean the provision of information but not specifically as part of an educational course. Most of the respondents who use videoconferencing for this purpose have the capability to both send and receive presentations.
Recipients can be specific groups of students or customers, or can be “whoever’s out there and wants to join in”. Senders are usually lecturers, network customers, conference organisers, and people involved in Multimedia Integrated Conferencing for European Researchers (MICE) or the MBONE [e.g. members of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)]. Again, however, senders can be essentially “anyone who wants to send material”.
The content of a presentation is obviously subject-dependent. In addition to the plethora of network-oriented conferences, users report having seen biomedical demonstrations and presentations on high energy physics and oceanography.
The majority of presentations incorporate pre-recorded material, which may be in a wide variety of formats, including:
- Pre-recorded video tapes showing demonstrations. It is possible to store these on Multimedia resource and to call them up by computer from any site where there is a modem/Ethernet connection to the resource.
- Time-delayed video replays
- Audio snippets
- Slide shows
- Multimedia presentations
Again, videoconferencing is being used for two distinct research purposes:
In addition, psychologists are using videoconferencing to investigate its effects upon perception. Issues include:
- For intensive testing and development of videoconferencing itself (e.g. to investigate the many issues involving high bandwidth needs of desk-top conferencing; to develop standards such as MPEG4, etc.).
- As a tool to aid research in other areas. Videoconferencing is being used as an aid in the preparation of papers and proposals and “listen in” to seminars, workshops and conferences.
Fields of research interest include: high performance networks and distributed systems; image coding; persistent object systems; ATM communications; and Telematics applications.
- Understanding the relationship between evidence of visual behaviours and vocal communication.
- The development of effective psychological measures for differentiation of communications facilities.
- Studying dyadic interaction in negotiating tasks.
Subjects taught using videoconferencing include:
One site is in the process of assessing the possible uses of videoconferencing for delivering IT related courses to the deaf community.
- History of Art
- Art and Design
- Business Studies
- Human-Computer Interaction
- Electrical Engineering
- Adult Education
- Communal Politics
- The use of tools on the network (e.g. Concurrent CAD, Whiteboarding, FTP, etc.)
- Medicine (including Surgery which seems to be the most popular subject to be taught in this way).
All existing configurations which are being used for educational purposes allow two-way audio and video. Teaching is mainly conducted one-to- distributed-groups or one-to-a-group. Less popular options are one-to-one and one-to-distributed-individuals. Other possibilities currently being employed are for “anyone who wants to join” and several-to-several. The number of sessions in a typical course tends to be in the region of 10-15 (or one session per term week).
Questions from students are principally dealt with by live interaction, mostly through a local ‘moderator’; or in some cases the teacher repeats the questions via a conferencing telephone. Students sometimes discuss their coursework in groups and then the representative of the group tells the other participating groups about the results. However, there is usually no coursework which results specifically from the videoconferencing element of the course as such. The point was made that remote teaching complements rather than replaces traditional teaching techniques.
Users were asked about the inclusion of pre-recorded material in the lectures. Sources include a central ‘image store’ (laser disk) with still images and video clips. One respondent commented that whilst they do use pre-recorded video material to show special procedures, they prefer to be able to do as much as possible live (e.g. live demonstrations coming from clinical operating theatres).
Other specialist uses of videoconferencing include:
- Tele-consultation in medicine.
- The assessment of the potential uses of videoconferencing for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs).
- Remote surveillance (e.g. keeping watch on cars in the car park).
- Entertainment (e.g. listening to remote radios, tapes and audio samples; pumping TV and radio programmes around the campus).
- Giving demonstrations to prospective students and visiting researchers.
- “As a feed from remote locations to our TV studio. The composite picture is then sent by satellite.” (For details of this set-up, see reference m in Appendix 3.)
- “Just experimenting”.
Virtual Environments Visualisation