AGOCG logo
Graphics Multimedia VR Visualization Contents
Training Reports Workshops Briefings Index
This report is also available as an Acrobat file.
Back Next Contents
The Use of Videoconferencing in Higher Education

2 Method

2.1 Recruitment

Subjects were recruited from:

2.2 Data Collection

The survey was conducted in two stages:

Stage 1: Electronic mail survey.

An initial invitation to participate in the survey (sent by conventional mail) was followed by the survey itself (by electronic mail). A total of 57 letters were sent to 44 different higher educational institutions.

15 People responded by saying that they were unable to participate or were unsuitable for involvement in the survey.

Those who agreed to take part (in some cases following a reminder) were sent the following email message to establish which parts of the questionnaire they should be sent.

Thanks for agreeing to participate in our survey. We have decided to personalise the questionnaire as far as we can so that we do not clog up the network with too much redundant information. It will also hopefully mean that you do not have to scroll through pages of questions that are not relevant for you. To this end, I would be grateful if you could answer the following introductory question:

What uses do you currently have for videoconferencing? Please choose one or more of the options below by deleting any that are inapplicable.

Please indicate clearly whether you *personally* are a user for each option or whether you are solely the service provider/manager for that use.

A. Personal/informal communication (e.g. with friends/close colleagues to include information not always directly work related)

B. Presentations (e.g. of academic nature or for clients but not specifically for teaching or learning purposes.)

C. Teaching or learning (e.g. for distant learning purposes)

D. Research (e.g. working with project partners at remote sites)

E. Collaborative work (but not specifically of a research nature)

F. Interviewing (e.g. for recruitment purposes)

G. No use yet (intend to buy videoconference facilities or already have access but haven't yet used videoconferencing.)

H. Other (not covered in above sections) - Please specify.

If you have indicated any areas where you are not a user personally, it would be useful if you could give us email addresses of other users (with their permission of course). For these other users, the questionnaire will be very short.

When we know which version of the questionnaire to send you, either myself or another member of the team (Chris Carter and Rob Graham) will forward it to you.

Thanks a lot for your co-operation,

Sue Pomfrett.

Depending on the response given, a personalised questionnaire was sent (again using electronic mail) by choosing appropriate parts of the complete questionnaire. Most participants were asked to complete only a small part of the whole questionnaire. In one case because of time constraints, a very much shortened version of the questionnaire was sent. (See Appendix 1 for the complete questionnaire.)

There were 17 responses to this final questionnaire from 12 institutions of higher education.

Stage 2: Field investigations

Field investigations were conducted in 5 of the survey sites. These included interviews with service providers/managers and also with users. Details of interview structures can be found in Appendices 3 & 4.

A telephone interview was also conducted with a representative of UKERNA (UK Education and Networking Association). See Appendix 5 for the interview structure.

2.3 Profile of respondents (in email questionnaire)

Many respondents to the email questionnaire had two 'roles'; being both service providers and users (10 out of the total of 17 respondents). Four respondents were either service providers (n=1) or users (n=3), and a further two were not currently using VC but hoping to either use it or provide a service in the future. Among the 17 respondents there were 3 users of computer-based desktop VC, the remainder being users of studio-based and/or dedicated desktop VC. Respondents had different job titles; they varied from research assistants, lecturers, to audio visual co-ordinators, system managers, support officers and directors. Most stated their main field of interest to be audio visual services, distance teaching or computing.

2.4 Field sites

2.4.1 Rationale for selection of sites

The criteria involved in choosing field sites were as follows:

2.4.2 Description of the field sites

This section describes brief histories and a background to the VC services at each site.

University of Wales, Cardiff

VC was set up at the University of Wales in 1990, with funding from the UFC (now the HEFC) to foster the teaching and learning of the Welsh language. The University network consists of five sites; Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Lampeter, Bangor and Swansea, as well as a medical college which uses the Cardiff facilities. British Telecom installed the network and equipment, and provide advice and technical support. The system was updated in 1995.

The Cardiff site has a dedicated VC studio which can seat 6 people at a conference table and 30 people in an auditorium seated behind the main conference table. There are facilities for displaying 35mm slides and OHP transparencies, and for document display. The studio is a university wide resource and individual departments are not charged to use it. The main uses for the service are teaching/ learning, and internal meetings, but the facility is also professionally marketed and hired out for commercial use. In addition to the internal network, the computing centre at Cardiff runs a SuperJANET link, but this was not investigated in the present study.

University of Ulster

The University of Ulster is made up of the four geographically-distant campuses; Coleraine, Jordanstown, Magee (Londonderry) and Belfast, which merged in 1984. VC was commissioned in 1990, in response to the merger, to improve communications between the campuses. Funding for the initial service came jointly from the EC-funded STAR project and the Department of Education for Northern Ireland.

VC is in fairly frequent use, mainly for teaching and administrative meetings. Each of the four campuses has a main studio and at least one roll-about unit, as well as desktop systems, some of which are operated by independent faculties. Most of the equipment is provided by BT and run over an ISDN network (ISDN-2 to ISDN-6 facilitates external use and ISDN-30 for internal communications). There are varying facilities at each location including projection equipment for documents, slides and OHPs, video recorders, and additional microphones, monitors and cameras for the main speaker and audience. An upgrade in 1995 included a new MCU (Multi-point Control Unit) which allows up to 8 sites to be connected in one or parallel conferences, and internal compatibility at the H320 standard.

University of Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh are contracted by UKERNA to co-ordinate the SuperJANET video network, which was set up in 1994. Their responsibilities include booking calls that use the infrastructure, and setting up/ switching calls via the four MCUs, two of which are located at Edinburgh.

Two distinct types of VC are active at Edinburgh. A permanent studio was set up in 1994 in the Computer Services department and runs over the SuperJANET network at 2Mbps. This facility can seat around 10 people at a conference table and has the provision to display OHPs, slides and documents through a visualiser, and also show and record video. It is used quite infrequently, mainly for technical meetings and some medical teaching.

Computer-based desktop VC has been in use at the University since 1992, using the Mbone network, a virtual network that shares the same physical media as the Internet. The conferencing software generally runs on workstations or PCs, with additional software which allows facilities such as a shared editor and shared whiteboard. Desktop VC is supported by the MICE (Multimedia Integrated Conferencing for Europe) National Support Centre, which provides software and network support. It is used mainly by individuals to participate in conferences and seminars.

Nottingham University

VC began at Nottingham in 1994 after they were selected to be one of the SuperJANET pilot sites. UKERNA provided them with a GPT Codec and an echo canceller; these were then combined with existing Audio-visual services equipment including a document/ OHP camera and a video recorder. Conferences take place from a dedicated studio over the SuperJANET network at 2 Mbps.

The service is supported jointly by the audio-visual and educational services department and the computing services department. There are only a small number of users, mainly from two departments in the medical school and computing (mostly the latter). Almost all of the conferences are with other SuperJANET sites, but it has also been used for links with sites abroad, via the UCL (University College of London) ISDN gateway.

Loughborough University

Computer-based desktop VC has been in use in the computer studies department since 1994. The service runs over the Mbone network using workstations which support software to transmit and receive video and audio, and use various multicast text tools and a shared whiteboard. The facility is supported by those individuals who use the workstations to VC.

A studio-based VC system is currently being considered for installation within the next 18 months. The facility would be run by the Audio Visual Services department in a dedicated room. It is envisaged at this stage that the facility would be hired out to commercial companies as well as charged out to university departments. Plans are only at the very early stages, but the objective currently is to aim for very high quality capability and to offer ISDN connections.

Back Next Contents

Graphics     Multimedia      Virtual Environments      Visualisation      Contents