Digital communication allows imaginative options

The department’s 12-member ensemble Dancers in Company is collaborating with the Modulo Dance Company in Veracruz, Mexico. As part of the collaboration, the companies have been using videoconferencing and live streaming to share choreographic works.

The Department of Dance's 12-member ensemble Dancers in Company is collaborating with the Modulo Dance Company in Veracruz, Mexico. As part of the collaboration, the companies have been using videoconferencing and live streaming to share choreographic works.

Real-time digital communication isn’t necessarily a new concept, but it’s definitely changing the way faculty, staff, and students at the University of Iowa communicate.

According to Les Finken and Tracy Scott of Information Technology Services, real-time digital communication on campus can range from instant messaging or video chatting with colleagues to videoconferencing with multiple people from across the country and around the world.

Videoconferencing
Videoconferencing is two-way interactive communication using Internet technologies that allows people at different locations to come together for a meeting. It can be as simple as a conversation between two people in their own offices or involve multiple people at multiple sites.

A basic videoconference setup includes a camera, a microphone, and a codec that transmits data back and forth at each site. Participants can see and hear all other participants and communicate both verbally and visually, creating a face-to-face experience.

ITS has a real-time collaboration studio on the second floor of University Capitol Centre (UCC). It is designed for real-time digital communication, including videoconferencing. Additionally, two mobile videoconferencing units are available for use in the UCC Core Conferencing Facilities, located on the second floor. Finken, manager of innovation strategy in ITS instructional services, says the studio acts as a showcase for what is possible, and is a way for departments to test out possibilities before investing in videoconferencing capabilities in their space.

According to Finken, videoconferencing is a great tool to use when a live conversation is needed but all parties involved can’t physically be at the same location, or when visual information is an important part of the conversation. It is also useful when the expense or time of travel is a consideration.

For more information about real-time digital communications on campus, visit its.uiowa.edu/
support/collaboration
. Faculty or staff interested in learning more about setting up videoconferencing in their department can contact Les Finken at les-finken@uiowa.edu or Tracy Scott at tracy-scott@uiowa.edu.

Scott, manager of user support and education in ITS campus technology services, points to a Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) technology group as an example of how videoconferencing can work. The group, of which he is a member, gets together face-to-face about once a year, but holds many meetings via videoconference throughout the year.

“Is it as good as the face-to-face? No, but it’s a lot cheaper and it’s really nice for the employee who doesn’t have to leave their family, even for one day, or hang out in an airport,” Scott says. “To be able to walk down the hall, participate in something that is 80 percent as good as face-to-face, walk back and have lunch with your colleague, and be able to go home that night…the benefit that brings to employees is substantial.”

Finken says videoconferencing is being used in a variety of ways on campus. Professors invite guest lecturers from other institutions to speak to their classes. Researchers collaborate and share information with colleagues at other institutions without ever leaving their labs. Departments use videoconferencing to interview larger pools of applicants before bringing the final two or three candidates to campus for a face-to-face interview. Graduate students defend their theses or dissertations with committee members who have moved on to other universities.

Katherine Eberle, a professor of voice in the School of Music, has used videoconferencing for several years to instruct and critique students at other universities around the country and in Germany. She also has opened her classroom to her global colleagues to critique her voice students.

“Using videoconferencing is essentially like long-distance learning,” Eberle says. “It’s great for performing arts students. As they are developing skills and learning the craft, they listen to their teachers and believe them, but there is nothing more valuable than meeting with a second professor and getting their opinion.”

Eberle says it’s also nice for the collaborating professors because they can take part in the class without worrying about booking a flight and a hotel or traveling to a different campus.

“They can sit in the luxury of their own facility and teach from there. It works very well. It’s not 100 percent as good as live, but it saves a lot of hassle,” she says.

“The possibilities of what you can do via videoconferencing really are only limited to your imagination.”
—Les Finken

Eberle initially used equipment provided by ITS for her classes, but eventually acquired a grant to purchase her own. She also wrote an article and presented at a national conference about using videoconferencing technology in the classroom.

She says one of the biggest challenges in using videoconferencing is when sites don’t have the same equipment. In those cases, the quality of the feed is not as good and there may be a bit of a delay or the sound or picture breaks up. Despite these hurdles, Eberle thinks it is a good teaching tool and has received positive feedback from her students.

Eberle says she’d like to see the School of Music use the technology to provide live and recorded feeds of performances, so anyone in the world could “attend” a performance. She also thinks it would be helpful for prospective students to see the high quality of performance being done by the University’s music students.

Over the next few months, Finken will work with the Department of Dance on a project involving streaming and videoconferencing performances. The department’s 12-member ensemble Dancers in Company is collaborating with the Modulo Dance Company in Veracruz, Mexico. As part of the collaboration, the companies have been using videoconferencing and live streaming to share choreographic works.

If this type of videoconferencing proves to work well, Finken hopes to see it expand throughout the performing arts.

“The possibilities of what you can do via videoconferencing really are only limited to your imagination,” he says.

Instant messaging and video chatting
Scott points out that real-time digital communication isn’t just reserved for communicating with people in far-off destinations. It’s possible to instant message, video chat, or videoconference with colleagues across campus.

“Sometimes just getting across the river and back again can take as long as—or longer than—the meeting itself,” Scott says.

With the new Microsoft Lync system that is being rolled out across campus, you can instant message or video chat with anyone in the University of Iowa system.

Scott says one thing that makes the University’s system nice is that it is an authenticated system, because users are required to sign in with their Hawk ID.

“If it says I’m talking to you, I know I’m talking to you. It’s not like on Skype where you’re Hawkeyefan22. That’s where these systems can be beneficial in more academic settings because there’s that proof of who you’re talking to.”

Scott also notes that the flexibility of instant messaging and video chatting is attractive for everyday communication.

“We can chat here, from home, while on the road, from anywhere. You can share your desktop and send files back and forth. You can plug in with multiple people if you want,” Scott says. “It doesn’t use the highest bandwidth, because it’s not the highest quality, but in most situations, it more than meets your needs and it’s available wherever you want.”

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