Sep 14 2012

With Mobile Video Conferencing, Classes Come to the Student

Smartphones and tablets offer new vehicles for collaboration.

With about 25 percent of its students attending classes remotely, it’s no wonder that Old Dominion University has a long history with video. From its start with televised courses in the early 1990s to its first foray with video conferencing later that decade, video is practically a way of life at the school in Norfolk, Va.

Until recently, the only way that Old Dominion instructors could interact with students located off campus was through one of 60 higher education centers across the country. That setup links video conferencing rooms through a telepresence bridge to offer an effective means of collaboration. In some cases, instructors even conduct their courses from one of the education centers.

During the past several years, however, graduate instructors have sought greater mobility and flexibility. Talented graduate students located too far from education centers lacked the opportunity to interact in seminars and present materials. “It became clear that we needed a way for graduate students to fully participate,” says Andrew Casiello, the university’s associate vice president for distance learning.

Old Dominion’s distance-learning department began experimenting with mobile video conferencing options about five years ago. It first used Polycom PVX desktop video conferencing software and then Polycom CMA Desktop. In January, the university switched to LifeSize ClearSea mobile video software, which works on Android- and iOS-based mobile devices.

“Students click on the app at the scheduled course time and connect via our video bridge to the telepresence room-based system,” Casiello explains. “Once they do that, they can participate fully in the class, as if they were in the same room.”

Implementation on the Rise

Mobile video conferencing is taking off, says Andrew Borg, a research director at Aberdeen Group. “From a behavioral perspective, there is a generational shift; younger workers have come to expect mobile video access all the time, while older workers are taking their time getting used to it,” he says. From a technical standpoint, manufacturers are working out bandwidth, end-user presence and system compatibility issues. It will take some time before video conferencing becomes a viable alternative to phone calls, e-mail and instant messages, but growth will be inevitable. 

Adoption has increased because mobile video conferencing eases collaboration and accelerates decision making, Borg says. In addition to using mobile video conferencing for formal meetings, the technology is extremely useful for ad hoc meetings and for improving customer service. All of the major video conferencing players have mobile solutions, including Adobe, Cisco, LifeSize, Microsoft and Polycom.

Telemedicine on the Go

At the University of Kentucky, officials deployed mobile video conferencing to provide UK HealthCare physicians greater access to their patients without having to visit a fixed video conference room. The initiative is still fairly new but shows great promise in being able to connect to more than 200 healthcare facilities with standards-based H.323 video conferencing.

“We have been using video conferencing for distance learning in both our undergraduate and graduate programs since the mid-’90s, but the unique needs of our doctors are what led our telemedicine department to consider this option,” says Rick Phillips, training center director at the university.

Percentage of smartphones that, by 2015, will have stereo 3D cameras and screens, both of which will enhance video conferencing capabilities

SOURCE: 2012 “Mobile Devices and their Semiconductors Market Study,” Jon Peddie Research

The University of Kentucky had already deployed a mix of room-, desktop- and cart-based video conferencing systems from Cisco, LifeSize and Polycom. The telemedicine program began its first foray into mobile video conferencing by implementing the Polycom RealPresence Mobile application last year.

Today, physicians use wireless tablets to connect with patients for clinical encounters, to participate in educational and research programs and to interact with mentors, peers and students anywhere in the world. 

“The technology allows physicians to be more efficient, see more patients and still access needed educational programming,” Phillips explains. “That means they can see a patient from anywhere in the state or watch a program to keep up their education while in the cafeteria, commuting or at home.” With a choice of healthcare facilities across Kentucky that have invested in telehealth technology, patients usually don’t have to drive too far, saving time and money.

Once Microsoft Lync introduces a viable mobile video conferencing application, Phillips says, it will offer the university another alternative for easy access to video conferencing from any device. 

Conquering Federation

For organizations that have standardized on a single video conferencing system with mobile capabilities, such as Polycom RealPresence and RealPresence Mobile, Cisco WebEx and WebEx Mobile, or LifeSize ClearSea, which includes a mobile component, compatibility isn’t a problem. But for educational institutions that want to conference with other institutions, or instructors who want to enable as many devices as possible to access a course, compatibility can be a real challenge.

“When you’re dealing with a situation where a smartphone user with Skype wants to participate in a video conference with a dedicated room-based system, there might be issues,” says Andrew Borg of Aberdeen Group. “What’s really needed is a way for these disparate systems to talk to each other as a federated system.”

When conducting a faculty meeting, for example, it is critical that all participants, no matter where they are located or what device they are using, be able to fully participate. One type of emerging solution uses a common standard for video conferencing, in essence creating multiplatform video conferencing. Often, these solutions take advantage of the cloud to make video conferencing accessible to anyone with any type of video-enabled device, regardless of location.