The meetings are virtual, the savings are real

Campus’s videoconferencing service provides a cost-effective, greener way to bring people together

| 05 November 2008

Chancellor Birgeneau announced two weeks ago that due to California’s budget shortfall, the campus will be required to take a $5 million mid-year cut over and above reductions already in place for budget year 2008-09. In a portion of his message devoted to strategies for economizing, the chancellor recommended videoconferencing as a way to eliminate unnecessary campus-funded travel.

Videoconferencing has been employed on campus for more than a dozen years: Educational Technology Services (ETS) currently hosts videoconferencing facilities in Dwinelle Hall and also provides remote service across campus. Since those early days the technology has markedly improved, says Ezra Daly, an ETS classroom-technology specialist. “Until recently, the reason people used videoconferencing was to bring someone in who couldn’t be here otherwise. Now videoconferencing has become the right thing to do.” There’s no environmental impact from the service, and while variable recharge fees do apply, the cost is negligible. Certainly, recharge fees pale in comparison with transportation and hotel costs.

When videoconferencing technology first became available, says Daly, it wasn’t robust; now it’s become both reliable and versatile. With just a projector, an audio system, and ETS’s portable videoconferencing equipment, images and sound can be relayed to remote locations around the world.

The service’s versatility enables many potential uses. Daly cites a recent example in which Berkeley students in Wheeler Hall joined other pre-medical students in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Houston to learn about knee surgery. A surgeon, based in Ohio, explained the procedure and answered questions from students as he performed the surgery, while close-up cameras relayed detailed visuals to large screens in all four venues.

Dwinelle Hall: Portal to anywhere

ETS maintains three videoconferencing rooms in Dwinelle Hall. Its main facility, 127 Dwinelle, is equipped with desktop microphones, a Macintosh computer for presentations, video-playback capability, and video cameras that can display hard copy and slides. It can accommodate 30 people and is equipped to connect to up to four remote locations at once. Video deposition (faculty experts or outside consultants providing expert testimony for a trial) and job interviews (for candidates interviewing for out-of-the-area positions or campus committees interviewing distant applicants) are common uses.

The uses of ETS’s videoconferencing facilities are limited only by imagination. The service is available to all Bay Area residents as well as members of the campus community. Another ETS classroom-technology specialist, Dave Kapsiak, recently helped a young girl from Santa Rosa take a bassoon lesson from a distinguished teacher in Ottawa. That example seems almost pedestrian in light of a videoconference ETS facilitated a couple of years ago: A Bay Area woman and her children used ETS’s videoconferencing capabilities to connect with a family member, an astronaut on duty aboard NASA’s International Space Station. “Videoconferencing can span continents,” says Kapsiak, “and it even can be out of this world.”

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