Net video comes of age

June 14, 1996

Students and tutors, employers and interviewees, manufacturers and their academic customers are talking face to face regardless of distance, as higher education begins to find real uses for the long-heralded technology of videoconferencing. Besides talking heads, videoconferences can show surgical operations, scientific experiments, or text and graphics from computers.

Every year, Citibank executives cross the Atlantic to interview about 30 students at the London School of Economics. Now the LSE has installed equipment costing Pounds 4,000, and an ISDN line costing Pounds 800 for two years, which will allow Citibank to interview students over a video link. The University of Portsmouth will use videoconferencing equipment to allow nursing students on the Isle of Wight to participate in lectures held on the mainland. The students will no longer have to take the ferry to lectures up to three times a week.

Meanwhile, the University of Nottingham's school of education is using a Picturetel videoconferencing system to reach out to Hong Kong, where students are taking the school's BEd, MEd, MA and research degrees. Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK took part in another video linkup last month, for the official opening of a computer integrated manufacturing system at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The two-hour, four-way live video session also involved Hong Kong City University, Temasek University in Singapore, and Denford Ltd, the Yorkshire company which supplied the manufacturing system.

BT is promoting videoconferencing systems which use ISDN, a point-to-point dial-up technology which works like a digital, multimedia version of the telephone system. In a project supported by the Teacher Training Authority and the National Council for Educational Technology, BT will be putting ISDN-based videoconferencing into at least five secondary schools, in an effort to raise teachers' awareness and skills with the new technology.

Pioneering research in videoconferencing has been carried out at University College London. Now the college has equipped a 60-seat lecture theatre with cameras, monitors, speakers, microphones, LCD screens and a Barco data projector. The theatre can link up to other institutions through the SuperJANET academic network, London's Livenet, the Internet or the ISDN system.

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