Stay Grounded and Video Conference

With all UK flights grounded for second day due to the volcanic ash from Iceland many are wondering what sort of effect the situation will have on the economy. Transportation of goods, especially perishable ones, is obviously an issue.

The reduction of flights has meant that stranded passengers have begun to use other modes of travel. The BBC Web site states that Eurostar trains reported a complete sell-out of its services to Brussels and Paris for the second day on Friday. For those who can’t find alternative travel they will have to stay where they are for now. Many a business meeting has has to be cancelled and as with other situations that are out of our control (e.g. the weather, pandemics etc.) people begin to look at other alternatives to travel.

Of course we all know that aviation is one of the biggest contributors to our CO2 emission problem. Despite work on greener fuel it is quite likely that we are all going to have to travel less in the future.

Green Thing, a public service that inspires people to lead a greener life, has recently released a great video encouraging people to videoconference more. The video ties in with their ‘stay grounded’ suggestion – one of seven things they say you can do to live a greener life. The video stars Fay Ripley and is both funny and relevant. Have a watch!

Reviving Video Conferencing

Last week I had a look at the University of Bath’s video conferencing suite situated in the BUCS (Bath University Computing Services) building.

Video Conferencing Suite

The facilities comprise:

  • A Tandberg 6000 MXP Codec video conferencing system including P/T/Z/F controllable colour WAVE camera, dual 33″ monitors with Tandberg Natural Presenter Package (NPP) and MultiSite (MS) Packages. This runs over IP only.
  • Laptop, DVD player, VCR, overhead projector, interactive whiteboard, projector etc.
  • Screen
  • Seating for up 25 people

Despite considerable money and effort having been spent acquiring it, the kit is currently under-used. There were originally two dedicated rooms for video conferencing but university requirements for more space has meant that one of these has now been returned to staff use.

Martin Stone, who gave me a tour of the facilities, explained that the room was well used for a brief period while the University had been investigating having Oakfield campus as an extra university site in Swindon.  Short meetings between colleagues on the two sites had been the perfect material for the video conferencing suite. Now the room is primarily used by Human Resources as a way to interview overseas students for university places and by schools for e-learning activities.

Martin and I speculated on reason’s for the suite’s lack of use. We came up with:

  • Low level of promotion of the resources by BUCs and the university.
  • Expense – at £25 for half an hour the cost does seem high. A day’s use of the room would work out at quite an expense. However the cost is relative and fairly low if you compare it with the cost of flying a staff member out to a meeting.
  • Reluctance by staff to forgo travel opportunities.
  • Technical issues – To use the system, both ends need have appropriate facilities in place.
  • The increased use of free and low-cost software applications that allow peer-to-peer video contact e.g Skype.
  • Better options – despite being bespoke, costly and purchased only a few years ago the system is already out of date. Many newer teleconference systems offer visual options like life-size images of attendees. The experience could be a much better one than that offered by Bath.

It seems a real shame that room isn’t being used more and I have to admit to feeling a little sad about the situation. The University is currently taking part in Our Big Energy Challenge and could quite easily do more to promote the suite’s use  from an environmental perspective.

Are other Universities finding that their video conferencing suites are sitting empty? How can we get people to embrace the technology?

Further information on video conferencing in Higher Education is available in the form of a briefing paper by JISC’s Tech Learn.