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Enhanced Video Conferencing Available

Northern is using a multi-faceted, high-definition video conferencing system to enhance communication between parties on campus and at remote locations. It is not meant to replace face-to-face interaction, but is an appealing alternative when conditions warrant. The improved video and audio quality, combined with the ability to share documents and other material on computer screens at each site with the push of a button, puts Cisco TelePresence a step above other services.

“Video conferencing is not new, but there are problems with free services like Skype and Google Chat,” said Eric Smith (Broadcast and A/V Services). “Some are ad-based, so users have to see ads regularly. Also, they’re constantly in a state of development. You get used to the feature set and then it becomes a premium service you have to pay to use. Or some features are no longer supported. Cisco’s services met the bill for Northern. They’re easy to operate and the quality is excellent. It Thanks to high definition, it closely resembles the real person. Faces are sharp, not blurry, and the audio is clear and is in sync with the person’s lip movements.”

Smith said the upgrade offers a number of advantages. For business that can be conducted electronically, NMU employees and trustees who would typically fly or drive to meetings can avoid weather-related issues and save time and travel costs. Interviews with job applicants can be conducted through the service, expanding the initial pool and enabling the university to more effectively screen candidates before bringing finalists to campus. The technology can also connect NMU students with potential employers, student teachers with campus activities and classrooms to scholars, high-profile lectures and virtual field trips worldwide.

“You don’t need special facilities—just a solid, broadband Internet connection and a computer. We’ll send the software and walk the user through it. Clients pay a bridging fee for us to collect electronic signals from the other parties and split the screen so everyone is visible. The fee supports the hardware and software maintenance to support the service, but it’s still more reasonable and convenient than travel. We have also opened up the service to business and educational partners in the Upper Peninsula. By sharing this technology it becomes much more affordable  and a great way to quickly communicate audio, video and graphics. It’s gotten the attention of people in Lansing in terms of allowing more public bodies to hold meetings electronically.”

Additional technology advances are also making their way into the classroom.  For example, in the new Jamrich Hall, Smith said a student will be able to present research and assignments from anywhere in the room using wireless display technology. His area works closely with instructional design to help faculty integrate sophisticated tools such as EduCat, MediaSite Live and Jabber into their courses.

Representatives of both Audio/Visual Services and Information Technology, which helped build the campus infrastructure that made these advances possible, gave a presentation on Cisco TelePresence to the NMU Board of Trustees in December. Four people at remote locations participated in a conversation with Smith and the trustees in the University Center.

“You know it’s a success when after a brief period, the technology fades into the background and people are just having a conversation. If they are thinking about the sound or video instead of the content, it’s awkward. If they’re not thinking about the equipment and how it works, then it’s mission accomplished. We’ve only scratched the surface on displaying images and using communication technology at Northern.”