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March 26, 2012 / Kirsty Pitkin

Conferencing in Universities and Colleges

  1. The Conferencing in Universities and Colleges Workshop gathered together senior managers and travel coordinators with an interest in improving performance and minimising business travel.  The workshop had a local audience at the University of Warwick and was streamed to a wider audience following remotely via the Janet Video Conferencing Service. 

    The event was presented by the JISC-funded SusteIT project, in collaboration with the EAUC Travel Coordinator’s Group, the Welsh Video Network and University of Warwick.
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  3. Conferencing in the Sector – Research Findings 

    Peter James, Professor of Environmental Management, and Lisa Hopkinson, SusteIT Project Manager, University  of Bradford

  4. Peter James and Lisa Hopkinson presented the findings of a series of surveys into the state of video conferencing or “virtual meetings” in the sector.  This included many positive messages about the successful use of conferencing to save time and money:
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    Hopkinson: Our surveys show that conferencing does work – 65% found it completely successful and saved £106 in expenses #unisVC
  6. Respondents to these surveys highlighted reduced stress, better time management and a better work-life balance as being the key benefits to video conferencing.  The results also showed that there were additional benefits to the structure and effectiveness of the meeting itself, not just benefits for the individual participants.
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    Hopkinson: You can involve more people in a meeting much more easily and improve communication with external partners #unisVC
  8. There was a clear consensus that whilst virtual meetings can never fully replace face-to-face meetings, they can have considerable carbon benefits for research universities taking part in international collaborations.  However, Hopkinson emphasised that their research showed that virtual meetings are more successful when relationships are already established.
  9. James emphasised that not all travel can or should be reduced.  There will always be travel which is necessary for the business of the university.
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    James: It should not be about reducing travel per se, it should be about reducing unproductive travel #unisVC
  11. The headline message from the research was that whilst there are pockets of good practice and success, we currently have a disconnected support system.  James stressed that there is a need for seamless support for the tools people want to use.  This aptly set the scene for the discussions of the day.
  12. You can view this presentation in full on YouTube.
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    01 – Peter James_and_Lisa Hopkinson.mov
  14. JANET Conferencing Services Today and Tomorrow

     Paul Bonnett, Videoconferencing Technical Co-ordinator, JANET

  15. Paul Bonnett delivered an overview of the Janet Video Conferencing Service (JVCS), which provided remote access to the workshop for both delegates and some of the speakers.  

    He outlined some of the main feature of the service, including telephone support before, during and after video conferences; the ability to book, launch and manage meetings online, so everything can be pre-planned and work when you need it; and support for other standards-based collaboration systems, including Access Grid, EVO and Visimeet, all of which use the H.323 standard.
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    Bonnett: There is a high degree of control that you don’t get with a lot of non-standards based systems #unisVC
  17. Bonnett also engaged in an extended discussion about why JVCS does not support non-standards based tools like Skype, and gave an insight into their work to overcome the difficulties and meet user demands in this area.  So far, the third party costs involved in bridging between JVCS and such proprietary services have been prohibitive, and where solutions have been negotiated and developed, market changes have cause problems.  This has highlighted the uncertainties involved in working with non-standards based services, but they have not yet given up…
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    Bonnett: We are trying to extend interoperability to use proprietary services, so currently evaluating Skype, Google Talk and Lync #unisVC
  19. Bonnett also revealed some of their other planned developments to JVCS, including a Janet Portal, a new scheduling system with a more advanced interface and a new streaming system.
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    Bonnett: We are also looking to create a Janet Portal with easy access/single sign on #unisVC
  21. You can view this presentation in full on YouTube.
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  23. Conferencing at the University of Warwick

    Jonathan Owen, Audio Visual Service Owner, University of Warwick

  24. Owen provided an overview of efforts at the University of Warwick to encourage greater use of video conferencing.  He admitted that in 2010 they had only one video conferencing suite, which was used maybe three times a month, on a good month.  They now handle 40-60 calls per month and have a much greater awareness of the facilities that exist within the institution.  Owen explained how they achieved this increase, beginning with a significant investment in upgrading their facilities:
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    Owen: We took the decision to have five dedicated telepresence suites to encourage staff to make more use of the facilities #unisVC
  26. Warwick opted to use Telepresence, which is a high end system, delivering life-sized images, integrated lighting, directional audio and compatibility with other systems.  He explained that exposing users to a high quality, easy to use system in the first instance encourages those users to experiment more with video conferencing after that initial, positive experience.
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    Important point made in passing by Johnathan… Once users have a positive experience that leads them to use videoconferencing more. #unisVC
  28. Next, Owen explained how they have attempted to remove some of the barriers that had been deterring use of the existing facilities.  They scrapped all of the costs charged to users and their departments for use of the video conferencing suites, worked closely with individual departments to establish what they actually wanted to achieve, and they have worked with secretaries to see if meetings could be turned into video conferences in the diary.   They manage all calls centrally to improve user experience and have recently employed a dedicate video conferencing support and development officer to act as an advocate and facilitator. 
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    Warwick absorbed all VC costs centrally to remove barrier to usage #unisvc
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    #unisVC University of Warwick have a dedicated full time Videoconferencing support and development officer – good idea!
  31. Owen also described some of the less conventional uses they have explored, including moving away from the very fixed format of video conferencing that works for meetings and offering more flexible uses, such as delivering remote access to drama performances. He concluded by explaining how they also currently allow SMEs to use their video conferencing facilities at no cost, as they view the engagement as of more benefit.
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    Excellent talk from Johnathan from Warwick… exemplifying the benefit of an “assisted shopper” approach to VC etc. for users. #unisVC
  33. You can watch this presentation in full on YouTube.
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  35. Panel Discussion: Can
    conferencing reduce sector travel and, if so, how can it be achieved?

    Comprising
    a mix of speakers and travel coordinators

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  37. A panel of travel coordinators and speakers addressed some of the core issues raised by the morning presentations and explored some of the ways in which travel managers can encourage the use of video conferencing to reduce travel at their institutions.

    One of the main issues discussed was the problem of etiquette at virtual meetings, which exemplified the need to consider the human issues associated with video conferencing, rather than focussing solely on the technology and support for the technology as the main means of encouraging greater uptake.
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    Cultural issues for VCs – Virtual Meeting Etiquette a problem: Can you eat if your remote participants don’t have food? #unisvc
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    Heppie Curtis: People are very uncertain of virtual meeting etiquette. Needs to be a critical mass of doing it to get used to it #unisVC
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    Sarah Fitzgerald observes that children are much better at taking turns than adults when participating in a VC #unisVC
  41. The role of travel managers, who can see the bigger picture of travel within their institution, was also tackled:
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    Travel managers need to be advocates as they see the total figures and are at the sharp end of driving behavioural change #unisVC
  43. Jonathan Owen echoed this by relating back to their experiences at the University of Warwick:
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    Owen: It hasn’t been the actual equipment that made the difference, but the attitude of staff and IT offering support #unisVC
  45. You can watch this panel session in full on YouTube.
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  47. Videoconferencing in Wales

    Geoff Constable, Welsh Video Network Support Officer, University of Aberystwyth, and others (by video link)

  48. Geoff Constable led a panel of Welsh Video Network users in a discussion about their experiences of using the service within a range of different contexts.  

    Constable outlined how they have encouraged greater uptake of their video conferencing facilities at Aberystwyth by offering teaching and learning support, including training events to raise awareness of the facilities on offer.  He also described their work as part of the Greening ICT programme to establish how green video conferencing can be.
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    Constable: There is a lot of marketing from VC companies about green credentials of VC, but not much hard fact about carbon impact #unisVC
  50. Constable invited Beverley Herring, the Business Liasion Officer for GO Wales based at the Aberystwyth University Careers Service, to describe her first experience of video conference. She explained how Constable had supported her through the process and provided a mock practice session for her to get used to the system in advance of the meeting.
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    Herring: Missed the networking lunch, but clusters of people participating together enabled some networking #unisVC
  52. Sue Chambers, Director of Human Resources at Aberystwyth University, also gave her perspective as a “reluctant convert” to video conferencing.  When pressed as to the reason for her reluctance, she admitted that it was not the technology that put her off, but rather the change in working practice from the way she had always done things.  However, she was impressed at how outcomes can be achieved quickly through video conferencing, and has become a complete convert.
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    Chambers: I will save six hours travel on Friday alone, plus the associated costs. I estimate I save £5000 per year on my own #unisVC
  54. Finally, Kate Wright, an e-Learning Development Officer at Aberystwyth, discussed her experiences using video conferencing in combination with face-to-face meetings.
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    Wright: We’ve used video conferencing for targeted meeting when we want decisions made #unisVC
  56. She explained how video conferencing can make a real difference in terms of work-life balance by allowing you to hold a meeting, whilst still being able to pick the children up from school.
  57. Constable concluded by providing advice based on their experience promoting video conferencing at Aberystwyth.  He emphasised the need for clear, sign posted support to make sure people have a good experience the first time they use it, and the need to be persistent in asking “Could we do this by video conference?” to help raise awareness.
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    “as soon as there are barriers or hassles, people get in the car” #unisvc
  59. You can watch this session in full on YouTube.
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    05-Geoff_Constable_et_al.mov
  61. Videoconferencing in Dutch Further and Higher Education 

    Albert Hankel, Surf Net (Dutch equivalent of Janet), and others (by video link)

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  63. Joining us via video link from Utrecht in the Netherlands, Albert Hankel from Surf Net provided an overview of how video conferencing has been embraced by the Dutch HE sector, and their recent decision to withdraw service provision in this area, now they feel the market is ready to deliver a similar level of service on a competitive basis.
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    Hankel: Market analysis shows that vendors try to be device agnostic and network agnostic, only our pricing model is different #unisVC
  65. Hankel described Surf Net’s market analysis and their work with commercial providers to ensure that appropriate alternatives are available:
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    Hankel: We created user profiles, and six vendors responded to say they can offer competitive services to support these users #unisVC
  67. Hankel described how they intend to migrate users from the current SURFcontact system to an appropriate alternative, based on these user profiles.  He concluded by outlining how this fits into Surf Net’s aim to create a collaboration infrastructure: a pioneering collaboration environment that seamlessly connects systems, services, tools, and people.  This will be continued by work on SURFconnect.
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    Hankel: More information about SURFconnect at ow.ly/9tXW7 #unisVC
  69. You can watch this session in full on YouTube.
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  71. Conferencing at the University of Bristol 

    Heppie Curtis, Research Assistant, Greening Events II Project, University of Bristol

  72. Heppie Curtis introduced the Greening Events II (GEII) project, which aims to quantify the carbon impact of staff at the University of Bristol and look at ways to reduce this.

    The project found that whilst there is a huge carbon impact from air travel, most of the actual miles travelled by staff are taken by train, so people are already very thoughtful about the way they travel, where they can be.
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    Curtis: Unless you fundamentally change the way the university works, you can’t reduce air travel much more #unisVC
  74. Curtis explained the results of their travel survey, which showed that people made their travel choices based on convenience, speed and cost – factors which are usually the main selling points for video conferencing.  However, people were often not aware that video conferencing facilities existed, highlighting the issue of promotion.

    Following on from this work, they project team carried out an additional survey using focus groups, asking more attitudinal questions about virtual meetings.
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    Curtis: 73% of people who didn’t attend a virtual meeting said they were simply never asked #unisVC
  76. She went on to discuss some of the possible underlying reasons why people feel insecure trying out video conferencing.
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    Curtis: Everyone knows how to travel and have disaster recovery mechanisms as a result. They don’t have that for video conferencing #unisVC
  78. Curtis then explored the more difficult question of whether alternatives to travel actually reduce travel.  The jury is sell out on this point. Video conferencing can make it easier to build long distance collaborations, which at some point will necessitate travel that might not otherwise have been undertaken.  Curtis also raised the issue of rebound phemonena, which might add in additional, unexpected carbon use as a result of video conferencing.
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    Curtis: Rebound phenomena are really difficult to quantify. What do you do with the time and money you save by video conferencing? #unisVC
  80. The project team have been carrying out some interesting work to try to establish the carbon impact of video conferencing itself, and have developed experimental techniques that attempt to quantify the energy usage in actually pushing the bits and bytes around the network that is the internet.  Whilst they can now tentatively estimate this, Curtis emphasised that the hardware used to access the video conference may be the most significant factor when establishing exactly how green video conferencing may be.
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    Curtis: Your own personal network’s energy use and the device you use to access materials makes a significant difference #unisVC
  82. Curtis concluded by emphasising the positive aspects of travel and encouraged participants to remember that travel time can be used productively and can be considered precious space by some members of staff.
  83. You can watch the full presentation on YouTube.
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  85. Reactions

  86. Further Information

    Further information about this event can be found at the event webpage.
    The online discussion surrounding the event can be replayed in full at CoverItLive.
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