The way of the future

ACN asks regional CIOs if they are considering increasing their use of video conferencing to save on growing travel costs.

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By  Patrick Elligett Published  January 4, 2009

ACN asks regional CIOs if they are considering increasing their use of video conferencing to save on growing travel costs.

Muhammed Javeed, director of IT services, Qatar University

People know that video conferencing (VC) is available for the purpose of meetings and distance education, but at Qatar University (QU) we have been deploying video conferencing for a different purpose.

We will soon begin using it so that teachers can simultaneously address both male and female students at the same time, because obviously we require that they be taught separately at our university.

Currently, everything is duplicated. All lectures that are given on the male side have to be given again on the female side, repeating the information in both sections.

We are currently establishing rooms that will be devoted to this purpose. So the teacher may be addressing the female class while having the male class linked via video conferencing from such a room.

We are putting in one of these setups right now but next year we plan to put in about five or six more. It is just a matter of the students and the staff adjusting to it.

This strategy allows us to maintain the local customs and culture by not allowing the students to see each other, but of course eyeball contact is still important so teachers will be switching between the different classes from week to week.

There are several benefits to the system, and since many of our students will already be familiar with video conferencing, they will know what sort of benefits it can bring when they move into the workforce.

On top of the VC system, we are also experimenting with capturing video and audio content from lectures in real time and then publishing it. That way students can review and rewind at their convenience, which will help when they are approaching final exams.

We have been using video conferencing for job interviews as well so there is definitely cost savings involved with attracting new faculty staff. In education it is very important to check very thoroughly the new colleagues you are bringing in to the workplace.

So when the university is interviewing four or five people for the same position, we can first screen the applicants via VC, and then only fly in the final candidates that are most promising for face-to-face interviews. So VC definitely has its benefits, but there is still the occasional need for personal contact.

QU is introducing this idea gradually and we now have several dedicated VC rooms. We are also using VC for remote lectures. We just signed a memorandum with a nearby hospital involving the use of VC, to save our medical students the trouble of travelling to the hospital to receive important lectures by attending them remotely.

The increased efficiency and cost savings that come with VC are impossible to ignore, I am a big advocate for it. It is an augmenting aspect to people's jobs and it should be seen as a tool. It is not a replacement for eyeball contact - it is just something that can be used to support it.

It is human nature that we will need to see and communicate with body language. Touching and feeling is a very important thing for people and nothing can ever replace the traditional handshake.

When people do have to do travel and be physically present however, we try to fly people on the shortest possible routes and do little things like that so we can avoid causing them too much inconvenience.

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