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April 30, 2001

IT tools help expand Emory classroom walls

Scott Sawyer is an educational analyst for ITD Teaching and Research Services team. Donna Price is ITD communications coordinator


A lone professor sits late at night in an assembly hall in Budapest, Hungary. On a large-screen video monitor, she sees students and faculty in a library conference room on Emory’s campus. For the next hour, they share a dynamic, interactive dialogue on the political and social ramifications of the recent Yugoslav election.

This seminar, sponsored by Emory’s Russian and East European Studies and Halle Institute, is just one example of the growing number of two-way video and audio broadcasts that are now crisscrossing the Atlantic, extending the boundaries of college classrooms around the world.

During 2000–01, Internet and traditional phone-based videoconferencing delivered real-time communication from Emory classrooms and research laboratories to students, colleagues and researchers across the United States and internationally to China, England, Germany, Japan, Russia and South Africa. Throughout the University, teleconferencing opened new arenas for collaboration and the development of global community.

Jeffrey Lesser, professor of history and director of Latin American and Caribbean studies, reported positively on a videoconference session with students in a Stanford University seminar. Students from Emory language classes refined their conversational skills in videoconferenced exchanges with students in China, Russia and Japan. Scheduled during the evening hours to accommodate time zone differences, these hour-long cultural, political and religious discussions opened windows into the lives of foreign students.

Outside the classroom, videoconferences were used to schedule planning meetings and interviews with colleagues and students, to conduct long-distance grant planning meetings, and to participate in national healthcare and professional associations while eliminating the need to travel. Teleconferences save time and cut travel expenses, but more importantly, they add cultural and intellectual scope to classrooms by offering expert lecturers and opportunities for international exchange not otherwise possible.

Collaborative research is also experiencing a renaissance as newer, computer-based technology lessens space and time restrictions. Once upon a time, the only way collaborators could work together was to arrange to meet in the same physical location, call each other on the telephone, or fax or mail pictures or graphs to each other.

“It was a very inefficient way of doing things,” said Vaidy Sunderam, Dobbs Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science. “That’s where the motivation for CCF [Collaborative Computing Frameworks] came from: To try and create something where people can get together in a sort of virtual community, online in real time, and work as if they are in the same room or lab.”
Sunderam, principal investigator for the CCF project (“CCF: A Framework for Collaborative Computing,” Internet Computing, January/February 2000), worked with faculty from chemistry, physics and computer science to create a toolkit of software applications that enable shared, computer-based collaborations between researchers at distant locations.

Internet2 (I2), the Internet-based conferencing technology, is rapidly expanding the value and availability of academic conferencing resources. As of December, 181 universities were partnering with corporations and government to develop and advance I2.

Not only are the research sciences benefiting from the additional bandwidth on I2, but the humanities and arts as well. This past October, musical performers in four states collaborated in real time to produce a live CD at the Rialto Theater. Members of a string quartet, assembled virtually, performed and recorded even though separated by hundreds of miles.

As demands increase for faster and more reliable computer-based communication systems, the Information Technology Division (ITD) is exploring additional ways to use I2 connections between Emory and other research institutions. Based on the success of the virtual performance at the Rialto, Emory College is currently working with a networking specialist to ensure that the new Schwartz Center for Performing Arts will have world-class technological capabilities. Already, there are dreams of performances that sound not only across one concert hall—but across many, through the Internet.

For more information or to view a videoconferencing demonstration, contact ITD’s Scott Sawyer at 404-727-0156 or via e-mail at, or visit


Back to Emory Report April 30, 2001