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December 2, 2002

Videoconferencing offers teaching possibilities

Donna Price is coordinator of communications for the Information Technology Division

In one window on the computer screen was a video transmission from a journalism class at the Modern Sciences and Art University in Cairo, Egypt, led by Professor Ahmed El Gody. In another, smaller window were images of students from a freshman seminar, “News Media and International Crisis,” led by Professor Shelia Tefft, director of Emory College’s journalism program.

The students, 14 in Cairo and 15 at Emory, listened to questions and responded both verbally and by typing their comments into a computer.

Richard Lorenc, a first-year Emory student studying political science and Chinese, asked about Jihad: “Two prevalent definitions are ‘armed struggle’ or ‘holy war,’” Lorenc said. “What would you say your definition is...?”

“There is no such thing as ‘holy war,’” answered Arwa Sallam, an 18-year-old advertising and public relations major born in Saudi Arabia. “Basically what we are trying to do is defend...” She looked at the other students as they talked among themselves about what she should say, smiled, and began again. “We are basically against bloodshed, and we are trying to defend our image. Jihad basically means that we are protecting ourselves against those who oppress us. We are completely against violence and war.”

The videoconference, which took place Nov. 12 at Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT), was set up using Microsoft NetMeeting and Messenger, and it is an example of the kind of technology available for University courses.

All videoconferencing is dependent on having equivalent technology at each transmission site, so it’s necessary for scholars and researchers to have access to a wide range of videoconferencing technologies. For the highest quality video broadcasts for both educational and research needs, ECIT offers three types of live audio/video broadcasting systems: a CUSeeMe person-to-person conferencing system and a Sun Microsystems ShowMe TV multimedia player (both Internet-based), and PictureTel’s Swift Site, which transmits via ISDN phone lines.

Using the ISDN-based system involves minimal costs; there are no added costs when connecting via one of the Internet-based systems. However, these systems depend on the availability of a robust and reliable network.

Emory has access to Internet2 (I2) technology, which greatly increases broadcast quality, speed and reliability on the Internet. Today Emory’s network automatically relays transmissions via I2 whenever delivery is to an I2 site, such as those at more than 200 U.S. universities, 40 international organizations and networks, and government and corporate I2 partners.

Included in Microsoft Windows 2000, NetMeeting also can be downloaded from Microsoft at no cost. It provides desktop-based videoconferencing, file transfer, chat and application sharing over the Internet, and these options are dependent on users having only a PC with a camera (which usually cost less than $100), microphone and an Internet connection with IP number for each site.

At the lower end of the broadcast-quality spectrum, NetMeeting is best suited to individual videoconferencing but does present an option for videoconferencing with sites with limited technical resources. Tefft recommended having technical support when using this technology.

“When communicating with people who have different views or beliefs than my own, I feel a sense of challenge,” Lorenc said after the conference. “There is the challenge of communicating your ideas across to the other person or group clearly, but there also is the challenge of understanding and absorbing their argument or rationale.”

“I don’t think there was any student who did not come away with some strong feelings, probably covering the whole gamut of reactions,” Tefft said. “Whether we like it or not, we are part of the world—Sept. 11 made sure of that. Backing out and saying that we are not going to communicate with people is not an option, really.

“That’s why I said to [the students] that being angry and reacting to what was said is the first stage of communication,” she continued. “Then you have to move on to other stages and try to communicate at a more sophisticated level—get past that initial gut reaction. I think all of them now are contemplating what those other stages of communication would be. That’s what I’m trying to get them to do.

“It was a great teaching moment for me,” she said.

For more information on videoconferencing options, call ECIT's Wayne Morse at