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Auburn University Finds Success with Telepresence for Classes


TMCnews Featured Article

July 22, 2009

Auburn University Finds Success with Telepresence for Classes

By Amy Tierney, TMCnet Web Editor

Some students at Auburn University don’t necessarily have to worry about missing out on important lectures if they have fallen ill or are poor note-takers. Thanks to a Burlington, Mass.-based company’s telepresence solution, students can access classes on-demand with a few clicks of a button.

Starbak, a provider of enterprise video portals and integrated networks for the education, corporate, healthcare and government markets, deployed a video communications solution for Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy program.
Using Starbak’s rich media streaming solution, called Integrated Network Video, or “INV,” onsite and remote students across Alabama can review lectures to help prepare for an upcoming exam. The addition of on-demand content is the latest example of how educational markets are taking advantage of telepresence solutions.
Previously, the university recorded classes using video. But the process was cumbersome as was the videos’ maintenance, Barry J. McConatha, manager, information technology for Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy, told TMCnet in an interview. So, school officials sought to replace the videos with technology that offers real-time streaming and archiving, he said.
“Students rely on it mostly for review or (to understand) difficult concepts,” McConatha said. “They just love the fact that they can go in and review particulars components of a class.”
Starbak’s platform offers an add-on solution to a customer’s existing video conferencing system, which lets users record video and stream it from the video conferencing system. With Starbak, people can use the same video conferencing endpoint to stream a video presentation, speech training program, or other event to viewers through a desktop PC or plasma screen, Greg Casale, CEO of Starbak, told TMCnet. An example of the streaming video is available here.
“It’s like our own little YouTube (News - Alert) site,” McConatha said.
Auburn University officials initially implemented the solution in 2007. Since then, more than 3,000 lectures and other educational sessions have been created using the system, Starbak said. Officials have since expanded the solution’s use for faculty meetings, staff training and other programs.
The video communications solution especially comes in handy connecting the university’s five off-site locations. And the ability to link to multiple sites at the same time has been a big help, McConatha said.
“Being able to provide that communication tool to bring everybody together without travel expenses and overnights has been a tremendous cost savings to us,” he said. “It’s a great addition to what great addition to what we have done in the past. I see no way for us to go back now.”
To further enhance the educational experience, telepresence and video conferencing vendors such as BrightCom are able to combine with the prerecorded and streaming media foundation of Starbak's solutions, adding real-time HD video, audio and Web conferencing broadcasts. That lets educators hold live sessions and interact with students in an immersive and collaborative environment.
“Starbak's video communication solutions for education are an excellent idea,” Bob McCandless, CEO of BrightCom, told TMCnet. “By mixing its streaming media with a real-time telepresence broadcasts, students, who are not able to be physically present, are able to review materials before the class session, and also attend a live meeting where professors and other outside experts are able to join, interact and collaborate with the students. Additionally, with this technology in place, universities are able to save on classroom material costs, as well as benefit from professors and outside experts spreading their knowledge further than before.”
Auburn University is one of about 200 colleges and universities across the United States and around the world that is using Starbak’s products for streaming video, Casale said.
And the use is growing. In 2006, 31 billion streams of enterprise video were served.  In May 2007, 60 billion streams were served, according to marketing research company comScore, Inc. In addition, the use of enterprise video is projected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 50 percent over the next four to five years, per IDC projections.
Consumers’ need for instant, on-demand information is one reason behind the growth, Starbak said.
“How people get information is changing rapidly,” Casale said. “We live in an on-demand world, where people are becoming more and more accustomed to being able to get the information they want, when they want it.  At colleges and universities, young people expect the same capability from their learning content.  While they are expected to attend live lectures, they also want the option to review that lecture on-demand for study purposes, or watch it live even if they are away from campus, at home, or abroad.”
Casale said he sees a bright future ahead for video communications technology.
“The impact of this kind of communications on organizations will be profound,” he said. “Those that embrace the on-demand world of communication will be those that adapt to the changing viewing habits of audiences, are more effective at communication, and therefore thrive. Those that do not will find their communication stagnating, and their organizations dying.”

Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan

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