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Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is not a new technology. Rather the technology has been available for the past 15 years. In the early stages of its deployment the technology was used for meetings of individuals located in diverse geographical points. Typical examples of such meetings included intra company communications for corporations with sites in various cities or countries. The videoconferencing systems used were typically large and required special setup of a room with related equipment, including decoders and televisions.

The limitations of the technology were mostly relevant to insufficient networking bandwidth, which resulted in loss of accuracy for image and / or sound. The latter made the technology large usable, with a large part of the communication being lost. The result was that professionals would resort to more traditional methods of communication, such as conference calls using regular telephone communications.

However, over the last 5 years networking bandwidth limitations have to a large extent been eliminated due to optical and broadband networks. This means that loss of quality on image and sound transmission has been reduced to acceptable rates, allowing communications to be carried out comfortably in business settings where the content of the discussion is important and possibly urgent and the facilitating communication technology, i.e. videoconferencing, is seen as just that, i.e. a facilitator of important communications.

Bandwidth limitations are expected to be further reduced over the next 5 years since most European countries already have broadband networks or are in the process of installing them nation wide.

These advances in networking technology make a mature communications medium, such as videoconferencing, more relevant than ever. Organizations can now use videoconferencing to synchronously communicate, thus making asynchronous communications, for example web-based communication platforms including forums and chat rooms a complementary solution rather than the only available alternative as used to be the case.

Furthermore, new tools are now available for videoconferencing in smaller scale. In particular, inexpensive desktop systems including web cameras and microphones can be used by individuals to connect to video conferences. This is a departure from the familiar video conferencing room with heavy equipment and allows video conferencing to even take place from home.

The above imply that the applications of videoconferencing increase as well to include other areas, in addition to business meetings among corporations who have the economic means to purchase expensive equipment and network connections. Academic applications are a very good example of using video conferencing in new settings for the benefit of end users.

In academic situations, video conferencing can be used in distance teaching settings to in-crease the level of synchronous communication between instructors and students by simu-lating face to face discussions. However, the use of video conferencing in such settings does not enjoy the expected level of market penetration. The reason for that oxymoron lies in the fact that most individuals are not familiar with the technology and need to be trained on its capabilities and its use. Most importantly, in the case of academic applications, instructors need to be trained on pedagogical aspects of deploying such technology in educational settings, for example how to engage students located at a distance, how to make students feel that he/she is talking directly to them by successfully using the camera, how to overcome technological failures during a teaching session, etc.

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