California Educational Data Processing Association
The DataBus - Vol. 37, No. 5
August-September, 1997

Statewide Video Conferencing -- A Beginning

Backbone: Distance learning video infrastructure may eventually benefit K-12.

Mike McLean, 4CNet/California State University

As a part of the development of 4CNet, the expanded data network interconnecting the California State Universities and the California Community Colleges (CCC), the Chancellor's Office for the California Community Colleges awarded a grant in mid-June to Butte Community College, located in Oroville in Northern California, to provide oversight to the development of 4CNet as it relates to the community colleges. The $2,493,000 two-year grant calls for four major activities: funding and tracking the improvement of the 4CNet backbone to meet the needs of the Community College participants in the network; development and publication of a newsletter to chronicle the development and use of the network; providing a connection to 4CNet for the Community College Chancellor's Office; and the development and management of one or more pilot projects to utilize the 4CNet infrastructure for video-conferencing for community colleges in California.

According to LeBaron Woodyard, Dean for Instructional Technology at the CCC Chancellor's Office in Sacramento, "Butte's comprehensive history as a provider of distance education throughout its rural district and its historically strong collaborative partnership with California State University, Chico were critical factors in the decision to award the grant to the college.quot; The project will be under the direction of Dr. Frederick Sherman, Vice President of Information Services and Technology at Butte College.

Butte College will select partners from across the state to pilot video conferencing over the network. It is hoped that the information gathered from these pilot programs will lead to connection of every California community college via video through 4CNet over the next two years. Such systemwide video connection would enable all California community colleges to simultaneously transmit full video and audio data in real-time as well as continuing the current tranmission of data over the 4CNet backbone.

Currently, the campuses of the CSU make extensive use of the 4CNet backbone for video conferencing. Over 500 conferences per month are scheduled on the system and range from ongoing classes, to faculty meetings, interviews, and administrative meetings. Participation in these video conferences ranges from two campuses to all campuses in the system. The CSU has already realized the value in such a statewide network. One can easily imagine the time and cost savings of bringing together students or staff from institutions throughout the state for vitual "face-to-face" classes or meetings compared to the cost of gathering all participants in one geographic location. Several classes are offered at various CSU campuses that would not otherwise be affordable due to the absence of instructional staff or a lack of enrollment.

A key point of the current CSU video conferencing system is a Web based scheduling system that allows campuses to schedule video conferences through a web interface. A CSU campus video coordinator will soon be able to access the CSU Video Home Page, request a video conference, and have that request confirmed all online. The scheduler verifies the availability of video rooms at each campus and the required circuits. Campus coordinators must of course verify that someone else has not scheduled a "video room" for a non-video class.

Network links in the current system allow CSU campuses to conference with campuses within the University of California system and using a Sprint Video Channel connection to conference with individuals having a similary connection or utilizing one of many Sprint Video conference centers across the nation, some of which are housed at Kinkos locaitons. These same connections will be available to the community colleges as they are connected for video to 4CNet.

The eventual implementation of a statewide video conferencing network including the campuses of the CSU and the California Community Colleges will open an even greater potential for distance education and collaboration. It will be one of the largest video networks in the nation bringing with it benefits such as improved student grades, reduced student costs, enhanced course delivery to students, and expanded access to instructional resources, just to mention a few. Both the CSU and the CCC are looking forward to the implementation of video conferencing for all participants in 4CNet, another example of the unprecedented collaboration among the California State Univerity and the California Community Colleges. The pilot efforts to be development through the grant to Butte College are just the beginning of this ambitious endeavor.

Michael A. McLean is Manager of Customer Service Support for 4CNnet, a service of the CSU Chancellor's Office. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

Return to Index Return to August-September index