Everything is Different Today

Everything has changed. What was once an over-inflated claim by technology companies seeking to have their message stand out from the crowd has become—in one day—a truth for us all. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, what once seemed important now has a vastly different perspective. Whether you live near the epicenters of the tragedies or thousands of miles distant, this will affect you. One immediate impact of the disaster is on travel.

I was supposed to give a talk to the Distance Education Workshop 2001 held at North Carolina State University (NCSU) on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 13-14. As of Sept. 11, that was no longer possible. Logan airport was closed. I sent my regrets and tried to assimilate the breaking news as best I could. On Wednesday evening I got an e-mail asking if I could do the presentation over H.323, that is, with video over IP. Over the next 24 hours I looked to see if a suitable origination site was available, while the conference organizers looked for portable video conference equipment for the presentation room. On Friday morning we established the connection and I gave the talk. An added bonus of remaining in Boston was that I was able to have a colleague join me at my end, making the presentation much richer. A Q&A followed, moderated by a colleague at NCSU.

I suspect that the terrorist attacks are a harbinger of one new aspect of our future. While face-to-face (f2f) interaction offers the ultimate bandwidth for communication between people, it presumes that the effort to bring people together is affordable. Today that effort and expense has dramatically risen.

But video over IP isn’t the only communications alternative that will receive renewed attention. A suite of virtual classroom software has emerged with features that include an integrated whiteboard, live application sharing, content archives, streaming audio and video, audio bridging, and integrated polling or survey tools. The productivity benefits of these features become rapidly apparent considering the ability to get together on the phone in an audio conference, or call in to a voice bridge while simultaneously viewing materials under discussion on a PC and maintaining a side channel of chat or near synchronous message exchange.

One of the more effective examples of this technology is TechTalks—live bimonthly audio Web casts on topics relevant to networking and information technology featuring leaders in higher education IT. TechTalks are sponsored by CREN, the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (www.cren.net). These free Web casts will give you a sense of how this combination of tools works.

With the attacks, the use of technology to bridge distance has gained added importance. September 11th has changed everything, including how we perceive technology’s power to bring us together. We are reminded of how ephemeral are the things we once thought of as permanent in our world. Now take a moment and reach out to those you care about, even if the touch is electronic.


H.323 - Video over IP

H.323 is a standard that specifies the components, protocols, and procedures that provide multimedia services—real-time audio, video, and data communications—over packet networks, including Internet protocol (IP)-based networks. H.323 os a part of a family of protocols called H.32X that covers multimedia communication services over a variety of networks. For a tutorial on H323, see the International Engineering Consortium site: www.iec.org/online/tutorials/h323.

About the Author

Phil Long, Ph.D. is senior strategist for the Academic Computing Enterprise at MIT. He is also a senior associate for the TLT Group of the AAHE.
View more articles by Phillip Long.

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