Technologies Reach Across Campus, State—and World

Collaboration Across the State
In a just-launched program centered at Kent State University in Ohio, collaboration is happening on a large scale across the state. In the brand-new program, at least six Ohio universities so far have agreed to collaborate using the eLearning platform WebCT Vista. The product uses the Oracle Internet File System in Oracle’s 9i database to allow each participating school to access a common central database and create, store, manage, and share content beyond course boundaries. The system’s content will include more than 400 programs and participation from over 1,400 faculty members. In the shared services model, KSU is hosting WebCT Vista for a number of universities. The Ohio Learning Network, a consortium of Ohio colleges and universities joined to enhance distance learning, is serving as an overall project facilitator.

KSU, the largest school in the group, will bear most of the initial costs and will be responsible for providing a project manager, applications and systems administrator, and other support services as needed. Participating schools will contribute in a cost-sharing model, providing their own hardware, additional software, support staff—and will contribute courses to the collaborative pool.

Participating schools will use APIs supplied with the WebCT software to tailor it to their own needs. Each school will also provide adequate T-1 lines for transmission of course materials. Individual schools will have access to the software and will provide local administration of courses.

One way that the Ohio project is unique, according to Rosemary DuMont, associate VP of academic technology services for Kent State University, is that such a diversity of schools are cooperating. "We have a great variety of institutions working together" to create a statewide shared learning system, she said. "There are a lot of positive feelings about this." One result of the collaboration for smaller schools will be access to a relatively expensive program, WebCT Vista, which they might not have considered before because of budget constraints. And the result for students across Ohio will be access to a greater diversity of courses than would have been possible without sharing.

Collaboration Around the Globe
Taking collaboration even further into the future is James Oliverio, a professor at the University of Florida and director of UF’s Digital Worlds Institute.

The institute serves as a center for innovative research, technology development and learning in digital arts. A collaborative effort itself between UF’s College of Engineering and College of Fine Arts, the institute uses advanced multimedia technologies and high-speed telecommunications in innovative ways to encourage collaboration between artists, scientists and engineers around the world.

Students in UF’s Digital Arts and Sciences program can work with the institute while they earn a degree that spans both the arts and engineering.

The collaborative technologies available at the institute are impressive. For example, the institute has four nodes across campus that connect via the "Access Grid"—a network of sophisticated Internet2 nodes across the U.S. and around the world that allow multimedia collaboration between people in geographically diverse locations. The nodes can be used for group collaboration such as large-scale distributed meetings, collaborative work sessions, seminars, lectures, tutorials and training. "The Access Grid was established to bring people together into a shared space over a distance," Oliverio said. "But not just point-to-point - I talk to you and see you, you talk to me and see me—but many people see and talk to each other in the same shared space."

"I talk to you and see you, you talk to me and see me, but [with the Access Grid,] many people see and talk to each other in the same shared space."

Oliverio and the institute are well-known for innovative high-tech collaboration projects. For example, some of the most advanced projects have involved collaborative multimedia dance performances in which artists in different parts of the world, using the Access Grid, participate simultaneously in a performance art piece. A recent performance, "Non Divisi," used audio and video equipment, huge projection screens at the institute, and real-time distributed collaboration over high-speed connections to allow dancers and musicians on three continents to perform together simultaneously.

The advanced, collaborative digital learning environment at the institute is available to any group on campus, Oliverio said. He sees the institute’s tools as being for anyone. "I tend to say that what we’ve created here at the REVE, the Research, Education and Visualization Environment, is a twenty-first century blackboard, and everybody gets to write on the blackboard, not just the people that can draw really nicely or just the people that can write the equations."

Preparing for the Future
As collaboration technologies advance and as software companies release new collaborative products, innovative schools will continue to take advantage, often in surprising ways. Because working together is so innate to how people teach and learn, collaboration on campus sometimes takes place without much notice. But just as e-mail has quietly grown to become an indispensable tool, so will collaborative technologies eventually come to underlie nearly everything we do with computers. IT leadership may want to prepare for that now by carefully choosing the right software products, studying what others are doing, and planning for a collaborative future.

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