Spanning Spaces at Hawaii Pacific University

Justin Itoh
Hawaii Pacific University

Living, working, and going to school in an island state certainly has its advantages, but sometimes being remotely located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has its challenges too; especially when it comes to outsourcing technology resources and services.

Hawaii Pacific University (HPU) is located in downtown Honolulu on the island of Oahu, with another campus on the windward side of Oahu in the city of Kaneohe. More than 5,500 students from every state in the United States, and from more than 100 countries, attend classes on one of our two campuses. Approximately 3,000 additional students attend HPU on eight military bases located on Oahu.

To provide efficient and fast technical support to our students enrolled in the online Distance Education Program, we initially used a leading Web conferencing provider for remote control capabilities. The school’s IT staff, a mix of full-time employees and Computer Science majors, found that it was much easier to guide students through the technical support process when they were able to take control of the student’s computer, share the desktop, and then diagnose problems in real-time. We also noticed that we were closing trouble tickets much more quickly. These experiences made it clear to us that remote control is a necessity for an IT department that d'es much of its work with off campus users.

It wasn’t long before other departments, including admissions, operations, and teaching staff, were asking for off-campus connectivity and collaboration. Unfortunately, the cost of extending the outsourced service provider to support all of these new users with audio and video conferencing, whiteboarding, and application sharing was cost prohibitive for HPU.

We determined that it was more viable to purchase, install, and manage our own Web conferencing software rather than depend on a managed service, so we sought a solution that was affordable, easy to install, and easy to use. After due diligence, we found WiredRed® Software and selected their e/pop® Web Conferencing product. We appreciated that e/pop® Web Conferencing was not only painless to deploy, but also easy for both the staff and students to use without much training. HPU’s costs have been reduced 50 percent for just remote control and, since we own the e/pop application, we now offer its entire feature set to other departments.

The e/pop application is very easy to manage. I’ve trained personnel from other departments to use e/pop and conferences are set up and hosted by these individuals. Installing e/pop from within a firewall-protected network on Windows 2003 servers was routine and allows collaboration among our off-site campuses via a VPN connection.

Beyond its initial use as a remote control support system for the IT department, e/pop® Web Conferencing is now used in the military campus program to facilitate weekly meetings among faculty, admissions staff, and other personnel. The interaction of multiparty video, or the ability for everyone to see all conference attendees simultaneously, provides a level of human interaction well beyond a one-dimensional phone call. We especially like the multiparty video feature in e/pop. It allows students, faculty, and HPU personnel to meet “face-to-face.” Everyone can observe facial expressions during the meeting, and judge both the verbal and non-verbal cues of the other participants.

Also, our Human Resources department has begun to use e/pop to interview job applicants located on other islands and on the Mainland. Video is invaluable because now the interviewer can interpret the applicant’s facial expressions and body language while conducting the job interview.

HPU has found other applications for e/pop. The university is in the initial stages of integrating e/pop into “classrooms” in the distance learning program. While students are not actually on campus, with e/pop they are able to interact in a group setting much as they would in a campus classroom. Small groups can collaborate in real-time on school projects and class work.

We believe that the use of e/pop Web Conferencing adds an important dimension to our distance learning program. Bringing students together virtually helps them feel more connected to the class, and to each other. Once we finish the pilot testing, I’m optimistic this will be an ideal way to decrease the “distance” in the distance learning program. Once integrated, we’ll have completed our transformation to a cost-effective internally owned and operated suite of services to reach our distributed student bodies.

Justin Itoh is the Chief Information Officer at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, Hawaii. He can be reached at jitoh@hpu.edu.

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