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Putting Your Best Face Forward with Desktop Videoconferencing

The Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the California State University, Fresno leverages the university system's vast resources--with 23 campuses the CSU is one of the largest higher education systems in the world--to assist innovators, entrepreneurs, students, and the community at large in the development of business and entrepreneurship.

The center taps into experts and speakers from across the campus and throughout the university system to help lead classes in innovation, consult on business, and provide advice. But travel consumes large amounts of valuable time and is increasingly expensive. And with a multi-acre campus and partnerships with local colleges across our region, we're focused on finding innovative ways to better achieve our goals and support our mission. The Lyles Center felt that videoconferencing could be a solution, but we needed to find a system that could reliably support multi-party interactions at an affordable price.

While we did a good job at utilizing e-mail, phone, and occasional in-person meetings, the fact remained that we were normally not in the same physical space, where impromptu and instantaneous conversations happen naturally. The Lyles Center finally implemented a desktop videoconferencing system that offers the same robust service as an installed product, but allows infrastructure management and technical support to be fully offloaded. The cost per seat per month is very attractive--no more than a Blackberry.

We now operate 50 Avistar seats, enabling Lyles Center staff, administrators, and faculty to meet face-to-face and collaborate on data through multi-party calls that are connected with a single click. We also extended videoconferencing capabilities to several university programs that have operations off-campus, such as those found in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology and Engineering. The system has also grown to include 10 community colleges across the state, as well as service for remote advisory board members both in and out of state who can add significant value to meetings without having to leave their own offices. New efficiencies include improved social interaction and connectedness as well as reduced travel needs and costs. The system provides us with instant multi-party video, available right at our desktop--or even remotely when we travel.

Desktop videoconferencing is an essential tool in building a community ecosystem that supports entrepreneurship and the mission of the institution. Effective communication is fundamental to delivering quality in education, and this technology successfully closes the gap between instant yet inadequate e-mail or phone interaction, and desirable yet time-consuming in-person meetings that usually require travel. The social network that it facilitates goes back to one of the original purposes of the Internet--to provide a tool for educators to improve their effectiveness.

About the Author

Timothy M. Stearns is executive director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Coleman Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurial Studies at the California State University, Fresno.

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