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U North Texas Sets Up New Telepresence Space for 40

A Texas university has built a new videoconferencing room that includes a 116-inch painted wall for a screen, among other state-of-the-art equipment. The first event to take place in the new room at the University of North Texas Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment, and Redesign consisted of a seminar with Holocaust survivor and motivational speaker Gerda Weissmann Klein. Weissmann Klein, who has spoken at the school before, joined a room of 40 students located in Denton from an office in Philadelphia.

The newest room joins two other university-run videoconferencing spaces that are on campus and 11 that are off campus. All are part of the University of North Texas Videoconferencing Network (UNTVN).

The inauguration event for the room was a program for students involved in "Stand Up, Speak out and Lend a Hand," an initiative promoted by Weissmann Klein's organization, the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation. The program encourages young people to participate in service learning projects. One of the requirements of the program is access to videoconferencing, since that's one of the ways participating classes interact with each other and the foundation.

The new room, with a capacity of 40 participants, features a Tandberg Telepresence Engine Codec C90; a 116-inch wall screen applied using an acrylic paint called "Screen Goo" from Goo Systems, a 72-inch screen in the rear of the room; a WolfVision ceiling mounted Eye-12 high-resolution camera; a computer with Internet access and Office 2007; fixed ceiling microphones; and an FX8 speaker from Stealth Acoustics positioned behind the screen and built into the wall. All of the sites within the network use a Tandberg codec. The network also has a Tandberg Codian multipoint control unit for setting up multipoint conferences.

"We are constantly enhancing our classroom technology systems in ways that promote both sustainability and student engagement," said Patrick Pluscht, director of the Center. "This new installation supports our goal to enhance learning-centered environments that help students get the most from their academic experience. It is also a convenient, first-class alternative to travel for our faculty, staff, and students."

According to Brenda Ritz, videoconference manager in the Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment & Redesign at U North Texas, "Budget cuts, travel costs, and [lack of] time have really increased video conferencing here at the campus." That includes professors meeting with colleagues in locations as far away as Iceland, staff and faculty recruiting for graduate students in India, administrators attending sessions with other universities around the state and among satellite campuses, on-campus search committees doing preliminary interviews with potential job candidates, and students nearing graduation doing interviews with potential employers.

The room was built by CCS Presentation Systems Texas, which specializes in audio-video technology.

Editor's note: This article has been updated since its original publication earlier today to correct possible inaccuracies. [Last updated May 25, 2010 at 2:57 p.m.] --David Nagel

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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