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Wharton School Connects Classrooms with Life-Size Telepresence System

Using floor-to-ceiling projection and a banks of 80-inch LED displays, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has created a new classroom collaboration system designed to connect students nearly 3,000 miles apart.

The installation, formally unveiled in late February and now in use for MBA and executive education classes, is designed to allow students in Wharton's Philadelphia and San Francisco locations to collaborate as if they were seated in the same space. A large projection screen in the front of one of the classrooms shows the life-size image of the instructor, while 80-inch LED displays situated on the side and back walls show rows of students seated in the other classrooms.

Front view: The display systems in Whartons new installation bring together two classrooms about 3,000 miles apart.
Side view: The display systems in Whartons new installation bring together two classrooms about 3,000 miles apart.
The display systems in Wharton's new installation bring together two classrooms about 3,000 miles apart.

The collaboration system was designed by AV specialist Cenero using equipment and software from Cisco, including Cisco's Capture, Transform, Share video platform. CTS provides live streaming and on-demand access to captured media. It supports Cisco TelePresence and third-party conferencing systems and LDAP authentication and provides the following capabilities:

  • Video editing and sharing through a Web-based interface;
  • Post-production tools, such as overlays;
  • Integration with campus portal software;
  • Video analytics;
  • Speech search;
  • Transcoding; and
  • Social tools.

Specific equipment used in the Wharton implementation includes the Cisco TelePresence Server 7010, TelePresence Video Communication Server (VCS) Expressway, VCS Control, 40-port Catalyst 3750X switch, and the Show and Share UCS C220 M3 appliance and Digital Media Manager.

The setup also includes four Epson Z8450WUNL projectors (LCD-based, WUXGA resolution) used for telepresence and two Z8000s (also WUXGA), which, according to Cenero, are used "in combination with the Telepresence configuration when the local classroom is used in a Teaching mode."

In addition to projectors, there are four Sharp LC-80LE632U 80-inch displays "used for far end student body left/right, content and remote guest speakers" plus one additional display in each classroom used when the classroom is in teaching mode, according to Cenero.

A Crestron Digital-media system is used for classroom presentations.

On the software side, the classroom also employs Cisco Jabber, allowing students outside the two classrooms — such as those who are traveling or studying from home — to participate live.

"Over the years, Cenero has successfully designed and deployed many immersive environments, but Wharton's classroom is truly unique in that it creates a 'multi-presence' variable by allowing instructors the ability to simultaneously interact with local students, far end classroom participants and remote attendees," said Rob Gillan, president of Cenero, in a prepared statement.

In addition to making bi-coastal classes a reality, the telepresence system is going to be used to bring in outside experts and may, eventually, be used to reach classrooms outside the United States.

According to information released by Wharton and Cisco: "The solution will enable faculty or world-renowned guest experts in Philadelphia to teach and directly interact with students in San Francisco and vice versa — expanding Wharton's community reach across the country. This effort can also help the institution reduce the need for travel. As Wharton continues to expand educational opportunities globally, such as its planned facility in Beijing, the system also will enable a single-classroom experience internationally and offer classes that would be otherwise unavailable to remote students."

Additional details can be found on Wharton School's site.


About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .

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