What is videoconferencing?

How is videoconferencing used?

Why use videoconferencing?

Is videoconferencing cost-effective?

How is videoconferencing used elsewhere?

Implementation of videoconferencing

Videoconferencing v Teleconferencing

Videoconferencing at Thames Valley University


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What is videoconferencing?

A videoconference is a live, face to face meeting between groups of people at two or more world-wide locations using video, visual and audio broadcast and receiving equipment.

How is videoconferencing used?

Videoconferencing can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used to hold formal or informal meetings across a variety of locations or it can be used to deliver lectures or seminars and discussion groups within a multi-sited organisation.

In an academic context, videoconferencing is especially useful for providing a means of delivering lectures or taught modules that would otherwise be uneconomic.

Why use videoconferencing?

Effective videoconferencing gives an economic solution to the problem of teaching otherwise unpopular or poorly subscribed modules over a variety of campuses to a larger audience so saving time and money in the process. What is more, courses - in particular certain specialist postgraduate courses - which had previously been too small to be viable on one campus suddenly became viable. E.g. each campus recruited 4 or 5 students, which the tutor then taught simultaneously as one group of 12-15, in effect. A further gain from the ready access to videoconferencing was that there was more contact overall between staff and also in some cases students based on the different campuses. Perhaps even more striking success in the use of the videoconferencing system in the field of Adult and Continuing Education was its employment as the chosen mode of delivery in the cause of "Education for Mutual Understanding". Here a deliberate cross-community approach has been employed to bring together by electronic means community groups who would otherwise never have had the opportunity to meet.

Is videoconferencing cost-effective?

Videoconferencing is not a cheap solution but it does turn out to be cost-effective quite quickly. The savings made from travel costs and time costs will soon outstrip the initial setting up and continuing maintenance costs of a videoconferencing system within an institution. This can be seen from the following figures provided by Ulster University:

"In the case of UU the huge saving in terms of the reduction in inter-campus travel by private car have certainly gone a long way towards paying for the installation and running of the videoconferencing systems. At the end of the first three years of operation, it was possible to calculate - by a somewhat rough and ready but nevertheless reasonably approximate method - that the cost per hour of the average videoconference had been about £100 per hour to the institution, i.e. the total cost of a two hour meeting would amount to £200. In contrast the parallel costing of an average face-to-face faculty committee meeting on the Jordanstown Campus looked something like this in 1993:

2 x 2 cars from Coleraine-Jordanstown = £80 mileage expenses

1 x car from Londonderry -Jordanstown = £60 mileage expenses

"dead" staff driving/travel time Coleraine-Jordanstown 4 persons x 3hours =12 hours x £25 per hour (a coarse average!) = £300

"dead" driving/travel time Londonderry-Jordanstown 2 persons x 4 hours = 8 hours x £25 per hour = £200.

GRAND TOTAL COST of conventional face-to-face meeting =£640 "1

A purpose-built videoconferencing suite or studio can incorporate a variety of audio/visual aids and media which can be utilised in sessions - both meetings and lectures - to a high degree of effectiveness although it should be noted that proper training will be required to work this and the videoconferencing equipment efficiently.

How is videoconferencing used elsewhere?

Within the business world videoconferencing is becoming a popular medium for holding meetings across multiple locations, especially over international borders.

Within the academic world videoconferencing is used for cross-campus communications especially where the sites are a considerable distance from each other. Two examples of this in use in the UK are the University of Wales and Ulster University. Both these organisations use videoconferencing for cross-campus meetings - at a variety of administration and academic levels and for teaching purposes. In both examples it as proved to be extremely popular and the equipment has been used extensively. It has led to contact between staff and students that had not occurred before the provision of the facility.

As part of the survey document, the University of Wales has produced the following checklist for running a session:


This one-page summary of the staff and tutors guide has been prepared as an aide-memoire and a studio handout.


Planning a Session

Being well-organised and rehearsing anything new is important so:

Before Starting

Adjust monitors, cameras, tables, chairs for minimum movement during the session; enter camera presets if any.

Running a Session

Role of the Chair/Facilitator

Role of the Participants:-


Relax - don't think of yourself as being on camera, just behave and talk naturally.

Visual Aids

A clear simple image is important so:-


Video is a 'remote' medium so:-

Implementation of videoconferencing

Once the studios have been installed, it is essential that all users are fully trained before using the system. Failure to do so has caused difficulties in various organisations where staff have avoided attending training sessions and later demanded 'a quick run through' immediately before using the system for the first time. This has led to poor session management and unsatisfactory transmissions. It seems that more senior staff are less willing to undergo necessary training - and they are the people who often decided to implement the system for their own initial advantage.

If the problem with training can be overcome, the introduction of videoconferencing could prove to be a popular and beneficial addition to the organisational set up of the institution.

Videoconferencing v Teleconferencing

It seems that videoconferencing is more popular than teleconferencing as a long term option as people feel more comfortable when they can see each other. Although it is not always possible to determine body language through videoconferencing it is often possible to discern facial expressions which can provide valuable feedback during discussions and meetings. These signals can be missed during teleconferencing sessions. Therefore, videoconferencing is more popular and trusted than teleconferencing.

Videoconferencing at Thames Valley University

For the Learning Resources Centre at TVU the implementation of a videoconferencing suite or suites would allow cross-campus meetings to occur between staff without the necessity for staff travelling to the relevant sites so the amount of time lost in travel would be cut dramatically. This would lead to increased productivity from staff so cutting the financial costs of such cross-campus meetings. Within the wider organisation, videoconferencing could be use to deliver lectures and seminars and could also be used to connect with external organisations for meetings and conferences. This would also lead to reduced costs and increased benefits as external contacts could be maintained more easily and further contacts could be promoted through the use of videoconferencing.

It has been suggested that links through SuperJanet could be used to promote enhanced research and contact across institutions and possibly across international borders without the cost in time, money and inconvenience of travelling to meetings and conferences.

With the introduction of the H320 standard cabling and connections, it is possible to link up with external organisations across a wide geographical area.

The implementation of a videoconferencing system would have enormous benefits within the LRC and TVU as an organisation. He access gained to external knowledge through videoconferencing would add to the resources already available to students and staff at TVU and the enhanced access would help to improve the academic reputation of the institution.

Access to the knowledge of external staff would need to be co-ordinated and logged in order to ensure contacts could be maintained over a period of time in order to retain the knowledge gained. It could be possible to use groupware to note down relevant contacts and sources of information which can be held and managed by LRC staff.

In the long term, a national academic videoconferencing network could create a truly integrated research base and communication channel across the Higher Education field in the UK. Therefore, it would be sensible to encourage as many institutions as possible to install a videoconferencing system both internally and with external links.

Such a system would also work alongside an electronic document delivery system to enable rapid transmission of necessary data to enhance videoconferencing sessions.

The method of communication is undergoing rapid and radical change. The introduction of the Internet and the World Wide Web has revolutionised the transmission of data on a global basis. The introduction of further technology is inevitable and should be welcomed as a method of cutting costs and enhancing productivity and increasing all types of communications.

The Information Era has arrived and with it a host of transmission methods. As people demand ever quicker methods of data retrieval and knowledge transmission it seems that videoconferencing could have a vital role to play in the international arena both in the business and academic worlds.

The electronic age is here to stay and it is with interest and expectation that we should await the next technological innovation in the communications field. It is time that the funding spent on research should lead to new products and technologies for general consumption.

What is next, I wonder?


1 Jones, M.: Videoconferencing at the University of Ulster - an overview of six years of practical experience : University of Ulster; March 7th, 1976, "" (now a dead link)

2 Section IV: the video conference check-list: