Northern Arizona University transition from video-conferencing to state-of-the art web-based technologies

Background: The budget reductions at the university necessitate a cut of more than $1.5 million in state budgets and a 25 percent reduction in TRIF sales tax revenues require an additional $1.2 million cut in Distance Learning budgets. In order to protect instruction (programs, and full- and part-time faculty) as much as possible, other areas of the DL budgets will bear the brunt of the budget reductions.

Rationale: The Northern Arizona University video-conferencing/ITV system uses a digital technology that is more than 30 years old. While there have been improvements to the basic technology over time, there remain substantial issues that impact pedagogy and instructional effectiveness. Audio interruptions, video-switching between sites and reliability of connections have frustrated students, faculty and technical staff since the system was installed. New Internet web-based technologies are now available that solve many of the technical issues that have plagued the current system and provide additional convenience for students and faculty. This is a technology that many universities are already using for classes and businesses are using for both team meetings and to conduct business. It is imperative that we remain competitive and at the cutting-edge of delivering education via reliable, user-friendly technology that is “student-centered.” The move to web-based technology for synchronous classes was expected to be necessary in the next few years, but the budget crisis requires an immediate change for fall of 2009. Additionally, timing the transition during the summer months provides for more time to provide training, answer questions and prepare for the fall semester.

How “Live Meeting” works: As part of the university’s Microsoft license, our students, faculty and staff have access to the Live Meeting web software at no additional cost. Live Meeting is a web-conferencing service and is part of the Office Communications Server currently being implemented by NAU ITS. Services available in Live Meeting include live webcam video; live audio and instant messaging; active speaker indicator; handouts; sharing of materials; viewing multiple file formats including PowerPoint, plus other services. The technology requires an Internet connection of moderate speed, a camera and a headset for the students and faculty member. Class sessions can be recorded for later student review. Students and faculty can attend the class from the office, home or while traveling as long as they have access to an Internet connected computer. Unlimited classes can be held at the same time, eliminating the scheduling conflicts that were common with ITV.

Transitioning a class from ITV to Live Meeting: After learning how to use the Live Meeting software, the faculty member may teach their class in a similar manner to using the ITV/Video-conferencing system. The primary difference between the two is with Live Meeting all activities/services are controlled by the instructor’s PC with no need for additional support staff. The instructor has more control over the virtual classroom environment. They may lecture, insert documents and have discussions with students. Some departments/faculty may use this opportunity to create a hybrid course, which continuing research shows is preferred by most students, where some class sessions are on WebCT Vista and occasional sessions are on Live Meeting. Other departments/faculty may choose to transition a course to wholly online-delivery. A faculty stipend will be provided for the additional workload for transition. Additional information on faculty stipends will be forthcoming in mid-April.

Student use of computer labs: Most students today have access to Internet-connected computers at home, at their jobs or in community facilities. Collected data over time shows that off-campus computer labs are chronically underutilized by students. Off-campus computer labs will be transitioned to wireless connections at all off-campus locations. At least two student accessible computers will be provided at each location for academic and administrative use. Students will be advised that they need regular access to an Internet connected computer outside of their local NAU location for their classes, which is consistent with the requirement at most universities across the country today.


Frequently Asked Questions

When can I start to transition my course(s) from video-conferencing? In April, TV Services will start working with Live Meeting technologies and will have a classroom/conference room set-up in the Communications building for demo and course development purposes. TV Services staff will be available to work with faculty on a scheduled basis to help them learn more about the technology and help them transition their course to the new technology. Faculty may request their computer to be set up with the headset and camera and TV Services will set up a time for installation within one week of the request. Extended campuses will provide a standard Web cam and headset package to faculty who wish to teach using Live Meeting. Support will also be provided for course transitions from video-conferencing to hybrid and WebCT Vista formats.

Who can faculty contact for more information on faculty
support for the transition to the new web-based technologies?

Transition information for faculty will be available after April 15, 2009. Dr. Susan Johnstad is the contact for faculty support. She can be reached via email at or office phone: (928) 523-6536.

Why can’t we delay the transition away from the Videoconferencing/ITV System and computer labs? The budget cuts must be permanent as of July 1, 2009. Other budget cuts would need to be made if the move is not made to Web-based conferencing technologies and wireless access by the end of the fiscal year. Both changes are required to meet budget cuts and minimize impact on faculty and other staff position eliminations.

Won’t this new technology be expensive for the University and students? The Web cam and headset cost as little as $30. The Live Meeting desktop and web software clients are free to students, faculty and staff. If seeing the student is not critical to the pedagogy, only a headset is needed by the student. Once purchased, the equipment can be used for multiple classes.

What if the student doesn’t have access to a computer or moderate speed Internet connection? Northern Arizona University will install wireless Internet connection at our campuses across the state. Many libraries and workplaces have high-speed connections. Students in programs with many classes offered synchronously will be advised to sign up for Internet access and purchase a computer, webcam and headset before they start the program. In many cases financial aid may be used for these costs.

How can I learn more about Microsoft Live Meeting? There is information on the Microsoft Web site. The “Tour” is a good introduction to the software.

What if I want to use a video-conference/ITV classroom on campus to originate my Live Meeting class? An advantage of the Live Meeting technology is to allow faculty and students to “attend classes” from wherever they are. Shifting from a classroom-based pedagogy to individual participants in their home, dorm, office or from a hotel on the road is part of the advantage of using the system.

How will meetings that were conducted over the video-conference/ITV be accommodated? Live Meeting works well for meetings and is more convenient than moving from your office to a video-conference/ITV room. ITS and TV Services will maintain video-conference rooms to connect to outside locations for interviews, ABOR committee meetings, and the tuition hearings. ITS has telephone “meet me” lines for groups to schedule.

What options will be provided for classes that utilize computer labs for in-class demonstrations? Extended Campus staff will help to arrange alternative computer lab facility use at a community college or school in the area.

What if a faculty member is not comfortable using the Live Meeting technology? Current students must be given the opportunity to finish their degree programs. It is a departmental decision as to how to accomplish completion of current students. For example, the faculty member may teach their fall class in the summer on video-conference/ITV. This would give the faculty member until the spring semester to transition their course to a Live Meeting, WebCT Vista or a hybrid course. Additional options include hiring a part-time faculty member to teach the course in a traditional classroom setting, using Live Meeting or on WebCT Vista.

Won’t this negatively impact enrollment? There may be some short-term enrollment decreases, but the ease and reliability of the technology is likely to ultimately increase enrollment across the state. Part of Northern Arizona University’s mission is to serve off-campus students. Alternative means of teaching is a tradition at Northern Arizona University starting with faculty traveling by car, bus and plane. We must continue to remain at the forefront of delivering education by alternate channels and technologies.