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Audio Meetings Pass the Test for Use by Higher Education.

Among the earliest users of audiconferencing technology, America's colleges and universities continue to implement thi popular communications tool at a consistently rapid pace. Today, a growing percentage of the nation's higher-education institutions are using audioconferencing for educational applications at some level. The reason is simple. With shrinking budgets due to decreasing enrollments, universities are forced to find more cost-efficient methods f providing educational programs to students, including those in distant locations who might otherwise not have the opportunity to participate. Audioconferencing provides a means of reaching the greatest number of students using the most cost-efficient method available.

Universities have some of the largest audiconferencing networks in operation, with some serving as many as 100 or more sites. Although continuing professional education is still a primary function of many university-operated systems, audioconferencing is being increasingly used to offer credit instruction to students at remote locations, as well as for administrative and faculty meetings. Many of these networks are linked to community-based facilities, such as libraries, courthouses and hospitals, where they are accessible to the public for such things as adult-education programs.

Audioconferencing is still the most popular and often least-expensive form of teleconferencing for educational applications. With its user flexibility and relatively moderate startup cost, audioconferencing programs can often be justified in the budgets of many colleges and universities.

A majority of university-operated audioconferencing systems use dedicated networks (leased transmission lines) to link sites into the conferences. However, a growing number of universities are experimenting with "meet-me" bridges as alternatives to more expensive dedicated networks. These bridges allow participants to dial into conferences automatically without going through an operator. Some universities that are heavily involved in audioconferencing have already justified the purchase cost of a bridge. Others who are still experimenting with audioconferencing and are infrequent users typically purchase "bridge time" as needed from audioconferencing companies or the universities.

While the University of Alaska and the University of Wisconsin-Extension are recognized as leaders for implementing audioconferencing in educational applications, many other universities throughout the country are now involved with the technology. These include the University of Colorado, University of North Dakota, University of Nevada-Reno, Syracuse University, Texas Tech University, University of Minnoesota and the University of Missouri, just to name a few.

University of Colorado--In use for approximately two years by the School of Education, the university's audioconferencing network provides masters-degree-level courses in education to working teachers in Durango and Pueblo. Previously, these masters degree candidates could attend classes during the summer only by relocating to the Boulder campus. With the audioconferencing program, they can take credit courses year round and earn their degrees in a much shorter period of time.

Classes are held weekly, with each session lasting for three hours. Approximately 40 people from Durango and Pueblo participate in the classes via audioconferencing, while their Boulder-campus classmates attend in person. Conferees are given a brief training session during the initial class on equipment usage and proper audioconferencing techniques.

Currently, the School of Education leases "meet-me" bridge time to hold its weekly audioconferences. It hopes to eventually add additional cities to the network system when increased grant funds become available.

University of North Dakota--The School of Medicine's involvement with audiconferencing started in 1977 when it began using a dedicated audio network to link 60 locations in eight cities throughout the state. In 1981, the school purchased two "meet-me" audioconferencing bridges to provide continuing-education programs for health-care professionals, health-science courses for graduates and undergraduates, and for holding medical school administrative meetings.

Presently, the network is used for approximately 75 hours per mount, with the average audioconference lasting one hour or more. For educational programs, as many as 300 people from 45 locations can participate while eight or nine people from three or four locations generally take part in administrative meetings. A Source of Revenue

Ohio State University--Having used audioconferencing since 1977, Ohio State University not only applies the technology to a variety of internal applications, but university contracts its system out for about 40 or more audioconferences annually, generating between $40,000 to $50,000 in revenues. One example of this is the National Education Association, which uses the OSU system to link sites for informational exchanges.

For internal applications, OSU uses audioconferencing for offering continuing-education programs in real estate, to update insurance agents on changes within the industry and to inform USDA employees of new safety regulations that are coming into effect. Also, OSU uses the system interactively with Ohio University for providing graduate classes and bringing in guest lecturers, as well as for general administrative meetings.

Approximately 20 sites are linked into the typical two-hour audioconference held by the university. OSU hopes to expand its internal uses of the system, including greater use for administrative meetings and continued growth for continuing education, especially for research purposes.

Purdue University--Used for continuing education applications and to access information from experts in dispersed locations, Purdue has been involved with audioconferencing for approximately three years. The university uses the Indiana Higher Education Telecommunications System (IHETS) to hold its bimonthly meetings, which normally last approximately an hour and a half each and include 30 participants in 10 to 12 locations.

Unlike many universities, Purdue does offer users some preliminary training on audioconferencing protocol and techniques. As far as its future plans for audioconferencing, the university hopes to increase the number of sites participating in the conference.

Trinity University--This San Antonio-based university has implemented audioconferencing on a limited basis for the past four to five years. Presently held once monthly for about two hours, Trinity's audioconferences involve approximately 16 sites and include about 25 to 30 participants.

The university currently uses audioconferencing for programs in continuing education, engineering and health-care administration, specifically in seminar situations for specific topics pertinent to each field. In the Health-care program, audiconferencing also provides interns in the field with a regular communications link to the university.

University of Alaska--Beginning operation in April 1981, the "Learn Alaska Network" is a vast telecommunications network supported by the State of Alaska and jointly used by the State Department of Education and the University of Alaska. Approximately 52 local school districts in the state, three four-year campuses and 11 community college campuses have access to the network.

The Learn Alaska Network uses both audioconferencing and instructional television technology. In fact, the system is considered the largest low-powered network in the world, with over 300 urban and rural sites served throughout the state.j

The audioconferencing portion of the network is operational for approximately 74 hours per week, with as many as nine simultaneous conferences taking place. Five audioconferencing bridges with 90 available lines serve the 3500 students who use the system monthly. The state is planning to add several additional bridges to regional facilities to reduce toll line charges, which are exceptionally high in Alaska. Currently, all conferences must be initiated through a central location in Anchorage. Primary Delivery System

Approximately 90 percent of the university's audioconferencing applications are for teaching credit courses to students at remote locations. This differs from most university applications, which are heavily geared towards continuing-education programs. About 110 courses in a wide variety of subjects are offered to students via audioconferencing. With only 15 percent of the state accessible by roads, the network is a primary delivery system for providing higher educational opportunities to Alaska residents, particularly those is small villages scattered throughout the Alaskan frontier.

Besides teaching applications, the university uses audioconferencing to hold administrative meetings.

As you can see from these short summaries, the educational applications for audioconferencing vary as widely as the institutions themselves. The one common link among the universities is that they all have some level of dedication to the technology and believe that it does cost effectively improve communications.
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Author:Eckhout, G.V.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1985
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