College Links Remote Campuses via Microwave and Closed-Circuit TV.
Experience showed that "them/us" perception swere best bridged by lots of direct contact. But 100-mile round trips between campuses by faculty, administrators and students were expensive and had little long-term appeal. In addition, the special academic, cultural or religious activities that normally foster interaction tended to attract audiences only on the campus where they were held. Add on winter highway hazards of the lake-effect snowbelt between the campuses, and sufficient direct contact becomes impractical.
four years ago, Houghton President Daniel Chamberlain and Buffalo Campus Dean Charles Massey began to think seriously of linking the two campuses electronically by microwave. They found agreement (and some previous experience) in registrar Willis Beardsley and presidential assistant Deyo Montanye; both had backgrounds in public school administration in Allegany County, where Houghton is located. Beardsley knew who to see and something of how to proceed, because he'd proposed microwave linking of two schools in the late 1970s. Montanye knew the workings of New York's Bureau of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) educational and public-TV programming in area schools.
Planners were convinced that only two-way video could achieve the kind of faculty-to-student, student-to-student interaction they sought to achieve. Several outside experts discouraged the whole idea, partly because of Houghton's sophisticated goals and meager budget, and partly because of the high terrain between the two campuses. Also, because of international agreements, it would be necessary to ensure that signals to and from the Buffalo end would not spill over into nearby Ontario.
But Houghton people have operated against the odds over the school's 102-year history. Massey applied for a federal Title III grant. A friend of the college pledged matching funds if the grant was approved.
When the grant was approved and funded in October 1982, Beardsley was given responsibility to implement the project. His committee's mandate went far beyond connecting remote classrooms. The system was to permit administrative conferences, make possible special-event sharing, transmit document facsimiles, and allow for teleconferencing services to Southern Tier businesses with urban headquarters. The microwave connection would also eliminate tie-line phone charges between the two campuses and make all Buffalo-area phone calls local ones. And the college could take advantage of a reducedcost, city-based long-distance service not available in rural Allegany County. Finally, data links between computers on the two campuses were desired.
Beardsley began to explore transmission possibilities. No existing towers between the campuses were tall enough to allow line-of-sight signals to arrive at a proper angle to reach the Buffalo Campus--it lies low in a basin once part of Lake Erie. Apart from their high cost, erecting college-owned towers was impractical because intermediate towns had ordinances against towers or had strict height limits. Securing cable right-of-way into the city had even greater legal implications.
Then, the L.J. Raymart Compay of Tonawanda, New York, communications specialists with several other potential customers for microwave services, built a 300-foot tower near Orangeville, New York. This completed the circuit. After negotiations with West Seneca officials, the college erected a 100-foot tower at the Buffalo Campus and modified one lecture hall. It cabled its main-campus TV studio and two science-center lecture rooms to a transmitter/receiver dish atop a men's dormitory, and relayed to a repeater BOCES tower on a hilltop six miles away. From there, signals reach to Orangeville site for relay to Buffalo. Transmission relays are powered by as little as a tenth of a watt, and range up to one watt.
Houghton's system was substantially completed in September for $300,000, not the half-million dollars predicted by the experts. Beardsley notes, "The system was designed to be as uncluttered by technology as possible for the students and the professors." He and Massey believe that "television equipment in the classrooms should be as unobtrusive as possible in order to keep a classroom climate, rather than create a television studio climate." The primary classrooms at both sites are equipped with one video camera, five-by-seven-foot projection units and ceiling-mounted microphones. Wireless microphones will be available for professors next semester.
During first semester, one class was taught simultaneously at both campuses, and six are scheduled for spring. Four classes each will use the system during the college's May term and summer school. Committee work that would have required some members to travel to the other campus has been conducted by teleision. Eight microwave phone lines are operating, two as intercoms; college phone bills are expected to tumble 25 percent. Next semester, data lines will serve academic and administrative functions. Papers written in a professional writing class at Buffalo will be transmitted to the professor at Houghton. Via modems, access to computers and other data bases nationwide is anticipated.
Getting the system together and running has been a team effort: Beardsley's task force included technical people, faculty and administrators. Because at least one committee member believed full scripting would enhance performance, two summers ago simulation workshops were held to discover what changes in teaching methods might be beneficial.
Beginning on the system's first operational day--several weeks into the fall term--Professor Claity Massey taught a creative dramatics course for elementary education students over it.
Massey emphasizes the need to have students on both ends of the system if it is to work well. "Once I had to do a make-up class for the Houghton students without my Buffalo people in the room with me. It felt one-sided, most uncomfortable." She also thinks students using the system should have one or more face-to-face meetings during the semester, and will arrange exchanges next time.
For more traditional courses, Massey believes that TV will force better teacher preparation and greater awareness of style. "It's important to give the cameraperson a rough outline of what you're going to do," she says, "and you must have your handouts ready for the remote people. Also, it's important to have a regular cameraperson so you can get to know oneanother's style." While using the system doesn't detract from spontaneity, she says, "you do lose some flexibility." But she finds she can use a full range of audiovisual aids effectively.
Six professors will use the system during the spring semester. A major gain will be use of the five-by-seven-foot projection screens. Presently, light spillover ruins the big-screen picture, and 25-inch monitors are being used. Technicians are working to isolate the camera light from the screen; but despite such early problems, the promise of the microwave system is being fulfilled and expectations for new applications are high.
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|Date:||Apr 1, 1985|
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