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Cyber scholars build virtual bridges.

Leading think tank harnesses Web-based technology, then enhances and expands educational offerings.

The Brookings Institution, one of the nation's most highly respected non-partisan research organizations, is expanding the scope and reach of its many traditional programs through the use of state-of-the-art videoconferencing and Internet technologies.

Located in Washington, D.C., The Institution addresses current and emerging policy challenges and offers practical recommendations for dealing with them. Through the work of its scholars, Brookings functions as an independent analyst and critic, committed to publishing its findings to inform decision makers and the public.

The Center for Public Policy Education (CPPE) organizes Brookings' conferences and other activities which serve as the critical bridge between scholarship and public policy and as a forum for informed debate. For more than 40 years, training has been provided for both government and corporate executives. CPPE trains more than 7,000 people a year.


In 1995, Brookings began utilizing videoconferencing technology to connect with experts in far-away locales. "We were using the technology for an occasional meeting," says Douglas Wood, manager of business development at Brookings. "But, we were not truly harnessing its value."

"There is an obvious application of videoconferencing to distance learning," says Wood. "As Brookings investigated ways to improve services, it examined the potential of broadening its reach via videoconferencing."

After completing an initial pilot program about a year ago, "we found that videoconferencing would add value from a number of different angles," says Wood. "A corporation might have several executives attend a Brookings seminar and then follow up with a videoconference to a larger group within that corporation. Or the initial participants might attend follow-up sessions via videoconferencing or through Internet discussion groups."

In a recent example, Brookings provided its Congressional Operations Seminar to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta via videoconference. Half of this seminar--one designed to provide current and future executives with an in-depth understanding of how Congress actually operates--was conducted live in Atlanta. The other half was conducted via distance learning with speakers from Congress and from government agencies at Brookings presenting material and interacting with CDC participants.


Brookings plans to use videoconferencing and Web-based communication to enable its scholars in Washington to run seminars and panel discussions for organizations outside the city. "Our offerings would then be available to a much broader audience, for example, middle managers who might not otherwise be able to participate," says Wood.

Brookings knew that various components of many of its programs have widespread appeal. And, taken a step further, pulling a speech from one program and several from another might develop an entirely new "repackaged" program. "We knew that we could craft `programs from programs' that would be of significant value to corporate participants," says Wood.

Brookings historically has flown in speakers from across the country but looked at videoconferencing as a way to cut down on travel time and encourage participation from leading business strategists who might not have time to travel to Washington.

"Videoconferencing offered significant possibilities," Wood says. "In addition to encouraging distance participation, sessions are taped and available for future viewing. This ties together with our plan to repackage program offerings."

An in-depth analysis of the Institution's offerings suggested that one key to diversification would be to use new communications mediums to deliver services, particularly to the business world.


Brookings is augmenting videoconferencing with Internet technologies to provide a variety of means to access its Executive Forums. Segments from CPPE Forums, Government Affairs Institute Programs, National Issue Forums, and other Brookings events are now available through the following electronic access methods:

* Interactive Videoconferencing accesses key speakers and allows organizations full participation in the forums from their own locations.

* Internet Broadcast/Multicast of Executive Forum presentations offer participants real-time video and audio from the event, along with speaker biographies and reference information, and the opportunity to submit via e-mail questions to the forum.

* Multimedia Records of selected presentations are available within two weeks of an event. Like the Internet Broadcast/Multicast, the multimedia records include the full video and audio of the event, along with speaker bios, reference material, a complete transcript hyperlinked to related information within the presentations and on the World Wide Web. The material can be accessed separately or through a synchronized multimedia presentation.

* Online Discussion Groups are available for each major forum subject area. Organizations subscribing to an online forum series also gain access to the related discussion group, enabling continued exploration of the issues.


Nine Brookings rooms, including a 170-person conference room, are wired for videoconferencing. Each room has the capacity for six basic-rate ISDN lines. The lines are routed to the room to be used via a patch panel located in the main telephone closet. The same patch panel and cabling used to route ISDN lines to Brookings conference rooms is used to route captured/streaming audio and video over the LAN to the server for real-time broadcast/multicast.

Videoconferencing at Brookings is supported by Visual Communications, Inc. of Maryland. A PictureTel Concorde, augmented with 60- and 52-inch monitors, is deployed to support distance learning. The system includes one monitor and camera for presenters and one monitor and camera for participants, along with PictureTel power microphones. The PictureTel Concorde system also includes dynamic speaker-locating technology: the camera senses who in the room is speaking and adjusts to focus on the speaker. This technology enables spontaneous meetings, eliminating the requirement to plan camera positions in advance. For more structured presentations, the system includes a Look-At-Me-Button for multiple preset camera positions. All participants can be seen clearly in the highly interactive forums.

To support Internet-based applications, Brookings has two T1 Internet connections. One provides Brookings access; the other T1 is used to provide real-time video and audio broadcast/multicast of Brookings events and to provide a streaming multimedia record of events (including complete video/images, audio, and hyperlinked transcriptions). RealMedia is used for the Internet video and audio. The RealMedia video and audio is then used in conjunction with Visual Communications software to provide synchronized multimedia. A Windows NT server is used in conjunction with a Real Media Server and Netscape Enterprise Server to provide the synchronized multimedia to those who subscribe to the Brookings Executive Forums Online.

New customized programs will meet evolving member challenges. Value-added components include:

* Hyperlinks that offer expanded knowledge.

* Search capabilities to customize the learning experience.

* Internet viewers that provide a sense of what can be attained through live attendance, offering Brookings a powerful marketing tool.

"New video- and Web-based services are not designed to replace live attendance and interaction," says Wood. "We believe they will, however, deliver a significant value-added component, expanding the scope of participation. As an organization, we are working hard to be customer-driven, rather than product-driven. The technology is providing a path forward for us to achieve this important goal."

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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event; Brookings Institution's videoconferencing and Internet technologies
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 1999
Previous Article:Switching's new breed.
Next Article:Latest videoconferencing products.

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