I was really pleased to meet with Alex Lomas at Microsoft’s recent Tech Ed conference in Barcelona in November not least because he told me about how Imperial College London is using Office Communication Server (OCS) across the university and in particular to provide an innovative solution to space utilisation problems faced by many UK universities. Alex kindly offered to produce the following document as a case study which I hope will be of benefit to all universities looking at new and innovative ways to use technology to enhance learning, grow student numbers and make the best use of resources. Alex’s contact details are at the bottom of this posting and a downloadable copy of this document is here:
Imperial College London is also benefiting from the federating capability provided in OCS which enables presence, chat, voice, video and other communication types to be shared across institutions to allow for greater collaboration between partners, peers and colleagues across the internet.
“LiveMeeting requires little training, and allows me to stream my lectures from the main theatre to an overspill room. I am very happy with this simple technological solution to what would otherwise have been a logistical nightmare”. Dr Steven Cook, Lecturer in Biology.
“We were able to implement Office Communications Server 2007 for all of our staff for less than the cost of a competing two-room video conferencing system, so not only do we have a great solution for lecture streaming but we get all the added benefits of unified messaging thrown in!” Alex Lomas, Imperial College ICT.
Imperial College London has been using Office Communications Server 2007 since its public launch at the end of 2007. It has recently been made available more widely with the intention of deploying it to some 6000 members of staff in the next few months. Users have found its IM, presence and conferencing features particularly useful and we have found some novel uses for Live Meeting in an academic setting.
Like many other higher educational institutions, Imperial College has seen a marked increase in the number of students attaining their grades this academic year. This has caused problems in finding a lecture theatre large enough to hold the entire intake and so a mechanism of streaming from the main room to an overflow room was needed.
The Department of Life Sciences had looked at other live streaming solutions but they were either expensive or feature limited. Imperial ICT suggested to them that the inbuilt Live Meeting functionality of Office Communications Server may help in “broadcasting” live audio, PowerPoint and whiteboard between rooms.
Office Communications Server 2007 Setup
A consolidated, load balanced enterprise pool is used to provide the core functionality to internal users at Imperial. Communicator Web Access and Edge Services have been deployed to support remote and federated access, although this functionality is not directly used in the lecture theatre streaming solution.
The Live Meeting Outlook Add-ins are used to schedule lectures so that it is a simply a matter of clicking “Join the Meeting” on both the PCs in both the lecture theatre and overflow room. Some enthusiastic students have been taught how to start Live Meeting in the overflow room so that little effort is required on the part of the lecturer.
During the Live Meeting a mixture of audio, slide sharing and application/desktop sharing is used to transmit the lecturer’s voice and content to the overflow room. Students in the lecture theatre see a normal presentation; in the overflow room the students see a Live Meeting session accompanied by the lecturer’s voice. A third party product called eBeam is also used to take real world drawings on a whiteboard and transmit them via application/desktop sharing in Live Meeting to the overflow room.
Student reaction has been excellent and some students even actively choose the overflow room.
Using the inbuilt recording ability of Live Meeting it is also possible to watch lectures back later: this may be to assist students in learning or to attract a wider audience to keynote lectures etc.
At present, Live Meeting is only used “1 way” to broadcast to the overflow room. In the future it is hoped to provide more interaction using the feedback presence and Q&A features of Live Meeting.
A number of other departments have also expressed an interest in this usage and one in particular will be providing distance learning through Office Communications Server Edge Services.
For further information, please contact:
Alex Lomas, Imperial College ICT: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Steve Cook, Imperial College, Department of Life Sciences: email@example.com