MET:Videoconferencing to Enhance the Learning Environment

From UBC Wiki

This page originally authored by David McInnes (2009).
Edited by Doug Larsen March 2010.
Edited by Jason Verbovszky 2010

Edited by Tim Bateman March 2014

The primary focus of this entry is on the scope and breadth of video conferencing in the educational arena as it relates to the delivery of educational programming from the K-12 to post secondary levels.

What is Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is a combination of technologies that enable people in different physical locations to see and speak with one another in a synchronous manner over a digital network. Each participant will have a web camera for video capture, a microphone for audio capture, then speakers and a screen so they can view and hear other participants.

These technologies connect participants over the Internet (using the Internet Protocol), or sometimes across private networks using proprietary protocols specific to the equipment being used. VOIP technologies are also often used in conjunction to transmit the full duplex audio component of the conference.

While video conferencing is the commonly used expression the term has become nearly interchangeable with web conferencing. Web conferencing originally used a shared application such as a PowerPoint presentation as the main focus of the meeting with accompanying audio. Web Conferencing has now evolved towards incorporating video. Similarly, while video conferencing originally worked with just video and audio, as can be seen in an application like Skype, video conferencing in an educational setting typically incorporates other presentation applications like PowerPoint. Video conferencing tends to refer to group to group interactions where web conferencing tends to refer to one to one, or one to many interactions.

The Evolution of Video Conferencing Technology

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Dedicated Videoconferencing Equipment

It was possible to Video conference at the time television was developed in the 1930's. It remained very expensive however until the 1980's, when the development of digital telephony -and the reduction in size of circuit boards to fit into standard personal computers- allowed video conferencing to become more generally available.

Video telephony was at first taken up by the corporate environment. Later improvements in compression algorithms codecs and bandwidth made it possible to use videoconferencing in a home environment. Free to use internet services such as Skype and iChat further helped to popularize video conferencing.

In education, video conferencing is often used in a group to group communication setting. One school communicating with another or in higher education a lecture is delivered via video conferencing technology to a number of campus lecture theatres. Web conferencing is also used in K-12 and in higher education. New web conferencing technology by suppliers like WebEx are making it possible to integrate web conferences with video conferences. In this way, a student can attend a lecture from home via her personal computer. The technology has also evolved to allow students to attend lectures via hand held devices such as smart phones or iPads.

How is video conferencing utilized in education?

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Videoconferencing in the Classroom

The advent of research and educational network consortiums like Internet2 in the US, and [the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION)] in Ontario, provide highly affordable network access to educational and research institutions with speeds up to the gigabit level. Access to this level of dedicated and segregated bandwidth allows research and educational institutions of all levels to host high definition video conferences amongst each other.

Post Secondary education

For large multi-campus post-secondary educational institutions, video conferencing has been used to consolidate faculty resources for lectures by transmitting live lectures to multiple physical locations. The University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Medicine is an example of an early adopter of video conferencing technology. They have been training doctors across the province using video conferencing via a private network since 2003. As a consequence of adopting video conferencing, the program's enrollment expanded from 128 in 2002 to 288 in 2013. In 2012 they delivered 45,000 videoconference hours of undergraduate, postgraduate, continuing medical education, and allied health professions education.

Research at this level has also benefitted from this technology by being able to collaborate with various institutions throughout the world. No longer is physical location a hindrance to collaboration. When utilizing high definition video, physical demonstrations which require a high level of detail are also possible.

K-12 education

In K-12 video and web conferencing is used in a number of ways. Research undertaken by Alberta Education in 2004/5 found that video conferencing enhanced the schools distance learning program for students in remote areas. The study also found that it was useful delivering teacher training and could be used in administration. As early as 1993 the Global SchoolNets Project was making it possible for schools in the USA to video conference with schools worldwide. Stony Brook University's Marine Sciences Research Center has used video conferencing to allow schools to virtually visit the salt marshes on the north shore of Long Island New York. In this way, they have been able to raise student awareness of sensitive ecosystems without endangering the ecosystem itself.

Here is a link to a stop-motion video that illustrates the importance of videoconferencing in the rural classroom. It also visually references the work of the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) as an organization that works to provide various institutions increased access to videoconferencing.

Distance Education

It is perhaps in distance learning that video or web-conferencing can have the most transformative impact on the student’s learning experience. Because video conferencing can provide something akin to a more interactive face to face learning experience, distance learning can become more like a blended learning experience for students. At the post-secondary level, professors in specialized subject areas, no longer need to travel to lecture at other universities. From within their own office, they can host video conferences with students at multiple locations.

Related Projects

  1. “The *[Center for Science Outreach] is dedicated to the innovative use of technology to create vibrant learning partnerships between our university and K-12 schools.” It connects “to over 5,000 elementary, middle and high school students in over 20 states per year.”
  2. The Israel Center for Medical Simulation utilizes video capture for educational medical simulation. "Through new approaches to healthcare training and practice, MSR strives to improve patient-safety and the clinical skills of healthcare providers."
  3. Alberta Educationthe provincial education ministry has been extensively involved in videoconferencing operating over 800 video conference units in schools across the province.

Basic Equipment for Educational Purposes

While video conferencing equipment requirements may vary with the purpose, affordable alternatives which were already mentioned above, are being used more and more.

Free tools such as Skype require only the following hardware:

  • a laptop or desktop
  • webcam
  • a microphone / audio headset.
  • high speed Internet connection

This configuration is enough to host a video conference between up to 4 people.

High definition video conferencing tools such as Cisco's Telepresence technology, can require hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement along with dedicated bandwidth connections between all points of contact.

Video Conferencing Challenges

The costs involved and the IT support required to successfully implement a video or web conferencing service needs to be carefully considered. While the costs have reduced greatly and the technology is not as complex as it once was it is still very easy to under-estimate the need for a good technical support service and the money required to maintain it. The UBC Faculty of Medicine case study points out the importance of having a clear understanding of what the learning objectives are that video conferencing will address, and a clear plan of how to put the service in place.

Teachers training on how to effectively use web or video conferencing is also an important consideration. It is tempting to employ video or web conferencing as simply a broadcast tool for didactic forms of teaching like a traditional lecture. Web conferencing software like WebEx incorporate tools that can be used to encourage interaction with students; students are able to text in questions, answer quiz questions as well as vote, for example. Turning Technologies have developed similar quiz and voting applications for use in in video conferencing environments. The medical schools at [UBC] as well as at the [University of Saskatchewan] have produced best practice videos to help their faculty develop skills in using video conferencing technology

Stop Motion Video

Videoconferencing technology overview and use in education by Charles Currie for ETEC 510 65A


  • Nefsis - Affordable high definition video conferencing
  • Skype - Free VOIP and video conferencing client


  • Martin, M. (2005). Seeing is believing: The role of videoconferencing in distance learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36(3), 397-405.
  • Starren, J., Hripcsak, G., Sengupta, S., Abbruscato, C. R., Knudson, P. E., Weinstock, R. S., et al. (2002). Columbia university's informatics for diabetes education and telemedicine (IDEATel) project: Technical implementation. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 9(1), 25.
  • Jobe, H. (1999). Desktop video conferencing: Novelty or Legitimate Teaching Tool? Retrieved March 1, 2009 from
  • The Ward Melville Heritage Organization (2002). video conferencing Exposes Students to New World. Retrieved March 1, 2009 from
  • Corbeil, J. (2006). Desktop video conferencing in Distance Education: From Revolution to Evolution. Retrieved March 1, 2009 from conferencingi/43893?time=1235965561
  • Lampron, D. (2013) Distributed Medical Education: Lessons in Change: Association od American Medical Colleges, Group on Information Resources (GIR).
  • Alberta Education (2004/5)Video-conferencing Research Community of Practice Research Report Alberta Education Stakeholder Technology Branch.