To “wow” a mass of colleagues worldwide with a presentation, you might use videoconferencing. But what if you and a few distant associates want to collaboratively edit a proposal, paper or policy statement? Web conferencing might become your tool of choice.

For the past year, a pilot project at WSU has allowed nine units to try out Web conferencing. With a new contract due to begin in January, project organizers are looking for other WSU units to test drive the technology.

“We’ve put our toe in the water,” said Janis Hall, director of WSU Academic Media Services.

“Now we want more partners trying this tool in other ways,” said Charmaine Wellington, academic media training coordinator and faculty consultant with AMS.

Collaborative conferencing
Web conferencing allows people to look at computer artifacts and mutually edit them, Wellington explained. With simple microphone and Web camera hookups, participants can hear and see each other during the process.

It doesn’t replace videoconferencing, she said, which is still best for large class presentations and large group interactions. But it is a much more immediate aid for small group collaboration.

For example, it was used by WSU engineering professors from Pullman, Spokane and Vancouver this summer, while they taught a technology management course for engineers who were working full time while also pursuing master’s degrees.
The Center for Distance and Professional Education used Web conferencing for special class sessions, tutoring, student meetings and career counseling. Veterinary medicine used it for guest-taught courses and continuing education.

Partners sought
“But there are lots more ways this tool could be used,” Wellington said, and pilot project partners are being sought for the upcoming calendar year.

Minimal user training is required, said Wellington, who typically trains one point person in the unit who then does scheduling and training for others. And the band width is low enough that most participants can access the conference from their home computers. WSU’s contract allows up to 50 people to be connected at one time.
Last year, each unit paid $2,500 to participate in the contract with Saba Inc.’s Web conferencing product Centra. If more units sign up, that cost would be lower.

“And if this tool becomes valuable enough to the university, it could become something WSU would centrally fund,” Hall said.

Want to take part?
To join the Web conferencing pilot program next year, contact Charmaine Wellington right away for a demo presentation and answers to your questions. She needs to know by the end of October if you want to participate, so you can be included in the contract for Centra. She’s at cwellington@wsu.edu.