As schools and colleges try to trim budgets and save money, many are re-examining their personnel meeting practices in an effort to cut travel costs–and a new low-cost, portable video conferencing unit might help.
The inPerson device, a small, wireless video conferencing unit, from Creative Labs Inc., offers a solution for administrators and educators who want to be present at meetings but, owing to schedules or cost restrictions, cannot make it.
The unit, which retails for $859.99, has a 7-inch screen for high-resolution video, and it can connect to a large flat-panel screen, TV, or projector for life-size, high-resolution video presence, said Jeff Stoen, general manager of video for inPerson.
The actual device retails for $699.99, but it’s bundled with accessories and includes one year of service. A $10 monthly service fee is generally included in the up-front cost of the device.
Lee Colaw, vice president of university information services for Pacific University in Oregon, discovered inPerson as he researched different ways to implement a campus-wide video conferencing solution in an effort to move the school’s communications beyond eMail and conference calls.
"It had to be affordable, portable, and simple to use, so that not only would it serve as a way for administrators, faculty, and staff to communicate, but it also would be readily available to current and prospective students," said Colaw.
Colaw ordered 16 inPerson units and distributed them to university administrators and all remote campuses and libraries. After implementing inPerson, Colaw said campus staff noticed an almost immediate increase in meeting effectiveness, reduced travel time, and costs for those staff members who had to travel to meetings–and they were able to redirect that time and cost elsewhere.
Plans to connect remote students to the appropriate on-campus agencies for a more personal experience also are in the works.
"The impact of portable video conferencing on our mobile users’ communication with the university has been dramatic–and used effectively, inPerson will enhance the communications in any work area," Colaw said.
In line with the university’s interactive teaching approach, additional inPerson units are available in the various campus libraries so students can collaborate on projects and form study groups as if they were all in the same room.
Units will be available for checkout from the library and the computer help desk for students and faculty to borrow for use with recruiting, alumni relations, and other school-related activities.
"Our goal is to make video conferencing available to everyone on our campus, from our administrators, faculty, and staff to current and prospective students," said Colaw. "With the inPerson device, we are able to provide the sort of interactive learning environment we strive for at Pacific University."
Traditional web conference attendees are limited by what their computers or laptops can do, said Michael Baker, director of sales for inPerson. Adding a web camera into the mix, besides whatever programs are already running on a user’s computer, can slow things down even more.
But inPerson is a dedicated video conferencing unit, separate from a computer, and can alleviate some of the stress on a computer, its makers say.
"You can get 70 or 80 percent of a large system’s functionality out of this little box, and all of a sudden we’ve opened up a whole new window of possibilities," Baker said. "This device is ready and able to do a video call."
Users connect with other inPerson users via a unique inPerson conferencing number they are assigned. Users who do not have an inPerson unit still can receive an invitation and connect with an inPerson user online. When not plugged in, the unit has a talk time of two hours and a stand-by time of five hours.
In addition to use by cash-strapped schools and universities that have diminished travel budgets, inPerson also can prove convenience for deaf or hard-of-hearing students, as well as homebound students, Stoen said.
"This is truly disruptive technology," said Baker. "Schools are strapped for resources today and don’t have the money to buy a $30,000 system."