DOD colleges embrace videoconferencing as teaching tool

The Defense Acquisition University and National Defense University dissolve classrooms and extend their expertise with Polycom RealPresence Experience telepresence suite

Two Defense Department universities are extending the reach of their classrooms and faculty with telepresence videoconferencing systems from Polycom.

The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) is installing Polycom RealPresence Experience (RPX) telepresence suites in 10 locations throughout the United States. DAU is responsible for the continuing education of nearly 130,000 military and civilian professionals at the DOD, school officials said.

Meanwhile, the classroom of the future is taking shape at the National Defense University (NDU). The Polycom RPX telepresence solution is an integral part of NDU’s efforts to create an environment for unlimited collaboration and is making the university more effective in projecting its expertise around the globe, NDU officials said.

Polycom telepresence is helping DAU extend the reach of its Senior Service College Fellowship (SSCF) program launched in 2006 to prepare the DOD’s more experienced defense acquisition workforce personnel for advancement, said David Newberry, director of SSCF. The RPX system is replacing legacy video-teleconferencing systems that were plagued by poor quality, dropped connections and lags in response time, Newberry said.

The Polycom RPX series are complete room-within-a-room telepresence environments optimized to make people in different locations feel like they are in the same room. The symmetrically designed rooms feature seamless, cinematic video walls that capture the entire room, enabling dynamic interaction. It also includes EyeConnect technology that allows people to maintain eye contact when talking to one another, personal content monitors for sharing multimedia content and immersive HD stereo audio.

The Polycom RPX line supports up to 28 people on camera in each location, allowing for applications beyond meetings, such as interactive classrooms, training centers and telemedicine studios.

DAU is outfitting its telepresence network with the Polycom RMX 2000 real-time media conference platform and the Polycom Converged Management Application.

DAU officials have installed three systems in Huntsville, Ala., Fort Belvoir, Va., and Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. DAU will deploy the rest as facilities are upgraded and expanded. The university expects all 10 systems to be installed by year’s end.

By reducing travel time and transportation costs for instructors, students and speakers, DAU is seeing a rapid return on its investment. “In the first year, and with just two Polycom telepresence solutions in place, we saved more than $255, 000,” said James McCullough, dean of DAU’s South Region.

Virtual Classrooms

With a new, cutting-edge classroom built around the Polycom RPX immersive telepresence suite, the National Defense University’s Information Resources Management College (IRM) is able to project the expertise of its faculty across the United States and overseas without instructors ever having to leave NDU’s Washington, D.C., campus, said Robert Childs, the senior director of IRM.

It also enables guest speakers from other locations, other universities and private industry to remotely address classes. NDU wanted a system that any authorized person with a laptop and high-speed connection to the Internet could access, said Marwan Jamal, a professor and chief technology officer at IRM.

The new classroom supports NDU’s mission of preparing military and civilian leaders from the U.S. and other countries to evaluate domestic and international security challenges, and to prepare for both combat and peacetime operations.

IRM, the largest of NDU’s five colleges, helps students evaluate new technology solutions that can solve challenges and streamline business processes within the federal government and Defense Department.

The immersive environment enables classrooms of up to 18 students to communicate and collaborate with colleagues at other universities, such as Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, which also uses Polycom RPX telepresence, and at combatant commands around the world.

With telepresence, IRM can achieve its objectives even in the face of tightening budgets. “We’re planning a major symposium for July 2010 in Singapore,” said Jamal. “Putting a conference together requires a lot of planning, resources and time. Previously, we’d have teams travel halfway around the world a couple times a year. But with the economic downturn, the budget isn’t there.”

Relying on telepresence to plan and stage events will save both time and money, Jamal said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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