Despite our best intentions, the cart named technology seems to often get ahead of the horse.

In a recent meeting, one of our groups looking at new technologies made the usual strong case for looking at video conference technologies- better use of time, people not having enough time to come to development events, people not wanting to drive across town for face to face meetings, reducing pollution etc. All well and good. We agreed that to help our folks better understand the technology is to give them experiences with it. More well and good. Nodding heads.

But the suggestion on how just seemed sideways to me- “setting up demos with different systems to best evaluate them”. The monumental sized problem with this is the content– in a demo, the content is always contrived, is not relevant to the work we do, and thus never gives the technology the appropriate field test. It puts the technology first.

Video conferencing is not so new or novel- I recall playing with CUseeMe way back in the pre web era. Tiny video, bad audio synch, but exciting. I recall doing some demos in 1998 with cross-platform iVisit software (ironically, I could not recall that URL, and was a case where it was faster to Google to find something on my own web site than rummage through my site). Just last month we got iChat A/V to work flawlessly (well it did not remove my “umms”) to do a live video chat from my office to the NLII conference in New Orleans.

To me, it would make sense to engage people in current, available uses of web conferencing technology that have real content. There is a huge amount of opportunity to experience it for free,

To name just a few, there are the weekly HorizoWimba Desktop lecture series, Innovate monthly webcasts. There is great stuff available in live format from LearningTimes — and we provide a free Maricopa wide registration every April for the TCC Online Conference. There are free webcasts available all over the net. As members, we at Maricopa have access to a lot of video material and live feeds from the League for Innovation iStream. One of our colleges has their own BreezeLive conferenncing system. Another is experimenting with Wimba voice conferencing.

My suggestion was that it would be more beneficial to organize “virtual” field trips to experience real, educational content delivered in these different technologies, and to base their impressions on that, rather than a canned or contrived demo (I would rather endure torture than sit through those).

I fear we do not have a clear idea what kind of activities, outcomes we want to emerge from web conferencing technologies. What is the value of seeing other talking heads (point to point or multi-point video conferencing) versus the audio content over presentations or demo screens?

Anyhow, it seems like our purchases are based more on “feature” lists than real applicability.

It remains to be seen what our group will do since they are in charge, not me. But blogging about it at least gets it out of my mind, for now.

The post "Thinking Sideways About Web / Video conferencing" was originally pulled charred and crispy from a smoky charred oven at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2005/02/thinking-sideways/) on February 22, 2005.

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