Some notes from my first UBTech session, “Connected Education – The Collaborative Campus”, given by Greg Kovich from Alcatel-Lucent (who is impressed that we all managed to get up this early while in Las Vegas; little does he know that the last time we all got up was yesterday morning…).

The gist of the session is how to use existing technologies to improve communication and enable more actual discussions/collaboration between students and teachers, students and students, teachers and teachers. The point we’re striving for is where we can replicate as many of the “features” of a face-to-face meeting as we can without actually being in the same room.

What are those features? Things like how easy it is for multiple people to join or drop out of a conversation, or being able to jump back and forth between different types of media (from a video on a screen to a magazine to a drawing on a white board). The goal is to take the richness and flexibility of that experience and make it as mobile as possible, to where you could be in the room at the beginning of the conversation, in your car with your smart phone for the middle of it, and on your pc at the end, and the whole experience would be seamless. Since you only spend a small about of your time in the actual classroom or even in front of your home pc, how can we turn the power of actual face-to-face learning and collaborating into a mobile experience?

The technologies to accomplish most of this already exists (screen sharing, video calls, connected white boards, instant messaging) but they don’t currently work that well together. And most of them are not all that easy to use. Kovich’s first suggestion is therefor just to make all of them vastly easier to use, as easy as making a phone call, which would get more people to use them (as well as lower a school’s support costs). With apps like GoToMeeting and FaceTime things are getting easier than I ever remember them being, but as easy as a phone call? Definitely not there yet. I’ve worked at a number of tech companies and we still struggle with our online meetings. (I wonder what Apple uses?)

The rest of this is mostly about how one would architect such a system, from web cams and microphones in the classroom to capture the content through the type of codec one would use to transfer data most efficiently up to how to best present the content to the end user (hint: it would be browser-based). It reminds me of ten years ago when we used to talk about how some day we were going wire up our conference rooms at work and hold virtual meetings. Are we doing it yet? I’ve been a part of a couple of them and they’re nothing to write home about.

No talk of collaboration through Google+ and Facebook which I halfway expected, I think that’s a different session.