New high-tech meeting room spurs international collaboration

Students from Case Western Reserve chat with students in Hong Kong via a telepresence screen.

One Friday night this semester, nearly 20 social work master’s students entered a meeting room at Kelvin Smith Library and took their seats. Within minutes, the high-definition screen in the room lit up, and nine more students joined the classroom discussion—nine students in Hong Kong, that is.

Over the next two hours, the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and University of Hong Kong students engaged in a lively, back-and-forth discussion on disaster management strategies.

Virtual conferencing experiences such as this are changing how people on campus teach and learn, and it’s made possible through Information Technology Services, Kelvin Smith Library and Cisco’s partnership on the Active Collaboration Room. In this room, housed on the second floor of the library, individuals or entire classes of students can interact with others across campus, in another state or halfway around the world—but they can talk to each other, develop projects and edit papers as if they’re sitting in the same room.

“It’s so real time and crystal clear—the boundaries disappeared,” Wendy Shapiro, senior academic technology officer, said of the social work course’s experience. “The conversation was interactive and dynamic as if the students were sitting across the table from each other.”

Case Western Reserve University is the first educational institution to boast an Active Collaboration Room. It was installed and ready to use at the start of the semester, Shapiro said.

The Active Collaboration Room goes a step beyond traditional web conferencing. Developed specifically for interactive workgroup collaborations, the library’s room is filled with specially designed and ergonomically correct furniture that’s laid out in an ideal setup to promote interaction.

The room combines Cisco TelePresence, a high-resolution video conferencing system, with other collaboration components to improve interaction. It includes cameras and microphones all around, as well as two additional screens, so users can be projected from multiple locations.

Once the conference begins, the cameras focus on the person who is talking, thanks to voice-activated microphones throughout the room. This room in particular is set up for highly interactive working session meetings and is able to capture all participants in the room, whether they’re sitting, standing or walking around.

Additionally, participants can use an interactive digital smartboard to share and edit notes or other projects.

“This room becomes the context where a dynamic learning happens,” Shapiro said.

Professors from across the university have been meeting since September to brainstorm ways the Active Collaboration Room can fuel learning and foster research, such as the social work experience, said Tina Oestreich, academic technology architect. “We’re looking into international collaboration and learning, and beginning to see ways this is happening.”

In addition, Shapiro said they are planning to open more Active Collaboration Rooms across campus and initiate cross-cultural discussions among Clevelanders and others around the world.

“This,” Shapiro said, “is where technology transforms how you teach and how you learn.”