FEATURE University of New Brunswick classroom and logo

Cisco Systems Inc. recently announced a $2-million endowment, establishing a Cisco chair in Advanced Learning Technologies at the University of New Brunswick, along with a marketing development agreement which includes a hardware and cash contribution of approximately $350,000 and two Telepresence 500 teleconferencing systems.

The marketing development agreement will also launch the Green Remote Automation and Monitoring for Manufacturing (GRAMM) project, a collaborative effort involving the engineering departments at UNB and Ontario’s McMaster University. Telepresence 500 System solutions will be provided at UNB’s Fredericton campus and McMaster’s Hamilton, Ont., campus. Other hardware and software includes a wireless network and high-definition cameras.

The GRAMM program will explore efficiencies and best practices in manufacturing processes. The collaboration and videoconferencing technology gives students access to a “virtual laboratory,” providing access to courses and professors wherever they are geographically, and will use the CANARIE network, which connects to almost 40,000 Canadian researchers.

In a teleconference interview, Nitin Kawale, president of Cisco Canada, spoke of the shared “passion around innovation, what innovation can do for economic development and geography, and we all understand how important innovation and productivity are for Canada’s future in terms of our standards of living.”

According to Andy Simoneau, an assistant professor at UNB, The GRAMM program will aim to tell “the entire story of a manufactured part,” analyzing the specific processes and their inherent variables. “We can have a company that makes a product in Germany and the same product in Canada. But why do the two divisions that make the exact same product, make it differently?” Simoneau saked. The project aims to leverage Telepresence technology to capitalize on North America’s manufacturing expertise.

 

Telepresence in Higher Education

Kawale states that “it’s just a matter of time” until Telepresence is broadly used in education.

Simoneau says the system brings a high-definition audio-video experience to students anywhere with virtually no need of a physical classroom.

“We’re able to take a manufacturing lab where we do a particular set up and experiment, and we can do those at McMaster and have a lab group at UNB, and a lab group at UBC” or any other institution, Simoneau said.

Cisco’s Telepresence is increasingly appearing in higher-education settings, particularly in Canada. Earlier this January, the University of Winnipeg, Brandon University and University College of the North officially unveiled a network equipped with Telepresence technology.

University of Winnipeg president and vice-chancellor Lloyd Axworthy, at the network’s January unveiling, said lower-resolution videoconferencing is “certainly not satisfactory from the point of view of collaboration on teaching, research and development. They’re just too limited.”

Along with helping students, Telepresence will also play a part for the GRAMM project’s researchers, linking the manufacturing expertise of the Hamilton-Windsor-Toronto steel corridor and the university more efficiently.

“We’re no longer spending three months to train a specific operator,” says Simoneau. “They’re able to see what your sister company is doing in India and they’re able to recreate right there on the shop floor.”

Several schools in the US, including MIT, Duke and Purdue, also use Telepresence as part of their research departments or as teaching tools. Duke’s business school includes a virtual lecture hall where Cisco’s CEO spoke via Telepresence.

“Education is fundamentally a collaborative, interactive endeavor,” said Cisco CEO and chairman John Chambers at the virtual lecture hall unveiling last Febuary. “With new collaboration tools, such as the virtual learning environments created by Cisco TelePresence, educational institutions like Duke are able to extend their academic expertise and share resources with students and teachers around the globe.”

According to Kawale, there are more than 6,000 systems deployed worldwide and installations are accelerating dramatically.

Telepresence has also recently extended to smaller business solutions.