What is Telepresence?

Telepresence is a form of remote conferencing in which the participants appear to be physically present in the conference space. Body language cues like eye contact are easily transmitted and interpreted because of the fidelity, size, and position of the images. Both 2D and 3D telepresence have been employed as a means of making it seem as though a user is in a location when they physically are not. This is a technique intended to make collaboration feel more seamless and replicate the benefits of face-to-face communication. Typically, 3D telepresence requires a specially configured space in which to capture a 360-degree image that can then be inserted into a virtual set, and viewed from any angle, but high-definition displays, seamless integration with software and data presentation, and full-surround audio make even 2D telepresence a very immersive experience.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • It's hard to see the Polycom / Cisco vision of hardware/room dependent telepresence ($$$$) moving smoothly into education. Mobile expectations are willing to make-do with lower-res connections through Skype / Hangout for now. Freemium alternatives improving too quickly and Higher Ed too cost conscious. - dicksonk dicksonk Oct 22, 2014
  • I will second dicksonk post about the high cost of telepresence versus the affordable video chat technologies mentioned. I have primarily heard of telepresence used when combining two face-to-face classrooms. I have heard that it is difficult to teach this way because your back is always to one half of the group. The affordance of telepresence is that one instructor could lecture and lead a remote class, although I have heard that the remote classroom needs some kind of support. The telepresence technology may be most useful for rural, satellite campuses with limited resources for teaching, poor access to the Internet, and/or slow consumer bandwidth. However, I do believe there is a significant need for some kind of technology that allows for individual learners to remote into a face-to-face classroom. While Skype/Google Hangout are used currently, these require a person in the physical room to shepherd the remote person's connection. Something like a telepresence robot for telecommuters (http://www.doublerobotics.com/) has some potential to meet this need. - Jolie Jolie Oct 23, 2014 There is some middle ground here (between the high-end products produced by Cicso and what we see through the audio-video capabilities of Blackboard Collaborate and Adobe Connect) that is well worth exploring: using exactly the sort of facilitated Google Hangout that Jolie mentions. Samantha Adams Becker and I have used Hangouts several times to bring her into a room of onsite learners via Hangouts, and the learners in each case have said that they felt as if she were there after the first few minutes of onsite-online blended interactions. It's far from perfect, but is tremendously engaging for everyone involved: https://buildingcreativebridges.wordpress.com/2014/05/17/location-location-and-location-hanging-out-and-learning-with-samantha-adams-becker-and-atd/.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 26, 2014
  • I saw a demonstration of the technology at a research lab in Japan more than 20 years ago. It has not gone anywhere in 20 years and it may not be in the near future unless the technology is integrated into more ubiquitous devices as dicksonk and Jolie mentioned.- kumiko.aoki kumiko.aoki Oct 23, 2014
  • With the continous shrinking of budgets for technology infrastructure, this is sooo not on my horizon. Better to focus on higher functionality with the various web conferening systems (e.g. Bb Collaborate) - vforssman vforssman Oct 25, 2014
  • I agree that this is an expensive technology that is not new to higher education. At my university, we just purchased the expensive backend Cisco product and are building out classrooms. However, I think it should not be on the horizon report as it is yesterday's technology with at best a "face lift" and new pedagogical approaches by creative facilitators. - mbuckner mbuckner Oct 26, 2014
  • Well it all depends on what you mean by telepresence. Skype is used as a matter of course by many staff personally, but not professionally, as current work models would not accept a live lecture from a face on a screen as being the same as the lecturer being there. We do, however, accept the use of the non-interactive pre-recorded lectures as a lecture replacement under certain circumstances. Go figure. However, the iPad on a stick on a tracked vehicle that most would consider true telepresence seems to provide no additional useful functionality to the webcam and projector. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 27, 2014 The real innovation here is that the innovative use of telepresence might encourage us away from the lecture-is-best format that so many of us are questioning as an effective means of fostering learning; used as a collaborative tool, it supports a flipped classroom model by encouraging the use of class time for conversation, collaboration and project-based learning.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 27, 2014

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • It's well worth noting that telepresence doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing 3D extravaganza; using relatively inexpensive equipment (e.g., a laptop with a good webcam--external or built in; an inexpensive set of small speakers capable of projecting sound through a standard seminar-sized learning space; and a moderately-priced projector hooked up to the laptop to project images onto a blank wall or a screen) can already provide good interactions between onsite and online participants in learning sessions. Key elements to success include good facilitation skills on the part of the instructor(s) and plenty of rehearsal time using the equipment and the learning space that will be used during live sessions. Those with slightly better resources and funding can pursue taping the sessions so they are available to greater numbers of learners over a longer period of time--which, of course, provides opportunities to connect these to flipped-classroom practices.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 26, 2014
  • Until institutions accept the fact the educators and students do not have to physically be on campus to be present, telepresence will remain in the corporate and social sectors. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 27, 2014 The number of online programs available to learners suggests that we're well on our way to this goal--which is very encouraging news, of course.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 27, 2014

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on higher education?

  • This is yet another way to extend the reach of learning opportunities so that we are reaching our learners where they are at their moment of need rather than only being accessible when the learners can come to us. It's also a technology that can more easily bring us together with our colleagues to share resources and practices that benefit the extended communities of learning we all serve. (Think, for example, of how much we gain through participating in--or viewing recordings of) the New Media Consortium "On the Horizon" programs.)- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 26, 2014
  • Another perspective here.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

  • As mentioned in section 1, Samantha Adams Becker and I have been using Google Hangouts in non-academic settings to create engaging blended (onsite-online) learning opportunities.- paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 26, 2014
  • Google presented at my conference last week via hangout to a group of students. It took 30 minutes of a 60 minute session to get it to work. Epic fail. - damian.mcdonald damian.mcdonald Oct 27, 2014

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