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New York University's Global Classroom

September 16, 2014 | Telepresence Options


New York University's campus sits on some of the most valuable slices of the Big Apple, yet it hasn't been content to stay there. To prepare students for their future lives as global individuals, the university has put much effort into constructing a global network, building locations around the world.

The university has created 13 global locations outside its core New York City address, including two degree-granting campuses in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi. Additionally, NYU has 11 global academic centers in major metropolitan areas such as London; Paris; Florence; Madrid; Buenos Aires; Ghana; Washington, D.C.; Berlin; Accra; Prague; Sydney; and Tel Aviv.

Increasingly, courses NYU students take have a growing global theme. NYU has reinvented its curriculum to support a more international outlook. But the classes don't just talk about the greater global world; they bring the greater global world to class. NYU has incorporated online technology as part of its new role as a global university, but not in the way you may be thinking. Rather than creating the kind of massive and impersonal online classes so popular with many universities these days, NYU is replicating the brick-and-mortar, face-to-face university experience over the Internet. It's an approach the university calls the global classroom.

The global classroom has three key advantages over a more traditional academic set-up:

  1. Students participate in the classes from multiple locations, providing different perspectives.
  2. Multiple instructors may "joint teach." Any given class could have professors from New York, London, Abu Dhabi or beyond. They bring not only different perspectives but multiple skill sets and expertise in particular disciplines.
  3. Students can gather data locally and then compare it with their remote peers.

NYU tested the system with a trial class, Where The City Meets The Sea, about how metropolitan areas work with the water systems around them. Three different professors with expertise in areas spanning marine biology to urban planning taught the course, and none of them were in the same city. But through this advanced video conferencing, they connected their classes into one.

The gold standard of an NYU Global Classroom is the Seminar room. They are equipped to ensure that the 16 to 24 students they typically hold can be seen and heard on the other side. Otherwise, an off-camera student would not feel part of the class and would fail to engage.

To achieve this level of participation, Seminar rooms are set up as a dual-codec environments using the Polycom Architected Telepresence Experience system. The system uses two cameras situated to capture one half of the room apiece and then project those two images to the room in the other location. The room strategically positions ceiling and table microphones to capture the full audio in the room as well. This setup creates a "telepresence-like" environment that broadcasts the entire room elsewhere. Why doesn't NYU prefer an "immersive" telepresence environment? Because it's far too costly for the university to duplicate the same room designs, furniture and other form factors from country to country, especially due to the real estate constraints in New York and other major metropolitan areas.

Since the professors have enough on their minds as it is, Seminar rooms come with Crestron wireless touch panels to start the video conferencing, Blu-ray, document camera and other equipment. Just as helpful, these panels also display an interactive schedule, letting professors schedule the class (and the video conference session) in advance or on the fly with the press of a button. It's a one-button-push approach to running a classroom, keeping the technology in the background so the class is focused on learning, not on the technology. According to Mary Killilea, professor for Where the City Meets the Sea, "I was surprised by how easy it was to feel like it was one class."


NYU has attracted professors specifically attracted to this unique approach to global-minded learning, most notably philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, who left Princeton last year to teach in NYU's philosophy department and law school. As he told the New York Times: "There's an enormous value in having students interact not just with me, but with each other. What happens when you have a conversation about the most important questions facing us--gender, the environment, animal rights--with people coming from very different places?"

Students have given the Seminar classes rave reviews as well, gushing about them in their evaluations. Tellingly, they don't tend to talk about loving the technology, but about loving the global classes themselves. That's exactly how NYU wants them to feel. Keeping the technology as invisible as possible helps create a more intimate educational experience. TPO


Andy Howard is Managing Director of Howard & Associates, a practice director at the Human Productivity Lab, and an IP video expert with specialties in streaming video and building video call centers. Mr. Howard has been at the forefront of digital video since its inception, with a focus on helping clients improve their internal and external communications with video. Mr. Howard has helped hundreds of large corporate, government, and educational customers architect and implement enterprise-wide video deployments. Mr. Howard is a highly regarded IP video expert, industryveteran, and a frequent speaker at leading industry conferences.

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