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Remote video classes help give rise to new class of entrepreneurs who can act as economic engines in their hometowns

PLEASANTON, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Video collaboration solutions from Polycom, Inc., the global leader in open standards-based unified communications (UC), and BT, one of the world’s leading providers of communications services and solutions, are enabling Western Kentucky University (WKU) to reach students in smaller cities and rural areas who otherwise might never have the chance to earn bachelor’s and graduate degrees at WKU’s main campus in Bowling Green. In the process, WKU is collectively saving students hundreds of thousands of dollars in commute costs each semester, sparing them from losing weeks of work and family time to travel, shrinking its environmental footprint, and helping to boost local economies throughout central Kentucky.

At five regional campuses and in Bowling Green, WKU delivers 900 hours of interactive, face-to-face instruction every week through Polycom RealPresence video solutions supported by BT. Faculty use the Polycom video network to offer more than 100 classes, some with as many as 60 students participating. Courses range from core undergraduate through Master’s level courses to advanced studies aimed at doctoral candidates. For many students, video offers the opportunity to take classes that aren’t available in person at their regional campus.

“Many of our students have jobs and families, so they can’t come to Bowling Green and live in a residence hall,” said Tamela Smith, WKU’s Interim Director of Communication Technologies and Manager of the university’s Interactive Video Services (IVS) group. “They’re anchored in their home towns. That’s why we need to bring the complete college experience out to them with Polycom RealPresence video. Without this service, it would be more challenging for students to obtain their education.”

For instance, a busy working mother in Cecilia, an unincorporated town 90 minutes north of Bowling Green, now can drive just 10 minutes to WKU’s Elizabethtown campus to take video classes toward a bachelor’s degree in health sciences. “Just by attending one class, these students can lose half a day at least,” said Smith. “Now they can take just a couple hours off work and still pick their kids up from school. It makes going to college more feasible for more people.”

Saving Students Time and Money while Helping the Environment

Conservative estimates from WKU show that the BT/Polycom-powered IVS classes save students on average 48 hours of travel time every semester. By avoiding a twice-weekly commute to Bowling Green, a student based in Glasgow (which is 28 miles from Bowling Green) is spared nearly 1,800 miles of driving a semester, which helps save more than $340 on gas alone. For each student based in Owensboro and Elizabethtown (70 and 75 miles away, respectively), taking a video class saves 4,480 miles of driving and more than $800 in gas costs per semester.

Across all students, the benefits add up fast – even if just half of the 1,378 regional campus students currently enrolled in IVS classes are spared a twice-weekly commute to Bowling Green. They collectively would save more than 37,000 hours of travel time, 2.5 million miles of driving, and more than $450,000 in gas per semester. Without this convenience, students might choose to not attend WKU.

Less driving also means a reduction in carbon emissions. On a per-student basis, savings in CO2 emissions range from 1,200 kg to 1,456 kg per semester. All told, the video classes are projected to prevent 780,288 kg of CO2 from being emitted into the environment – the equivalent of keeping 150 passenger cars off the road for a year, according to EPA estimates.

With Each Graduate, a New Economic Engine

Smith predicted that by creating more college graduates, WKU can help communities that have been especially hard hit by the recession, with many students being drawn from counties with a higher than average national unemployment rate – places like Edmonson County with a March 2012 unemployment rate of 11.7 percent according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training. For some students, it can mean the difference between a minimum wage job and a career that could earn them 84 percent more money over a lifetime, according to a 2010 Georgetown University study.

By giving more students a chance to earn four-year degrees, Smith argued, WKU contributes to the emergence of a professional workforce that is more likely to drive growth locally by purchasing a home or starting a business. “These students graduate and become economic engines all by themselves,” she said. “They earn more, buy more, donate more, contribute more.”

A User-Friendly Platform that Delivers Value Every Day: Multiple Use Cases

Polycom® RealPresence® room video systems are integrated into 44 classrooms and teaching theaters throughout the WKU system. In addition to the savings and benefits to students, the university itself has saved thousands in travel expenses by using video to conduct day-to-day operations, conduct first-round interviews of candidates for academic positions, as well as allow administrators to attend regional meetings. “We’ve facilitated faculty interviews with candidates from Alaska to American Samoa, without the university having to incur travel expenses,” said Smith.

The IVS staff also has worked with WKU’s Career Services Center to let students interview for jobs with potential employers. Students have been able to interview for positions across the U.S. without ever having to get on a plane. The university even leases its RealPresence video systems to local businesses for customer and board meetings, legal depositions, and more.

From BT and Polycom, a Classroom-Friendly Solution

  • Ensure consistent quality of service: WKU worked with BT to select Polycom RealPresence as its video collaboration platform. “We’ve built a close working relationship with BT and Polycom,” said Todd Hughes, IVS Engineer. “For more than seven years BT has provided consistent quality of service; they’re responsive, provide great support, and they’re always willing to work with us and to share their expertise. Whatever I need, even if it’s just good advice, I know I can always go to BT.”
  • Flexibility for classrooms and lecture halls of any size: Barry Skaggs, Account Manager at BT Conferencing, explained that WKU needed a solution flexible enough to meet the unique demands of facilities of differing size and function. “Classrooms aren’t meeting rooms,” Skaggs said. “You don’t have a dozen people sitting around a conference table all facing the same microphone.”

    Along with its 20-plus years of expertise in video conferencing, BT provided the video endpoints, audio-video integration, and 24/7/365 helpdesk support and maintenance by 100 percent Polycom-certified staff.

    “The flexibility we’re given, I don’t know if you can put a price tag on that,” added Smith. “BT and Polycom make it easy for us to give faculty and administrators what they need.”

  • Ease-of-use to ensure a high rate of usage: The result is easy on users, too. “With our faculty, there’s never a discussion of endpoints or codecs or connectivity,” said Hughes. “Connections are made automatically via the Polycom RealPresence Platform, allowing faculty to concentrate on content, not the technology. “There’s a touchpad control in each room, and the faculty member simply taps it to turn the system on. We’ve worked very hard to make it simple and transparent for users, and BT and Polycom have helped us to do that.”
  • Lower operating costs through simple network management: Student IT workers monitor and support the network, which helps keep ownership costs low. “Thanks to Polycom, we can do troubleshooting remotely,” said Hughes. “If we see someone is having trouble, we can use the system to resolve the problem. Students and faculty find it reassuring and it means we don’t have to dispatch one of our IT staff to every room.”
  • Extend video learning to mobile devices: As more faculty offer video-based classes, WKU is expanding its use of Polycom RealPresence Mobile environments, which bring HD video collaboration to iPads and Android tablets – Hughes described it as “having a videoconferencing system in your back pocket.” Together, with RealPresence Desktop systems, these solutions give instructors the possibility to teach class from home or the road.
  • Increase system value by interoperating with other communications systems: As WKU expands its horizons and collaborates beyond its own network, Polycom’s support for open industry standards will ensure that everyone can participate. “When it comes to interoperability, we are not on an island,” said Hughes. “We’re on the mainland.” Smith put it even more succinctly: “Polycom plays well with others.”

More at www.polycom.com/solutions/industry/education.

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