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Work Without Borders Using Web Conferencing

Free video and audio conferencing tools critical for work, classroom engagement

Eric Carter at Fuqua School of Business tests a teleconference session.
Eric Carter at Fuqua School of Business tests a teleconference session.

Imagine the monthly phone bill for Christy Michels, whose typical week might involve calling Duke expatriates in sub-Saharan Africa, a conversation with Duke Kunshan University leaders in China, and a discussion with hospital administrators in Australia who are arranging a Duke doctor’s visa.

But Michels, senior manager of global administrative policies and procedures, does most of her global connecting for free using Duke’s WebEx audio-video conferencing services.

“I’ve had folks in Global Health tell me that they’ve never experienced having their teams in Nairobi, Eldoret and here in Durham all on one call before that didn’t cost them an arm and a leg,” said Michels, who uses WebEx for most of her international meetings. “Cost isn’t really an issue using WebEx.”

WebEx video and Internet audio are free and meetings can host dozens of participants. Domestic and international call-in numbers are available for a per-minute charge. The service, which works similarly to popular services such as Skype or FaceTime, offers more robust supported options for professional work.

It can be used for audio-only conferencing, but it can also handle more than a conversation – participants can "pass the ball" between presenters to let them share an application or their whole screen, use an online whiteboard, or work on a document together.

Duke’s global activities – as well as staff working from home or faculty attending a conference – are supported by several IT services that connect Duke faculty and staff anywhere in the world.

“Web conferencing services and campus video facilities can make it easier for Duke faculty and staff to collaborate and communicate effectively even when they can’t be in the same room,” said Kevin Davis, program director for global technology services at Duke’s Office of Information Technology (OIT).

In the Classroom

WebEx also allows faculty and staff to record their sessions to share later. Tim Searles, director of multimedia at The Fuqua School of Business, has been using WebEx to conduct distance classes for its Executive Education programs since it became available in 2012.

Students enrolled in these programs attend the distance sessions remotely from all over the world.

“We encourage them to join live, but in many cases they can’t because of time zone differences and work schedules,” Searles said. “About half participate in the live sessions and the rest watch the recordings.”

WebEx allows faculty to offer their choice of slides, video, or even interactive features like student polling, chats for commentary and “passing the ball” to students who are doing presentations.

“WebEx allows participation much like if they were in the same classroom,” Searles said. “Our students are increasingly using web conferencing for remote job interviews. We’ve also seen an increase in using these technologies to bring in guest speakers, many of whom are alumni. The opportunity to participate virtually rather than by costly travel is a real plus.”

The Link to Global Connections

Rukmini Balu, who serves as chief of staff for Chancellor of Health Affairs Eugene Washington, is also in her second year teaching a course remotely on global health to Duke Kunshan University students. Balu uses one of Duke's specially-equipped classrooms in the Link at Perkins Library capable of telepresence videoconferencing.

The facility offers high-definition video and audio and has extended-hour support staff available to help with technical problems, if needed. Balu got help from Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology (CIT) and Trinity Technology Services to set up the classes.

“I have the option of teaching my telepresence classes from home or any location, but the Link offers IT support in the evenings,” said Balu.

Using teleconferencing helps Balu encourage more engagement, presence and understanding with her students in China, despite cultural differences.

“This is a very different student population than a U.S.-based class,” she said. “I have a PowerPoint and go back and forth between it and the discussion. I am able to show clips from CNN, BBC and YouTube on the same screen. These are sites students would not normally be able to access in China [outside the Duke Kunshan campus.]”

OIT and school or department IT support teams can help faculty and staff understand what facilities are available and what support is offered for these calls. Visit the OIT web and teleconferencing page for more information.

A view of Rukmini Balu’s global health class at Duke Kunshan University which meets remotely.
A view of Rukmini Balu’s global health class at Duke Kunshan University which meets remotely.