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Technology Brings Faraway Experts to Urbana Classroom
by Michelle Lohmann

When Dr. John Lednicky, professor in department of pathology at the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, turns to his left, he can look out the window of his office and see Lake Michigan. When he turns to his right, he can see veterinary students in Urbana who are ready to begin their class, Introduction to Conservation Medicine.

Thanks to computer technology, Dr. Lednicky will deliver a lecture on emerging viral diseases of animals simultaneously to students at the College of Veterinary Medicine and at the main and lakeshore campuses of Loyola University. This course, offered for the first time in the fall 2001 semester, was the first at the College to use video conferencing.

The decision to use video conferencing developed with members of the Education Committee of the Conservation Medicine Center of Chicago. The CMCC is a joint effort of Brookfield Zoo, Loyola University's medical school, and the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine to examine the interrelationships among humans, animals, and the environment. Dr. Tony L. Goldberg, assistant professor of epidmiology, and Dr. Gerald Pijanowski, associate dean for academics and student affairs, represent the College on the CCMC's education committee.

[Dr. Lednicky lectures on emerging viral diseases of animals through video teleconferencing]The committee agreed that video conferencing was the best way for the class to be taught, according to Dr. Goldberg, instructor for the course. "This was our only option," he says. "We wanted to expose our students to faculty with expertise. This faculty doesn't exist on one campus."

Craig Flowers, director of computer services for the College, says the video conferencing procedure is like using a live camera on the Internet. First the video screen and equipment are set up. Then a connection is made to the Loyola site, and suddenly the Loyola campus is on the screen. The students and lecturers at all three sites are able to talk to one another just as if they were in the same room.

Dr. Goldberg says that the students were a little reluctant at first to talk in class, but he felt that this would change. "I think they may be interacting less because it's hard to not think of it as TV," says Dr. Goldberg.

The camera used for the class is the size of a baseball and can be guided around the classroom by remote control. The unit used by Dr. Goldberg's class is intended for small meetings of eight or nine people, but Flowers says starting with a small setup allows them to determine what features are needed for the future.

Collaborating by way of video conferencing allows universities to share their resources. Students are able to hear lecturers who might not be able to fit traveling into their schedule. "The more expertise and the more input a school can receive," says Dr. Goldberg, "then the more varied the education will be."

Dr. Pijanowski says that the College may use this technology to connect with other veterinary campuses, such as Purdue, where they offer an animal behavioral course—something that isn't offered yet at Illinois.

Video conferencing has other uses within the College, such as what Dr. Goldberg describes as “virtual rounds.” Pathology rounds could be made with other institutions, allowing students to show or see a pathology sample and receive feedback from an off-site professor.

Dr. Goldberg says that one of the ultimate outcomes of the new class will be to have a room fully equipped with the technology for video conferencing, complete with multiple hookups so that several universities would be able to participate in one course.

Will Love, first-year veterinary student, enrolled in the class because of his interest in zoological medicine. He has been impressed with the way the video conferencing aspect has turned out. Despite a warning about possible glitches, only one technical problem occurred during the semester, resulting in the cancellation of one lecture.

Love feels that other classes could benefit from the use of the video conferencing, especially classes with subject matter like conservation medicine, which requires the expertise of a variety of faculty.

"I definitely think the video conferencing is an enriching addition to almost any class," Love says. "It's a good class and I hope they offer it again next semester."

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