The education sector consists of school, colleges, universities and various private institutions. Primary & Secondary Education, Higher education and vocational training form the core of any education system. It is the key to the socio-economic growth of the country and instills social & cultural values.
The education industry is growing and the demand for quality higher education is increasing. The competition is becoming fierce and need for enriching learning experience is increasing due to globalization, technological advancement and increased scale of educational institutions.
The educational institutions are making investments and new strategies to expand their program and courses across the world to remain competitive. For instance, “The Bologna Process” in Europe connects educational institutions across 46 countries and present opportunities for students to collaborate on research across multiple campuses. The institutions are focusing on better communication and collaborative technologies not only for in-situ teaching but also for distance learning. Telepresence can help institutions to meet their evolving needs and drive them into the future. It develops better collaborative process through an immersive life-like meeting experience to geographically dispersed students.
Benefits of Telepresence in Education
- Saves time & Conserve Funds: The administrative staffs, faculty researchers and lecturers often have to travel frequently, especially at institutes with global presence and multiple campuses. The staffs and faculty bring valuable contact and exposure to university through various international conferences. Telepresence can help in reducing the budget spent on educational trips through virtual meetings providing real-life like experience. The funds saved can be used for additional research activities & infrastructure development. It significantly reduces the time associated with frequent travel, strengthens working relationship and accelerates decision making process.
- Close the gap in distance education: Institutions providing higher education can offer distance learning classes with the help of real-life like classroom environment for remote students. The teachers can engage the student and hold their interest through interactive rich media-tools application. The students can even interact with other students, clear their doubts and receive feedback easily & immediately. They can even perform experiments remotely with the help of tele-robotic instruments, cameras and instructors. For example, PEEBLES, a robotic telepresence device allows students receiving medical treatment or home care to participate in normal classroom activities.
- Easy Access to Experts: The college and universities often brings experts for classroom presentations, seminars, guest lectures and workshops. Due to the globalization and increasing demands of top faculty and experts, the seminars and various programs are becoming a costly endeavor and difficult to schedule. The telepresence can provide unique learning experience through virtual access to renowned scholars who are even thousand miles away from institutes.
- Better External Relationships: Telepresence can effectively connect people and strengthens the relationship of institution with alumni, research organizations, other institutes, technology partners, industries and government departments. It maximizes social contact, enhance group coherence and help in development of informal contacts between teacher and students. It also helps in collaboration with students of other universities and helps in better academic and cultural exchanges.
- Provides competitive edge: Telepresence can help in gaining marketing edge over other institutes which lag in the technology adoption. They combine quality education with “high-touch” in-person meeting experience. They provide opportunities for students, teachers, trainers and researchers to interact and communicate regardless of their location. It brings innovation, interactive classrooms and brings motivation among students. It strengthens the loyalty among students, resulting in higher enrollments and better brand value.
Limitation of Telepresence in Education Sector
While there are several benefits there are some limitations involved in telepresence for education industry too.
- Immersive systems are expensive: Immersive Telepresence systems are very costly to implement and require high initial capital investment. They also need dedicated rooms for telepresence virtual classrooms. Immersive telepresence Classrooms costs at least $500,000 per room. This limits its usability & greater penetration in most of the medium-sized and many large-sized educational institutes.
- Technical Problems: Telepresence systems may experience technical difficulties resulting from network failure, hardware or software; interrupting the collaborative process of learning. Moreover, the absence of technical support personnel may create difficulty for students or faculty members who are unfamiliar with technological concepts of telepresence.
- There may be low utilization rates of telepresence system in educational institutes as traditional teachers & students prefer learning through face-to-face interactions. The informal interactions of students such as gossiping, pranks, get-together, group study etc. are the essence of student life which any technology can’t replicate.
- Interoperability: Most of telepresence products are not interoperable with products from different vendors. For example, most of the Cisco telepresence products are not interoperable with those of Trellis. This is the major issue faced by the educational institutes providing distance learning courses considering the fact that they have students scattered all over the globe and certain telepresence players may not have market penetration in some countries.
- Telepresence system require quite large amount of bandwidth for HD video & crystal-clear audio quality to provide real-life like experience. This requires additional cost of a thousand of dollars for dedicated internet access, which is the biggest roadblock for institutes and students in particular.
- Difference in time-zone: It can be very difficult to schedule timing of virtual classrooms for institutions have student dispersed all over the globe. For instance, it will become nearly impossible to schedule a class with students participating from USA, Australia, India & UK due to the difference in time-zone.