Cost of travel builds the case for videoconferences

When Sara Lombardo meets a job candidate for an interview, they don't shake hands.

Neither is being rude, or holding out for high fives. You just can't shake hands in a videoconference.

Lombardo works in Washington, D.C., as the senior program manager for the UC Davis Washington Program, which gives UC Davis students the opportunity to study and intern for a quarter in the capital. Rather than travel to meet far-flung job candidates in person, she and others from the Washington Program conduct interviews using videoconferencing technology. With travel budgets tight, the service is likely to become more of a staple on campus.

"It works very well," Lombardo says. "They [IT support staff] just set it up, turn it on, and I don't have to do anything else." Besides being easy to use, the system saves money and time by reducing travel. Lombardo says videoconferencing takes only as long as the meeting itself.

The videoconference system, run by the Academic Technology Services department of Information and Educational Technology (IET-ATS), consists of a large TV screen with a small videocamera perched on top. Conference participants face the screen and can see a live video of their counterparts.

Any location with a static IP (computer) address can be used for videoconferencing, says Bill Sykes, the IET-ATS support person for the videoconferencing service. IET-ATS offers both portable videoconferencing equipment as well as permanent stations on campus. They are transitioning to high-definition videoconferencing gear, which offers better resolution and clarity than standard-definition equipment, Sykes says.

Dr. Charles Bamforth, chair of the Food Science and Technology department and Anheuser-Busch endowed professor of brewing science, uses videoconferencing to teach at the University of Nottingham. Using one of the permanent facilities at UC Davis, he delivers lectures to a group of 20 to 50 students at the English university. The strategy saves money and reduces pollution, he says. "It keeps me off an airplane."

Sykes says IET-ATS videoconferencing has similarly been used for classes with offsite locations in Bogota, Colombia, and in Tokyo.

The experience doesn't compare to real-life interactions, Bamforth and Lombardo agree. "I can't 'see the whites of the audience's eyes,' " Bamforth says. "It is much more difficult to establish rapport and chemistry with the audience."

But when real life interaction is not possible, the experience might be as close to real life as you can get.

"Do I miss the handshake? At first, but once you adjust to the videoconferencing, the essence of the interview candidate still comes through," Lombardo says.

Permanent videoconferencing facilities are available in Olson and Surge IV on campus. Portable videoconferencing equipment can be delivered to various rooms on campus and set up by a technician. Departments can also buy their own videoconferencing equipment.

Many faculty, staff and departments are expected to use more video- and webconferencing services for meetings, conferences and interviews over the next few years, in lieu of much more expensive travel. To investigate options along these lines, contact IET-ATS at (530) 752-2133.

Find more information here. An FAQ includes information about cost and other subjects.