To Eric Miller's homepage
"Videoconferencing at the University of Pennsylvania"
(Posted 11/98; here
is a 4/02 update to this report.)
by Eric Miller
Ph.D. student, Graduate Program in Folklore and Folklife.
Research assistant to Prof. Roger Abrahams, director, Center for Folklore
Part-time assistant to Dr. Jay Treat, director, Instructional Computing,
This is a report about videoconferencing and other media activity presently
occurring at the University of Pennsylvania. The report is approximately
1) List of Videoconferencing Facilities (Incomplete).
2) The Need for Additional Videoconferencing Facilities and a
3) Videoconferencing and Folklore.
4) Videoconferencing and College Houses.
5) Videoconferencing and Languages.
1) List of Videoconferencing Facilities (Incomplete).
I have now witnessed or been informed of videoconferencing
in the following ten settings at Penn:
1 Grad. Ed. B24.
Director of facility: John
Technology: ISDN-line videoconferencing (Picturetel, etc.).
Potential for Internet videoconferencing programs such as
Microsoft's NetMeeting, Intel's Video Phone, and White Pine's CU-SeeMe.
The Law School.
Director of Facility: Gates
Technology: ISDN lines.
The Nursing School: Distance Mid-Wife Training Program.
Director of Facility: Sister Teresita
Technology: ISDN lines (CLI, Radiance).
The Physics Dept.: High Energy Physics Group.
Director of Facility: Walter
Technology: ISDN lines (PictureTel).
Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC),
Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM).
Director of Facility: Andrew
Technology: ISDN lines (V-Tel 2000).
PennVideo Network, the University's cable TV and special video
Director of Facility: Chris
Technology: Satellite (downlink only).
SAS Prep Center (440 Williams Hall).
Director of Facility: Jay
Technology: Internet videoconferencing programs
Microsoft's NetMeeting and White Pine's CU-SeeMe;
computers via Ethernet and Internet.
(Classical Studies Prof. Joe Farrell has used NetMeeting
to deliver a paper to scholars who were attending a conference
on the Interactive Text at Oxford, England).
Caliber Learning Network: The PennAdvance Program.
(4548 Market St., from which "American Bandstand" was broadcast.
The renovated building now houses the West Philadelphia Enterprise Center).
Penn contact: Richard
Technology: ISDN lines, a T1 connection, and satellite.
(I have witnessed Anthropology professor Alan Mann teaching Saturday
PennAdvance classes from this location.)
Freshman student Andrew Morentz
in his dorm room in Goldberg College House ('98-'99).
Technology: Internet videoconferencing software program (Microsoft's
NetMeeting) on a personal computer, via Ethernet and Internet.
Myself in dorm rooms in
Goldberg College House ('98-'99) and presently in Sansom Place East.
Technology: Internet videoconferencing software program (White
Pine's CU-SeeMe) on a personal computer, via Ethernet and Internet.
And -- Videophones (made by 8x8, inc.); requiring no computer, over a regular
Numerous Penn citizens are videoconferencing over the Ethernet and Internet
with their Macintosh and IBM-compatible personal computers. The Distributed
Learning Committee, chaired by Prof. Joe Farrell, is developing a program
which includes videoconferencing. Prof. James O'Donnell, Vice Provost
for Information Systems and Computing, has recently published a book about
technology and education (Avatars of the Word) and is very active
behind the scenes. The Wharton School is engaged in various types
of videoconferencing, especially in relation to its alumni and corporate
training programs. The Annenberg School is setting up a videoconferencing
suite that will link its Philadelphia and Washington, DC public policy
Activities related to videoconferencing:
Prof. David Farber of the Engineering School's Computer Information
Science Dept.is considering installing EtherCams in a number of Engineering
School classrooms. EtherCams plug directly into Ethernet connections,
requiring no computers, and transmit approx. one visual frame per second
(http://www.earthcam.com/, click "products").
Phil Miraglia, Senior Information Technology Support, SAS, has done
live audio webcasts from Kelly Writers House.
At the SAS Prep Center, where I am presently working part-time, video
and audio can be sent to a website (10 second delay); 60 users can be logged
onto that website at a time.
As I begin my second year in residence as a full time Ph.D. student,
there is still much activity occurring of which I am unaware: I apologize
for statements herein which are incorrect or incomplete.
2) The Need for Additional Videoconferencing Facilities and a
[ASPECTS OF THIS SECTION ARE SOMEWHAT OUTDATED DUE TO THE OUTFITTING
OF GRAD. ED. B24, AND, SUBSEQUENTLY, TOWNE 317-9. PLEASE SEE THE
TO THIS REPORT.]
Videoconferencing is like opera in the sense that just as opera can
serve as a frame containing all of the other arts (including music, lyrics,
dance, drama, painting, and sculpture), so videoconferencing can contain
all other forms of electronic communication (including broadcast and cable
TV, radio, shared fields of electronic text, shared whiteboards for drawing,
websites, and all software programs).
Co-presence in virtual learning environments represents an essential
component of the future of education, and people need to acclimatize themselves
to it, or they will fall behind. Multimedia and virtual reality within
a videoconference can no longer be considered fantasies or novelties that
may or may not catch on. These things are not just coming: for those
in the right places and for those with initiative in these areas, these
things are here. Although some developments will be dead ends and
certain investments will lead to losses in the short run, positive developmental
steps must be taken.
(For two companies' products in this area, please see
http://www.picturetel.com/, click "products," then "meeting tools."
http://www.wpine.com/, click "MeetingPoint" or "ClassPoint.")
There is no need to worry that people will cease coming to great universities
due to the availability of interactive telecommunication. When people
and resources are gathered, forming centers where people are living and
working together, people experience a special intellectual stimulation
and discoveries and inventions occur.
Videoconferencing (also known as video-mediated communication, teleconferencing,
telephotography, etc.) has been offered to the public numerous times in
the past 60 years. One reason the marketing effort is having increasing
success today is that videoconferencing is now more integrated into peoples'
Increasingly, new consumer computers are coming with videoconferencing
software and cameras built-in. Broadband Internet is enabling videoconferencing
via persoanl computers. After so many years of watching the Jetsons,
Captain Kirk, Ted Koppel, and others videoconferencing on TV, many members
of the public are psychologically ready and, in many cases, eager to do
it themselves. The oft-stated claim that "I don't want videoconferencing
because sometimes I don't want people to see how I look," is easily countered:
each sensory component of a videoconference is optional -- one employs
the sensory tracks that are appropriate for the situation at hand.
For some tasks and social/professional encounters, for example, people
will find it a
appropriate to share only audio and text, while for other situations
they will choose to share audio, video, and whiteboard, just as today one
sometimes uses the telephone and other times one employs e-mail.
Increasing the amount of types of data available does not necessarily enable
more production -- for example, doing so can slow down a decision-making
The primary medium of academia is, and will remain, the printed word.
A hypothesis and the ensuing supportive logical arguments need to be presented
with a sense of closure, containment, and abstraction so that argument
and evidence can be considered in a cool, objective, and impersonal manner.
I say "printed" word because there is a certain satisfaction to putting
an idea down on paper, and thus separating it physically, however temporarily
and artificially, from the rest of reality. The printed word is conducive
to abstract thought. Sensory data presented through multimedia and
interactive technology can supplement the printed word, just as face-to-face
communication does. The primacy of the printed word in academia in
no way conflicts with the recommendations in this report calling for the
wider implementation of multi-sensory communication technologies.
Actually, it is my contention that the use of these technologies can stimulate
The University of Pennsylvania is an august institution of higher learning,
and as such I feel there is some bias here in favor of keyboard-entered
text and against sensual communication such as audio and video. This
bias was perhaps reflected in fall '98 when it was announced that after
a certain time, the University would no longer support Macintosh personal
computers. Although the resultant outcry caused this pronouncement
to be rescinded, such statements tend to cause scholars, staff, and students
who are involved with digital, interactive, and telecommunicational media
to leave Penn, or to avoid coming here in the first place. (Although
IBM-compatible personal computers are beginning to enable multimedia work,
and Windows does yield a graphical interface, Windows is an add-on to a
system that was not originally designed to operate in this way. Moreover,
many users of multi-sensory computer applications continue to find Macs
It might be said that there is little demand for videoconferencing at
Penn. However, I would suggest that, were videoconferencing technology
to become more readily available, the time is ripe and Penn people would
make rigorous academic use of it.
Jay Treat, Director of Instructional Computing, SAS, tells me, "One
use we have for videoconferencing at Penn is for members of a course to
converse with members of a similar course at another institution.
For example, Bob Kraft taught a course on Dead Sea Scrolls and Leonard
Greenspoon was teaching a course on the same subject in North Carolina.
So we connected the two courses by CU-SeeMe so they could discuss issues
together." Erin Fallon, Director of Multi-Media and Educational Technology
Services (MMETS), helped to develop this project: she has done much experimenting
with CU-SeeMe over the years.
One growing demand for videoconferencing in the academic community relates
to the annual meetings of associations. Increasingly, associations
are conducting components of their annual meetings available via videoconferencing,
and 'papers' and 'data' are being delivered by videoconferencing.
A world-leading university should have available on a 24-hour basis
a wide variety of videoconferencing technologies, including:
A) NetMeeting, CU-SeeMe, and other softeware programs on IBM-compatible
and Macintosh personal computers, via Ethernet and Internet (quality: poor/medium).
B) Videophones, requiring no computers, via regular telephone lines
C) PictureTel, CLI, etc., over ISDN lines (quality: good).
D) Satellite (PennVideo has downlink only) (quality: good).
E) Internet2, via mBone, Abilene (quality: excellent).
Regarding 'quality': Two areas in which the quality of a videoconference
may suffer are the delay rate (of audio and video) and the frame rate (number
of visual frames per second). Standard video has approximately 30
frames per second; 15 frames per second is comfortable to view for most
people. When the rate is reduced to a single frame per second, we
are talking about a series of still images, a slide show.
Chris Cook (PennVideo Network), who facilitates special-event downlinks,
tells me that years ago the possibility was discussed of Penn acquiring
a van which would be able to transmit directly to satellite. The
Caliber Learning Network downlinks at their 4548 Market St. studio; I believe
that in order to uplink, the material first has to be relayed to their
Baltimore studio. Uplink capability is relatively rare. Moreover,
satellite time is still very expensive, and many varieties of it involve
significant audio and video delays. This option should be explored
with experts in the field
(including Chris Cook and Prof. Farber).
Although personal computer Internet videoconferencing in the past has
been notorious for low frame rate and poor audio, the situation is quickly
improving. Two great potential advantages of this type of videoconferencing
are that 1) whiteboards (common drawing areas) and other software programs
are often integrated, making it relatively easy to utilize these multimedia
options; and 2) an unlimited number of participants can potentially participate
from their personal computers.
Of all the disciplines in the SAS, the Physics Dept. seems to have taken
the lead in making use of videoconferencing. Videoconferencing (over
ISDN lines) is quite integrated into departmental everyday life.
One question is: "What can faculty (and others) in the rest of the SAS
do if they want to videoconference over ISDN lines?" A possible solution
involves rental of facilities presently in operation around campus (see
the LRSM below). Eventually, perhaps, other departments, groups of
departments, or the SAS as a whole, might want to invest in a facility.
The price of a basic PictureTel-type system is $5000 and falling.
Andrew McGhie, who manages the videoconferencing facility at the Laboratory
for Research on the Structure of Matter, reports that
The LRSM is not part of the Physics Dept. It is an NSF-supported
Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) with its own
building at 33rd and Walnut. We have a V-Tel 2000 system with 512
kbps capability and 30 fps using 4 ISDN lines. The system is portable.
Our building has just been rewired and we have ISDN lines in many labs.
We have them in a small conference room (up to 20 people), our reading
room (up to 50 people), and our auditorium (up to 140 people). We
plan to use it for exposing Philadelphia high school students to our Shared
Experimental Facilities (microscopy, mechanical testing, etc.). We
have already used it to present such a program through the School's cable
TV network. We will also use it next year when we start a joint minority
educational program in materials science with the University of Puerto
Rico. We have also had an archeological symposium between Penn and
Oxford University. The equipment is available to other Penn users
at a very reasonable cost.
The finest type of videoconferencing seems to be that which is possible
over Internet2, the next generation of the Internet. The development
of Internet2 is being led by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications
(NCSA), which is based at the U. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/).
In this effort, the NCSA has organized an alliance of over 100 universities,
of which Penn is a member. Prof. David Farber of the Engineering
School's Computer Information Science (CIS) Dept. is Penn's liaison with
the NCSA. As a world-famous scientist who was involved with the very
inception of the Internet and who is a member of the small community at
the heart of the development of Internet2, Prof. Farber is a primary figure
in new media / telecommunications at Penn.
Deke Kassabian of the Network Engineering, Systems and Services (NESS)
division of Information Systems and Computing (ISC), who works for Michael
Palladino, is interested in joining the NCSA's Digital Video Network Initiative
and in helping to develop Internet2 videoconferencing here at Penn.
Deke Kassabian and his colleagues recently attended an Internet2-related
conference via videoconference (I am not sure what technology was used).
However, the implementation of Internet2 videoconferencing is occurring
only where there is strong local political (governor's office), business,
and community support. In the universities where this process is
occurring, the Engineering Schools are generally actively involved in setting
up and maintaining the videoconferencing studios.
Although I have heard mention of some sort of possible videoconferencing
collaboration between the Ivy League Schools, these Schools seem to be
lagging in regard to Internet2, as do the universities of the Northeast
in general: it seems that in this field the demographics of ambition and
action have to some degree shifted to the South, Mid-West, and West.
The handful of universities that are leading the development of Internet2
videoconferencing are in states such as: North Carolina (U. of North Carolina,
North Carolina State U.); Georgia (U. of Georgia at Athens); Illinois (U.
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign); and California (U.C. at San Diego).
It is great that universities such as Penn are making partnerships with
educational technology companies like the Caliber Learning Network, but
this is not a substitute for developing the latest technology in a scientific
and humanities-oriented academic setting. (Incidentally, the West
Philadelphia Enterprise Center, which houses the local Caliber facility,
is a wonderful organization dedicated to developing minority businesses
and the community as a whole. Although 45th St. is a number of blocks
from campus, University groups might do well to hold large special event
videoconferences at this location, especially in the studio from which
"American Bandstand" was broadcast. The President of WPEC, Della
Clark, can be reached at 895-4000.)
Wherever possible, videoconferencing facilities should be available
on a 24-hour basis to qualified (trained) users. This is partly because
the people one might want to communicate with are all over the world, in
various time zones, and many people at distant sites are severely restricted
regarding the hours that they can gain access to facilities.
Wherever possible, videoconferencing systems need to be set up permanently.
Information Systems and Computing (ISC) has a room (titled the "Bits and
Pieces" room) in which NetMeeting could be used on a personal computer.
The SAS Prep Center also has such capabilities. The problem is, if
the mini-cam is only attached for special events, this discourages use,
as technicians must be involved. Constant reconfiguring and reassembling
is exhausting to people and machines. Moreover, when there is no
sense that a technology will be available perpetually, people hesitate
to build it into their lives. Wherever possible, separate rooms need
to be dedicated to videoconferencing, as it is difficult to conduct a videoconference
conversation with others listening and watching, and it is distracting
to those others. Only when the privacy and convenience of the telephone
call is approached will videoconferencing come into its own.
Now, to broaden the discussion:
Analytic and applied study of media is available at Penn in the following
areas (incomplete list):
Computer Information Science Dept., Engineering School:
Offers an undergraduate major in "Digital Media Design" in partnership
with the Fine Arts and Annenberg Schools.
Religious Studies: Offers a course, RELS 602, "Technological
Approaches to the Humanities," which surveys the wide range of software
and hardware available for humanities research, communication, and presentation.
This course is taught by Jay Treat. RELS 302 is the undergraduate
The Graduate School of Fine Arts (GSFA): Offers an extensive
array of courses in photography, video, and filmmaking, and digital imaging
and design. The Architecture Dept. offers ARCH 744, "Digital Media";
and ARCH 746, "Virtual Reality." However, it is unclear as to whether
undergraduate study of fine art occurs through the SAS or the GSFA.: I
cannot find mention of undergraduate study on the GSFA website, nor can
I find 'Fine Art' on the SAS website.
Annenberg School for Communication: While the Annenberg
School seems to specialize in the sociological study of mass media, it
is offering an increasing amount of analysis of new media. An undergraduate
course involving video production, COM 362 Visual Communication Lab, is
being offered in spring '99.
Film studies courses are appearing in various departments in the SAS.
The Virtual Media Lab (http://philae.sas.upenn.edu/), and the Digital
Media and Publishing (DMP) Group (http://www.upenn.edu/computing/grsoup/dmp/)
exist, but the campus community remains largely unaware of them.
Penn is a member of New Media Centers (NMC) (http://www.upenn.edu/computing/group/dmp/resources.html),
a national non-profit organization based in San Francisco "helping institutions
of higher education enhance teaching and learning through the use of new
media." For info. about the latter two organizations, contact John
The Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image (SCETI), located
at Van Pelt Library, 6th Floor, (http://www.library.upenn.edu/etext/) was
"established in 1996 in Penn's Special Collections Library to provide the
scholarly community with web access to virtual facsimiles of original texts,
documents, and sources from Penn's collections. These include printed
books, manuscripts, photographs, maps, broadsides, ephemera, and recorded
Training and support facilities at Penn include:
Multimedia Educational Technology Services (MMETS), David Rittenhouse
Lab: Full range of digital and Internet technologies available.
Tape-to-tape video editing. Audio/video equipment loan.
SAS Prep Center, 440 William Hall: Full range of digital
and Internet technologies available (serving faculty and teaching assistants).
Information Systems and Computing's Technology Training Group
(Sansom West / Grad Tower B, 2nd floor): Workshops in basic software applications.
These facilities provide excellent nuclei around which to build.
However, Penn's media-related courses, centers, and facilities are widely
diffused. The problem is that at the moment students are not aware
of the options. (In the case of facilities, ISC's move from Locust
Walk to Sansom West has temporarily contributed to this problem.)
Communication and publicity joining the parts is lacking. What is
needed is a university-wide interactive/telecommunicational/analogue and
digital/new media center, where Penn citizens could go to learn about all
of the options for study of, training in, and use of communication technologies.
The name of this Center would have to be inclusive.
Might the name include the term, 'Digital'? Media are converging,
and the emerging lingua franca seems to be 'digital.' On the other
hand, each non-digital technology has a unique strength and I hope that
disparate technologies will maintain their integrity and popularity, and
that the environment will be a hybrid one. 'Digital' excludes conventional
photography, film, and video, not to mention ISDN videoconferencing.
Might the name include the term, 'Interactive'? This term excludes,
among other things, digitally-made products which are not interactive to
the end user.
Thus, I would propose a most general title: the Media Center.
The establishment of this Center need not involve a large allocation of
resources: basically what is needed to begin with is a webpage, some literature,
and an office with a receptionist where people could go to pick up literature
and ask questions. A Penn Media Center would have to be a team effort.
Perhaps the excellent webpage, "Computing Services and Resources at Penn"
(http://www.upenn.edu/computing/view/service.html) could be expanded to
create a new version which would include mention of (non-computer) media
training and loan facilities as well as all media-related courses, both
analytical and applied. It might be best for the proposed Media Center
to be based in a humanities / social science SAS building (perhaps Williams),
as the liberal arts project is at the intellectual and spiritual heart
of the academy. Also, the SAS is Penn's largest school in terms of
students and faculty.
One aspect of the Media Center would be coordination of software training
and services. The Technology Training Group of ISC offers workshops
in a number of basic software programs and computer languages. For
example, HTML, the language for constructing websites, is taught.
Training should also be widely and readily available in the use of the
new software programs which make composing webpages almost as easy as word-processing
(Adobe PageMill, ClarisWorks HomePage, the composers in various versions
of Netscape, etc.). In addition, training should be available in
multimedia programs such as Photoshop (processing of still images), PageMaker
(desktop publishing layout), Premiere (video editing), and Macromedia Director
(managing interactive environments). Preently, Penn is simply not
geared to supplying very much instruction in multimedia applications.
There is only so much that the heroic and overworked staffs of ISC, Prep
Center, Residential Computing, MMETS, etc., can do.
If the University does not want to maintain the campus staff that can
offer all of this training in a convenient and ongoing basis, a possibility
that should be considered is that training could be available from private
companies via distance communication in a combination of, for Penn citizens,
free and paid arrangements. To enable these options, in some cases
software would have to be purchased and computers would have to be upgraded:
such are the costs of providing a world-leading educational media environment.
I would also like to raise the possibility of a required introductory
media course/workshop for all SAS students. This course would be
hands-on and would also provide an overview of what is available at Penn
and in the world beyond. Such knowledge, it can be argued, is essential
for success in today's world. Aspects of such a course/workshop could
be taught in dormitory computer labs by a combination of student Information
Technology Advisors (ITAs), ISC and Residential Computing staff, and faculty
(please see below). Then, at least, students would have a sense of
orientation and would know where to go to learn more.
It is very important that there be an orderly, clear process by which
faculty and students can receive various types of assistance in the making
of websites. The University needs to decide what website services
it wishes to provide for free, to whom, and for what purposes. Training
should be readily available, but it must also be realized that some people
are not going to pick up website designing skills easily: their talents
simply lie, and their energies are being expended, elsewhere. When
it comes to projects that the University does not wish to directly assist
with, students and faculty should be able to easily hire website tutors
and designers through the proposed Media Center at a reasonable market
rate ($25-$50 per hour). t present, too many projects are held up
because professors cannot easily get graduate students or staff technicians
(who are often willing to help but who may not be specifically-assigned
to the project) to do website work for them. Professors should not
be as beholden as they often become to the graduate students who do website
work for them and their department. Website designers, like tutors,
need not be present face-to-face. (Hired workers would not produce
material for students that is to be graded, of course.)
Professors who are already proficient users of technology should be
given incentives to assist others. "How to encourage late adopters
to begin using technology?", is a question which must be explored.
Of course, room should always be left for eccentric and unique individuals:
if a professor is brilliant enough and has good reasons for doing so, by
all means, let him/her use no electronic communication technoloigy at all.
Throughout the University, people who want to use the technology in
specially-equipped rooms should be given priority: those who are doing
low-tech work should meet elsewhere.
Although much is lost when people lose face-to-face communication (three-dimensions
reduced to two, loss of perception of smell, temperature, a certain kinetic
sense, etc.), other things can be gained in the interactive electronic
experience which are not possible in regular face-to-face communication.
This has prompted some professors to experiment with the full range of
interactive technologies with students who are in the same room, so that
a combination of face-to-face and electronic communication technologies
can be used simultaneously. If the experience is arranged properly,
there need be no sensory overload or confusion resulting from the use of
such a profusion of communication technologies.
3) Videoconferencing and Folklore.
Folklorists have much to contribute to the study and development of
interactive media such as videoconferencing. Penn is one of the three
universities in the USA able to offer a Ph.D. in Folklore. The University
is fortunate to be able to take advantage of this precious and world-famous
Folklore and Folklife resource. It is excellent that a Speaking Across
the University program (SATU) is now being implemented at Penn. Educational
speaking accompanied by electronic communication, and educational speaking
via electronic communication could be components of the SATU program.
The first SATU courses are being taught by a person in Classical Studies.
Rhetoric is an important aspect of educational speaking, but the speech
event should also be approached as an interactive social event, an approach
in which Folklore specializes. Interaction involves physical and
emotional engagement, which can lead to solid, rigorous academic work,
and intellectual engagement. Passivity, on the other hand, tends
to lead to alienation and intellectual dullness. The fact is, in
the dominant Western culture, although the concept of dialogue is held
in high esteem, interactivity in face-to-face communication is not a highly-developed
art; and thus, interactivity might also go undeveloped in the use of electronic
Students (and professors) might benefit from training in initiating
and developing classroom conversations, in engendering and controlling
positive overlapping talk, etc. This training could then be carried
over into videoconferencing. Just as sometimes it may not make sense
to read a paper at a conference or to deliver a lecture in a classroom,
it may not at times make sense to read or lecture over a videoconference.
But what are the alternatives? Folklorists are in a unique position
to help find and develop such alternatives.
One modern definition of folklore is that it is "artistic communication
in small groups" (Dan Ben-Amos). Without training in engendering
classroom discussion, some professors may resist the new technology because
integrating it may possibly, although not necessarily, involve the need
to revamp one's teaching style and make the classroom experience a more
Incidentally, the Nursing School's Mid-Wife Training Program also has
a great deal to offer to the University community in this regard: for the
past four years it has been developing a seminar style of videoconferencing
in which participants at various sites take turns in presenting case studies.
Here the focus of attention is regularly shifted from one site to another
for extended periods of time.
My projected Folklore dissertation will argue that electronic communication
can achieve the status of a folk medium only to the extent that it is interactive
and all members of the community have 24-hour access to the technology
and know how to use it. I will look at a particular south Indian
genre of storytelling, and compare how it is performed face-to-face, over
state radio and TV, and via videoconferencing. To gather data for
the latter, I hope to facilitate a series of videoconferences between Madras/Chennai
and Penn. This could be easily be done today at minimal cost: all
I would have to do is bring a traditional storyteller to one of the Internet
cafes in Madras, and place her in front of a computer running NetMeeting
or CU-SeeMe. Or, I could take her to a hotel or office room and enable
her to videoconference through a Videophone (see www.8x8.com) that I could
attach to the wall jack (needing no computer, over a regular telephone
However, it might be nice if other, higher quality options are also
available at that time (at least two years from now). I mention this
work to give a sense of some of the technological requests that students
might be making in the future.
A number of us Folklore graduate students are hoping to someday take
a course in the history of ethnographic film and video, and to receive
formal practical training in ethnographic video documentation. (Of
course, I would also like to help pioneer "ethnographic videoconferencing.")
Perhaps the proposed Media Center could be involved with these efforts.
4) Videoconferencing and College Houses.
Recently it has been announced that an additional 300 million dollars
is to be spent on student housing over the next ten years. Money
should also be invested in equipping computers in the College House Computer
Labs with videoconferencing (and multimedia) software and hardware.
At present, many of these computers are only being used for word-processing,
e-mail, and web-surfing. At much humbler universities than Penn,
all students are required to have their own computers (for word-processing,
Penn's campus-wide Ethernet system works beautifully and is a great
incentive for students to live on campus. The ante should be raised:
students living in dorms should have special access to videoconferencing
and other multi-sensory applications in the dorm Computer Labs.
At present, the paid on-duty students in the Labs write e-mail and do
homework. They could also be learning and teaching new software programs,
and working on video, CD-ROM, and website yearbooks, etc.
The possibility has been raised of placing videoconferencing equipment
in selected College House Lounges. For one thing, Lounge systems
could videoconference with, or just transmit to, the PennVideo TV studio
in Stouffer, and thus send material out to the PennVideo cable network.
College House Lounge videoconferencing would raise a number of issues
that would need to be resolved, including: there would have to be additional
regulation of informal community space. Nevertheless, this is definitely
an option that should be explored.
5) Videoconferencing and Language Instruction.
An area in which Penn excels is the teaching of rare, uncommonly taught,
and ancient languages. In this discussion, I will use Tamil as an
example, as it is my fieldwork language. I am studying Tamil -- the
language of the 50 million people of Tamil Nadu, south India -- with Vasu
Renganathan, who is also the manager of the Penn Language Center's Language
Resource and Research Center, which is adjacent to the SAS Prep Center.
Vasu Renganathan has expressed the hope of developing some sort of partnership
with other universities that are teaching Tamil, including the Universities
of Texas (Austin), Michigan (Ann Arbor), Wisconsin (Madison), and California
(Berkeley). Vasu Renganathan is a multi-talented digital designer
who has created interactive teaching materials (involving websites, HyperCard,
CD-ROMs, etc.) for Tamil and various other languages.
Prof. Harold Schiffman, director of Penn's Language Center, is also
a Tamil language scholar and is also quite interested and skilled in the
use of media for language instruction.
One strategy that can contribute to the sustainability of the teaching
of 'exotic' languages is, wherever possible, interaction with the immigrant
community. For example, in some form, language instruction should
be made available to the children of immigrants. Native speakers'
businesses (in the original country and in the USA) and educational institutions
should also be involved. At Berkeley, the Tamil community has funded
a Tamil professorship. Penn could also develop a relationship with
Tamil immigrants, towards the end of endowing a chair, funding scholarships,
and so forth.
Moreover, teaching and studying a language in isolation is difficult:
the process improves when participants can communicate with colleagues,
sharing and developing methods together. Evidence of the value of
cooperation is provided by teachers of Hindi at a consortium of four universities
in North Carolina, where Prof. Afroz Taj of North Carolina State U. reports
that enrollment and achievement levels are up (75 students are studying
Hindi in the affiliated programs), and he attributes this directly to the
fact that classes are videoconferenced. Prof. Taj explains the process
very clearly at http://sasw.chass.ncsu.edu/fl/faculty/taj/hindi/televid.htm
Of course, these individuals are working at a tremendous advantage in
that they are videoconferencing over Internet2, with no delay in audio
or video. However, even short of Internet2, much great work could
My study and practice of videoconferencing is self-initiated, but everything
I do at the University of Pennsylvania is guided and animated by my advisor,
Prof. Roger Abrahams of Folklore, who found in the everyday talk of African-Americans
of Philadelphia processes of cultural production that previously had been
observed primarily in the exotic epic-chanters of far-off Yugoslavia and
in the ancient and exalted texts of Homer.
- Eric Miller