The celebrity effect of scholarly videoconferencing

[From The Chronicle of Higher Education’s College 2.0 blog]

September 6, 2010

The Celebrity Effect of Scholarly Videoconferencing

By Jeff Young

Singapore—For some researchers in the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research & Technology, every Tuesday means another meeting by videoconference. Findings are shared, research procedures are debated, and suggestions for next steps are decided with people who in some cases are known only as an image on a screen.

Maroun Khoury, a postdoctoral associate for the effort, which runs joint research projects between the two locations, recently found out that the giant high-resolution screens in the conference rooms at facilities here and at MIT made him think of his colleagues as TV stars when he finally met them in person.

“It was like meeting celebrities because it was like, ‘I only know you from TV, I know you from the screen,’” he said when I visited the conference room for the lab here, with two giant high-resolution screens on one wall and a small camera mounted between them. One screen is usually used for PowerPoint slides, the other for video from the cameras.

Mr. Khoury said he has been surprised by how strong connections can be with the technology. “I met one of my colleagues who worked on the same project, and I knew her through the videoconference for a year, and when we had our meeting in June, she recognized me immediately from the cab and she came and hugged and kissed me,” he said. “I mean, I never knew this person except I met her through TV, but the relation worked quite nicely. It didn’t prevent a relation between colleagues.”

When the scientists on the two sides of the world do get together for their annual summer meeting, they fill the schedule with plenty of social time like meals and informal gatherings. “This will never replace the face-to-face meetings,” said Mr. Khoury. “The best ideas sometimes come over a lunch break.”

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