While you could easily burn a tank of gas driving between Mason, James Madison University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Virginia, the four institutions have never felt closer.
Through the wizardry of state-of-the-art teleconference technology developed by Cisco System, students, faculty, and staff at these schools can now conduct meetings among the universities, share classes that otherwise would not be available to students, and collaborate on research initiatives, all without having to travel.
The technology is called TelePresence, and it allows for real-time, high-quality video and audio streams. It also incorporates precision camera placement that allows users to view the other participants as if they were sitting across from them. Mason has three rooms on the Fairfax Campus equipped with the technology; the Arlington and Prince William Campuses each have one.
The technology is part of a new initiative by Gov. Bob McDonnell called 4-VA, which calls for increased research and teaching collaboration among the four universities.
“This is a big day for all Virginians because 4-VA will dramatically improve access to all of higher education,” McDonnell said during a demonstration of the technology at Mason in November. “The use of technologies such as this TelePresence to help leverage resources will become more and more important to the delivery of higher education. It will also help hold down costs for tuition-paying students and their families.”
Along with the new technology, the 4-VA initiative includes the following priorities: establish a degree completion program in technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship aimed at community college graduates; improve student success in science, technology, engineering, and math courses; expand research competitiveness; increase resource sharing among the member institutions; and create a team to design a math learning infrastructure that could potentially be employed by all Virginia educational institutions.
Virginia’s legislature is providing $3.4 million for 4-VA. In addition, each university is contributing $50,000 of its own funds to establish the 4-VA office and hire staff. The institutions also covered the cost—about $500,000—to retrofit pertinent facilities.