Chicago, Hong Kong and London linked by virtual classroom

The University of Chicago Booth School of Business has expanded its reach and brought its classrooms in Chicago, Hong Kong and London closer together through the use of a high-definition video learning facility.

The virtual classroom, located in Booth's Harper Center in Chicago, allows faculty to teach students in Hong Kong and London when faculty are unable to travel to those locations or when it would be impractical to fly someone overseas for a short workshop or guest speech.

Hong Kong is home to the Asia branch of Booth's Executive MBA Program, while London is home to the European branch of Booth's Executive MBA Program.

The video setup is not intended to replace having faculty in the same room as students, the school said. Rather, it was designed as a contingency plan so classes can be held as scheduled even when faculty are unable to travel to London whether due to a volcano erupting in Iceland, as happened in 2010, disrupting air travel to Europe, or when a snowstorm in Chicago delays or cancels flights.

"The remote teaching facility enables us to maintain our class schedule even when unforeseen circumstances arise," said Kevin Boyd, Booth's chief information officer.

The technology in the virtual classroom also is being used for non-teaching activities, including guest speakers for classes. It also allows students in Asia and Europe to interact with Booth faculty who do not regularly teach in the international programs.

The remote teaching facility in Chicago has four, 60-inch flat-screen monitors — three side by side monitors each showing one-third of a classroom in the remote location (Hong Kong or London) and a fourth monitor that shows the instructor what the students are seeing at the front of the classroom.

"It's a sophisticated setup," Boyd said. "The high-definition image is sharp enough that as you view the video image you can read time on the wristwatch of a student seated in the Hong Kong or London classroom."

Faculty members, standing behind a large console packed with technology, can use PowerPoint, a document camera or smart whiteboards to display information to students. The smart whiteboards use a marker-shaped stylus to electronically transmit information onto the screens in the remote classroom.

"The integrated learning facility looks like one of our classrooms and is a truly immersive experience," Boyd said. "It's as close as we can make it to actually being in the classroom."

In the remote classroom, there is one microphone for every table of students. When students want to speak, they signal the professor, who then pushes the button for that microphone — turning it on and signaling a camera in the remote classroom to focus on that table of students.

In addition to remote teaching, the rooms also can be used for video conferencing with other University of Chicago sites and external locations.

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From: Ethan Grove, Chicago Booth Office of Media Relations, 773.834.5161 (office), 773.420.8670 (cell), Ethan.Grove@chicagobooth.edu