The MURPA HD Video Seminar series
We have implemented a high definition, low latency, video link between Monash University in Australia and the University of California, San Diego. The link supports two novel student exchange schemes: PRIME and MURPA, where students travel over summer months to engage in research internships. Video supports collaborative seminars where both students, and their mentors, present work, both prior to their departure and during the internships. Since 2008 we have runcomplete semester of mentor seminars, and also supported final presentations from the students. The technology has been transformative and enabled collaborations that would not have been possible previously.
This project involves adding High definition video technology to two international student experience programs in operation between Monash University in Australia, and the University of California, San Diego: PRIME and MURPA. This technology has greatly enhanced the experience for students, and leverages significant investment in networking both within California in the USA and Victoria in Australia, and also in the trans Pacific links. PRIME (sponsored by a NSF) allows UCSD undergraduates to take collaborative research projects at labs in a variety of countries, including Australia. Likewise, MURPA allows Monash University undergraduates to take collaborative projects at UCSD. In both schemes, students work with a local mentor and a remote mentor provided by the host institution (typically academic staff members). Because PRIME and MURPA provide mentorship at both ends, they underpin and build collaborations between academic staff at both institutions. In some cases, collaborations have lasted for fives years, and have resulted in papers in research journals and international conferences. Currently, PRIME students travel over the northern hemisphere summer and MURPA students travel over the southern hemisphere summer (typically a 9 week program), allowing them to focus on their projects exclusively. PRIME students engage in a cultural experience program in addition to their academic activities. In PRIME, HD video allows mentors at UCSD to attend final student seminars that are presented both to audiences at Monash and their mentors at UCSD concurrently. This means that they receive feedback from both Monash and UCSD mentors, significantly enhancing the outcomes of their internship. Likewise, MURPA students at UCSD present final seminars back to their mentors in Australia whilst presenting to a local audience at UCSD.
MURPA goes a step further by adding an advanced seminar scheme, in which students attend seminars given by world leading experts before they depart Australia. The seminar scheme is novel, because it makes it feasible to attract some of the world's best researchers “virtually” to Monash. The seminars also allow students to “meet” potential UCSD mentors and gain information about possible projects. Seminars are delivered from the CalIT2 building at UCSD, and are hosted in the Faculty of IT video conference facilities at Monash. In both cases, special seminar rooms are established with HD video equipment, and tuned audio systems complete (with echo cancellation hardware).
Monash’s chancellor, Dr Alan Finkel, wrote recently of his experience attending one of these seminars : “I attended a seminar held by the IT faculty in September. In all respects but one it was what you would expect. The title was suitably academic: Multi-Scale Modelling of the Heart. The content was extensive, describing computer models that ranged in scale from the microscopic proteins comprising a model of individual heart cells to electrical and mechanical models of the entire heart and torso. The models ranged in temporal scale from the microseconds required for protein reactions to the hours and days required for evolving pathologies. The computer-generated images and animations were superb, the lecturer was unmistakably an expert. The audience was deeply attentive, all the more so because the lecturer made consistent eye contact with his audience. The lecturer, Andrew McCulloch, was clearly aware of our interest and it energised his delivery. What made this seminar strikingly unusual, though, was the fact that Andrew McCulloch was standing at a podium in a room at the University of California in San Diego, while we were seated in an office of the Faculty of Information Technology at the Clayton campus in Victoria. McCulloch’s lecture and slides were beamed to us at high-definition television resolution. At the same time, a camera at our end sent him a continuous view of the audience in Clayton. A series of microphones at our end dangled from the ceiling like electronic stalactites to pick up questions from the audience. The sound quality was superb. I’ve participated in numerous video conferences to date but nothing like this. The quality was so high that the experience was almost as if we were all in the same room.”
Objective summary of benefits attributed to the project
Recently we have seen an increase in the calls for universities and the education community to re-think undergraduate education and create opportunities that prepare students as effective global professionals. The key motivator is the need to build a research and industrial workforce that works collaboratively across cultures and disciplines to address major global challenges. At the same time, computing, information, and communication technology facilitates a comprehensive ‘cyberinfrastructure’ on which new types of scientific and engineering knowledge environments and organizations can be constructed. The goals of PRIME and MURPA are to: develop an integrated and sustainable undergraduate international research program that serves as a model for 21st Century undergraduate education; prepare students to become effective global professionals and citizens; and, give students a head-start on careers in science, engineering and technology research. Unlike other exchange programs, PRIME and MURPA leverage leading edge high definition video conference technology to extend the period of engagement beyond the 9 week internships. Prior to departure, MURPA students attend a series of seminars by leading edge researchers and potential mentors at UCSD. These seminars have been extremely effective in helping students choose a remote mentor, because they are given sufficient information on the potential topics, and also have some exposure to the personality behind the presenter. Prior to their return, both PRIME and MURPA students give seminars to both the local and home institutions. These have further enhanced the experience, and contribute to lasting collaborations between mentors.
Specific Benefits of the Program
The benefits have been immense. Remote mentors can engage with students prior to the internship in ways that were simply not possible before. HD video is substantially superior to older technology and supports a fairly natural interaction. Alan Finkel’s (unsolicited) article highlights the attraction of using this technology.
Without high-speed networks none of this would be possible. The program leverages substantial investment in network infrastructure in both California and Australia, but also in the cross pacific links. We were able to secure 150 MBits/sec only because the network is substantially over-provisioned. (We experienced almost no dropped frames at this data rate). Moving the dedicated light paths would enable transmission without compression, further lowering latency and enhancing the interaction.
In today’s educational arena, we must provide students with opportunities to work/study abroad to prepare them for global citizenship and professional competence in a multi-cultural workplace. Numerous reports have challenged universities to develop educational programs that provide an integrated academic basis for developing students’ cultural/global competencies. But to meet this challenge, we must face issues of scaling programs to include significant portions of the academic community and to build the structure that will allow such programs to thrive. We posit that those universities that become the educational trailblazers will reap the benefits: greater opportunities for their students in industry or academics; and ultimately greater competition to attend their institutions. These universities will be the ones that provide comprehensive international research opportunities, and that will graduate socially educated and culturally mindful students. It will take innovative leaders - administrators and faculty - who dare to try new approaches and who can communicate the value of such programs to the individual, to the institution, and ultimately to society.
We believe PRIME and MURPA fill a need of many students, for example those who cannot take a long break in their studies, those that want research experience, those who want the challenge and opportunity to live and work in an international setting. Our use of high bandwidth video conference technology has had a profound impact on these programs.