November 16, 2015

International Students Webcast Live from Larnaca, Cyprus

Professional Staffers John Hughes and Kevin Bain Provide Essential Technical Support

In the summer of 2015, a group of students learning with the Lebanon program traveled to Larnaca, Cyprus, to attend their summer residency. Photo/Empire State College
In the summer of 2015, a group of students learning with the Lebanon program traveled to Larnaca, Cyprus, to attend their summer residency. Photo/Empire State College

A group of SUNY Empire State College’s international students, who are enrolled with the college’s program in Beirut, Lebanon, broke new ground for sharing academic experiences via technology together with students attending the college’s other international locations, students learning in New York state and students everywhere in the world with Internet access.

Learning experiences with small and large groups of students, faculty and outside experts at SUNY Empire, which are conducted online, face-to-face and through a combination of both, are referred to as “a residency or residencies.”

In the summer of 2015, this group of students learning with the Lebanon program traveled to Larnaca, Cypru, to attend their summer residency.

Many others were able to participate in the residency by watching a live video stream and engaging with those students on the ground in Larnaca, and all others, live through social media.

On the day of the group project, students enrolled in several different courses, where they were given the theme of change as part of their assignments and tasked to roam the streets of Larnaca and ask local people and tourists, “What would you change if you had the power?”

The Lebanese students proved to be capable camera operators and interviewers, receiving enthusiastic responses from both tourists and locals.

As far as what people would like to change, answers ranged from achieving world peace to winning the European lottery.

Most of the people from Cyprus told the students that they would not change anything about their lives, in spite of years of economic and political turmoil. A man from Sweden said he wished to change the weather there.

The idea of streaming students’ academic exercise live via the Internet was the brainchild of Karolyn Andrews, former director of the Lebanon Program and currently the regional director of the college’s European programs.

In addition to Andrews, faculty members Jeannine Mercer, current director of the Lebanon Program, Sheila Aird, Nazik Roufaiel, Peggy Tally and Jason Russell also took part in the exercise.

Aird’s students, for example, were engaged in the exercise as part of her digital storytelling course.

Although all classroom sessions for the residency were going to be video conferenced back to Lebanon for students unable to attend in person, Andrews wanted to go further and give students learning throughout the college the experience of participating in a group project and getting a feel for life in Cyprus.

As it turned out, the live, international production went very smoothly; however, making it all happen proved to be challenging.

Some months before the residency, Andrews enlisted the aid of John Hughes, the college’s director of media production, who is based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Hughes expressed a good deal of skepticism about the college’s ability to stream live video from Cyprus.

In the ensuing months, Hughes investigated a number of technologies, eventually settling on a particular camera as the key component.

“The camera is small, portable and, most importantly, has WiFi built in to it,” said Hughes, “I concocted a crazy scheme to tether the camera’s WiFi to a 4G cell phone hotspot and use the cellular network to reach the Internet.”

With the help of Kevin Bain from the college’s Office of Integrated Technology Services, the concept was proven in Saratoga Springs.

“We took a walk around Congress Park and webcast it, but that’s a long way from Cyprus,” said Hughes.

Once they arrived in Cyprus, Andrews and Hughes began testing the technology. They immediately ran into compatibility issues between U.S. phones and the European 4G cellular systems.

Through dogged persistence, they made progress.

“It was like writing computer code,” said Hughes. “If one comma is out of place, it falls apart. We had to find where all the bits fit in and make sure they were set right.”

On the day before classes began, they were finally able to stream with confidence.

On the way out of the hotel, Andrews and Hughes encountered three busloads of Polish soccer players under heavy police escort, and a protest to bring the boy band One Direction to Cyprus held by a group of young Cypriot girls.

“I could tell it was going to be an interesting day,” said Hughes.

A six-minute video taken by the students provides an example of the undergraduate students bringing their academic assignment into the world around them. To see the video excerpted, go to http://www.kaltura.com/tiny/tksy2

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