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Be There (Without Going There) with Lync

By Blake Cooper

Published August 8, 2014

Need to meet with someone across the country, or even the world? Save yourself the money and hassle of traveling. UB offers students, faculty and staff convenient virtual conferencing through Microsoft Lync.

Blake Cooper (UB Student, Class of 2016) is originally from Canandaigua, NY. He is studying Spanish, Linguistics and Comparative Literature, and beginning work on translating an Argentinian novel into English.

The Power of Virtual

Because anyone can set up a meeting, Lync can be used for informal get-togethers like study groups or keeping in touch with friends back home. Your contacts don’t need their own copy of the software, they can use the free Lync Web App to connect to a scheduled meeting, to long-distance conferences and classes.

It’s all made possible by UB's Virtual Conference service, which offers the ability to conference with large groups of people (or just one or a few, if you prefer) from almost any device.  Microsoft Lync's infrastructure makes communication more secure and stay within UB.  It allows teams of people to see and collaborate through whiteboards, desktop sharing, polling and instant messaging.

All you need is an Internet connection and your computer’s audio/visual hardware, usually a webcam and built-in microphone, to capture your sound and image and connect it with other people.

Smoothing the Transition

Andy MacVie, MFAC Instructor

Andrew MacVie is an Instructor with the Millard Fillmore College, and has been using Lync in conjunction with other software to teach an online version of MFC 101: Introduction to Computers and Information Systems for the past four semesters.

“Whether as a student or an instructor, I despised online classes,” Andrew shared. He knew one of the keys to making this online course successful would be instructor availability. So, for his winter break class, he decided to hold online office hours each evening using Lync.

Students from all over the country successfully connected to ask questions and get input. Andrew noted the value Lync’s flexibility added to these meetings. “One student was having difficulty understanding a concept, so I switched the meeting so she was the presenter and she could show me her work. It allowed me to more easily point things out and make comments.”

Each student was required to connect with Andrew remotely once during the semester. But some students went farther.

“I had one student whose family was in Asia, and there wasn’t enough time during the break for him to go back. He would connect every night, and he’d just say ‘hey Professor, how’s it going?’” Andrew laughed.

Amy Hinchcliffe was a student in one of Andrew’s online courses, and appreciated the ability to communicate. “He took the time to open the project with me and walk me through everything I needed help with,” Amy said. “It didn’t feel like an online course: I was able to talk to the professor face to face.”

UBIT is continuing to work with faculty and staff to test the use of Lync software in a classroom context.

Dr. Hong Luo is UB’s Chair of the Physics Department, which used the software extensively for winter and summer online courses. He wishes that more input had been solicited from faculty in advance of the rollout, particularly as his department has been one of the biggest users of conferencing tools for teaching on campus.

“Beta test the software before making changes,” Dr. Luo recommended. “Real classes, especially summer and winter courses that go at high speed, shouldn’t be used as beta testers.” He recalled a Windows 8.1 problem that prevented viewing PowerPoint presentations over Lync, a very common usage. “UBIT did apply [a Microsoft hotfix] after we informed them, but we were half way done with our class.”

It was Dr. Luo’s outreach to UBIT that received the attention of IT Communications Specialist Laura Yates, who set out to gather input from people who have used Lync to refresh the UBIT Lync Web pages. “Our goal is to learn from this refresh in order to make the next one better,” Laura said. "It can always be better, and we always encourage feedback from anyone who uses our services.”

"I have great appreciation for the speed and thoroughness of Laura's responses and solutions after she got involved, for Lync related problems and other general UBIT issues," Dr. Luo expressed.