Alternative to Travel - University of Houston
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Alternative to Travel

Travel restrictions prompted by the Coronavirus have limited your options to attend conferences, out of town meetings, and off-site training. Fortunately, technology can offer some solutions so you can continue to participate in meetings and collaborate with colleagues anywhere in the world.

Most universities, professional organizations, and private companies use an online meeting and collaboration application. If you are scheduled for a meeting and cannot attend, reach out to the host and see if they are able to provide a call in or web conferencing connection. Skype for Business, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Go-To-Meeting, G-suites, and Ring Central are common web conferencing applications that provide audio, video, desktop sharing, chat, whiteboarding, and file sharing. All these platforms allow you to participate in meetings from your desktop or laptop or mobile device. If one participant in the meeting is a "host", meaning they have a license for the software, then they can invite others to attend online.

If your host doesn't have a license or the know-how to set up a web conference, UH supports three very robust collaboration applications. Every faculty or staff member can schedule a web conference or host an ad hoc meeting and invite participants from anywhere to attend.

The Three University Information Technology supported services are:

  1. Microsoft Skype for Business
  2. Microsoft Teams
  3. Zoom

MS Skype for Business

Skype for Business at UH is both a telephone service and a web conferencing application. That means you can use it for telephone calls or to do full videoconferences with collaboration tools. With a computer with microphone the Skype for Business application can make and receive calls from your office phone number anywhere you have an internet connection. Skype for Business allows faculty and staff to use any PC, MAC, iOS, Android device to log in to and make and receive telephone calls, listen to voicemail, missed calls, instant message, see presence of others, create group conversations and escalate to an ad hoc meeting.

Setting up a web conference is as easy as scheduling a meeting in outlook. The calendar entry will include a link for participants to join the conference. Anyone with a Skype for Business account can connect using the Skype for Business client. If someone doesn't use Skype for Business, they will be prompted to join through a web client as a guest. To learn more please visit, https://www.uh.edu/skype

One word of warning about Skype for Business, although you can make phone calls from your laptop the caller ID address will be your office on campus. If you call 911 for emergency service from Skype the first responders will be dispatched to UH. Always use your cell phone or home phone to call 911 from off campus.

MS Teams

Microsoft Teams is the true web conferencing application available from Microsoft. You can’t make phone regular phone calls but for web meetings it is extremely robust. All University students, faculty and staff are licensed for MS Teams. MS Teams is the next evolution of collaboration by taking all the features of MS Skype for Business, SharePoint, Groups, OneDrive and others into one application that can access and organize recurring meetings for workgroups, present webinars for your peers, or manage projects in one easy to schedule and set up platform. As with Skype for Business, you use Outlook to invite anyone inside or outside the organization to collaborate via audio, video, instant messaging, and to work on documents in real time.

Teams is ideal for groups of collaborators that meet frequently to work on documents or to provide online training. It even allows meeting to be recorded and posted directly into office 365 for later viewing. This allows it to be used as a recording option for live training sessions or to record course content from your desktop. It really needs to be experienced to be appreciated. To learn more please visit, https://uh.edu/infotech/services/office365/teams/

Zoom

Zoom is a powerful video conferencing tool that allows you to conduct remote meetings with up to 300 participants in HD video and high-quality audio. It was designed from the ground up to be a desktop web conferencing or distance learning application and as such is more intuitive for many faculty who are used to traditional videoconferencing. Once a meeting starts, utilize the full set of features offered by Zoom including screen sharing, text chatting, recording, and breakout rooms, which split the meeting into smaller groups. The attendees are not required to have a license to use Zoom and may access Zoom from a variety of different devices.

University Information Technology acquired a large number of Zoom licenses at a very good rate and has made them available for purchase by credit card or P-card through the campus technology store, CougarByte. To purchase Zoom licenses with departmental vouchers, reach out to the IT Support Center at 713-743-1411. The limitation of Zoom is its ability to record: additional storage for cloud recording would need to be purchased for recording of meeting and training.

And of course, if all else fails, most phone companies provide conference call options.