A new high definition video conferencing system that will link sites at two university campuses and four New Brunswick hospitals is being launched this week, bringing the latest in information and communications technology to bear on critical medical education and information sharing activities.
Established for Dalhousie University's new Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick program, in collaboration with the Government of New Brunswick, the University of New Brunswick and the Horizon Health Network, the mediacasting system will deliver lectures and educational content from any one of the school's 19 medical facilities to one or more of the other facilities, offering students an experience comparable to a face-to-face lecture, including high quality visuals and audio, and enabling participants at various sites to engage in interactive discussions.
"A key principle is that all students must have a comparable learning experience," said John Robertson, Dalhousie's director of academic computing services and Med IT in charge of the project. "So whether a student is sitting in Saint John or Halifax, that student must have the same access to the educational content, the same quality of information, and the same ability to interact with the lecturer or classmates in other locations," he said.
Lecture theatres at the Halifax and Saint John campuses mirror each other with three screens at the front of the room displaying in high definition the lecturer, educational content, and students at the remote location. The high contrast DNP Supernova front projection screens in the large theatre each measure over 11' wide.
The smaller classrooms are equipped with 85" flat panel plasma displays. Lecturers have their own duplicate set of 42" confidence monitors mounted immediately in front of the lectern in each room so they never have to turn around to view what students are seeing.
"In sheer complexity and performance, I'm not aware of anything quite like this in video conferencing distance education in all of Canada," said Philip Giddings, president of Engineering Harmonics Inc., the Toronto-based technology consulting firm that designed the Dalhousie video conferencing system and has worked on a number of other distance learning systems.
On top of the standard prescription for a good video conferencing system-proper acoustics, lighting, sightlines, and a fast, reliable network connecting facilities across hundreds of kilometres-Engineering Harmonics wrote a massive amount of custom software to manage the entire process behind the scenes, while offering users a simple, intuitive control interface on touch screens.
Control of the entire video conference can be transferred in real time to another site in the network, including control of the currently active microphone queue, cameras, lighting, sources and content.
A pair of 30-seat video conference rooms at the Halifax campus equipped with two screens each are set up to facilitate clinical education with similarly equipped rooms at the Saint John Regional Hospital, and ultimately Moncton Hospital, Miramichi Hospital, and Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton.
In each room, one screen displays the content under discussion, and the other shows the participants in the remote location. A number of smaller video conference rooms are similarly laid out at the Dalhousie and University of New Brunswick Saint John campuses, helping to expand the reach and capabilities of medical education and ultimately, health care service provision in Maritime Canada.