Video Conferencing at W&M: The Future Is Now

Telephonoscope - Cartoon EDISON'S TELEPHONOSCOPE (TRANSMITS LIGHT AS WELL AS SOUND).(Every evening, before going to bed, Pater- and Materfamilias set up an electric camera-obscura over their bedroom mantel-piece, and gladden their eyes with the sight of their Children at the Antipodes, and converse gaily with them through the wire.)Paterfamilias (in Wilton Place). "Beatrice, come closer. I want to whisper."  Beatrice (from Ceylon). "Yes, Papa dear."Paterfamilias. "Who is that charming young Lady playing on Charlie's side?"Beatrice. "She's just come over from England, Papa. I'll introduce you to her as soon as the Game's over!"

Telephonoscope Cartoon, Punch’s Almanack 1879. The caption reads: EDISON’S TELEPHONOSCOPE (TRANSMITS LIGHT AS WELL AS SOUND). (Every evening, before going to bed, Pater- and Materfamilias set up an electric camera-obscura over their bedroom mantle-piece, and gladden their eyes with the sight of their Children at the Antipodes, and converse gaily with them through the wire.)

Video conferencing was said to be the way of the future during its conception in the late 1800s.  In fact it was originally conceived of just two years after the telephone was patented in 1876, in a science fiction cartoon in the 1879 issue of Punch’s Almanack. But it wasn’t until recently that video calling and conferencing have become more feasible.

With the creation of more secure and stable network connections at costs that were considered reasonable, and video transmitting components becoming more widely available in our everyday electronics, video conferencing has become ever more popular. From grandmothers seeing their granddaughter for the very first time via FaceTime on an iPad to reaching across the globe to expand and help develop the art of teaching in the academic world, video conferencing has endless possibilities in what it can help our society to achieve and will allow us to connect with the rest of the world in ways that could not be done before.

Today There Are Multiple Options for Video Conferencing

An example of earlier video conferencing: Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander using an Ericsson videophone to speak with Lennart Hyland, a popular TV show host (1969)

While FaceTime and Skype have now made connecting via video a common way to interact, video conferencing was once only applicable to the corporate world. Executives could connect to other executives through video calling, but at the extreme cost of use and installation of advanced technology during the 1950s.

Today, video conferencing, beyond Skype and FaceTime, has become more commonly used by all facets of business as well as in the academic world. With the increasing demand for learning via distance, educators are connecting with their peers, students, and other institutions to deliver instruction remotely. Through the utilization of technologies offered by corporations like Cisco and Adobe here at the College of William & Mary, we are able to help users connect, share, have a dialogue, and collaborate on projects with others from across the globe.

W&M Professor Judi Harris in Both Williamsburg and Qatar

Dr. Judi Harris iEarn Presentation 2013

Dr. Judi Harris delivering her keynote for the 2013 iEarn Conference

The most recent example of this was Dr. Judi Harris’s delivery of a keynote speech at the iEarn Conference in Doha, Qatar. With careful planning and connection testing happening prior to her speech, Judi was able to deliver her keynote What iEARN Teachers Learn: Technology, Pedagogy and Content Knowledge (TPACK) for Online Projects. In fact, through video conferencing, Judi was able to deliver her professional development program on how to keep students engaged through technology in the classroom, the conference attendees in Doha were able to ask questions afterwords, and the keynote attendees here in Williamsburg were able to have a dialogue with and ask questions of the attendees in Doha before the conclusion.

Being the excellent speaker that Judi is, she was able to connect with the audience in Doha almost as if she were there in front of them. It was also fitting for her keynote to be delivered via video conference as her subject matter pertained to how to reach and engage with students through technology, amongst other topics.

Video Conferencing Lets You Connect

The entire aspect of video conferencing allows each user to associate a face and a personality with the voice that they’re hearing. In essence, video conferencing allows users to connect and share ideas in ways they might not have felt comfortable doing over the phone or through email.  Through video conferencing, rather than your immediate environment, the world becomes your symposium and platform through which to exchange your ideas.

As George Bernard Shaw once said:

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.


  1. nicely done jake.

  2. Dave Shantz says:

    Well done! (Can I get one of those Ericsson phones on my desk?)

    • Only if we can build one together with authentic materials and methods of that time period!! Because that would be a sight to see!