University of Paris-Descartes

At a Glance

  • Fosters a sense of belonging to the university
  • Dialogue between students & research centres
  • Minimises the impact of distance between sites
  • Enables a service continuity plan

University Paris-Descartes pushes teaching boundaries using Polycom Video conferencing solutions

The University of Paris-Descartes is a university which focuses on the humanities and health science. It is composed of nine Research and Training Units (UFR - Unité de Formation et de Recherche) or faculties, and a University Institute of Technology (IUT – Institut Universitaire de Technologie). Its four main educational areas are law, economics and management; life and health sciences; human and social sciences; and sciences and technology. It offers 45 masters courses including 21 professional courses and awards over 11,000 degrees each year. Over 200 theses are defended each year (excluding PhD/MD theses in medicine, pharmacy and odontology).

With over 35,000 students and 4580 staff (including 1900 teaching staff and 1540 researchers), the University of Paris-Descartes has gained a solid reputation for research and has around one hundred laboratories, of which 66 are associated with major research bodies such as the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) and Inserm (National Institute of Health and Medical Research). It also offers six doctoral schools and 24 research masters courses. The university is recognised in Europe and throughout the world for the quality of its education and the excellence of its research in the area of health science.

Videoconferencing, a multi usage communications tool

The geographical distance between the different university campuses has favoured the adoption of tools to facilitate exchanges between the Chancellor and the heads of the various institutes. The Chancellor firmly believes that such tools can be used for his discussions with the other universities, notably at the Conference of University Chancellors and other types of international exchanges.

The multi-site conference tool is widely used for this type of scenario which operates using an integrated bridge connected to devices, or via a Polycom RMX 1000 conference server. This bridge allows for large conferences such as the one held in April 2009 during the Digital Conference of the Paris Ile-de-France Virtual University (Université Numérique Paris Ile-de-France) organised at the University of Paris Descartes. The 13 universities in the Ile-de-France area were able to exchange information during the conference.

The University of Paris-Descartes has also invested in PVX software licenses whose purpose is to support distance learning as well as communication between staff, using computers and webcams.

A progressive appropriation by the teaching staff

All the sites were fitted with a videoconferencing system, which was initially installed in the office of the Chancellor and the Deans. “However, the teaching staff have appropriated the tool more rapidly than the administration and management personnel, for whom in person meetings are still important”, confirmed Patrick de Carné, Technical Director of Computer Resources. The systems were moved to standard meeting rooms in order to diversify their use.

This is how applications directly linked to higher education first appeared at the Paris-Descartes University. From her classroom at the University of Paris-Descartes, Isabelle Kousignian, an applied mathematics lecturer, uses video conferences to teach simultaneously to the Universities of Nantes, Angers, and Rennes. When questioned about her feelings regarding this experience, the lecturer “appreciated the ability to teach a class to a larger number of students without having to travel from city to city”; however, she did recognise “the need for a certain amount of adaptation to this way of teaching, as it is more difficult to engage students individually by looking at them, especially with more timid students.”

Another application of the video conferencing systems is the training given to midwives. The room for practicals was far too cramped and a video conferencing system was installed in an adjacent room to allow a greater number of students to attend the sessions.

A further application concerned a remote thesis viva by Professor Christian Hervé, with a link-up between Paris and Nouméa, 14000 kilometers apart.

Amongst the many uses of video conferencing, the selection panels for teaching/research jobs or lecturers should be mentioned. Video conferences allow representatives from geographically remote universities to meet up virtually by means of a multisite system, and analyse the applicants, carry out a pre-selection and, finally, interview the shortlisted candidates.

Research is an important activity at the University of Paris- Descartes. The research units include a number of high-level video conferencing systems.

Professor Guy Valancien, who teaches surgery remotely between the Centre Universitaire des Saints-Pères and the Clinique Montsouris, illustrates this point. In addition, Professor Patrick Cavanagh communicates continuously with Harvard University in the United States.

New prospective uses

Plans are currently underway to develop new types of usage. A service continuity plan is currently analysing the resources required to provide a teaching service for exceptional circumstances, such as transport problems or public health issues. Two main areas must be ensured: first maintaining educational links via flexible and mobile solutions through which lecturers would be able to teach remotely from their own homes or a lecture hall, and second, a governance network by means of emergency committees centered on the Internet, infrastructures and individual coder/decoder.

Another project targets the participation of a large number of students, often more than 3000, in conference or training sessions, as seen with ‘L1 Santé’, the first year of the medicine cursus. The University of Paris-Descartes is also working on the concept of virtual lecture halls, which consist of an interactive grouping of several remote lecture halls into a single communication space.

Finally, the ‘virtual classroom’ project should allow lecturers to teach their classes directly to many students spread over several sites on the internet (classrooms, remote lecture halls, meeting rooms, homes and so on), and using all types of resources (interactive or non-interactive), such as chat facilities, application sharing systems, the telephone or using video conferencing.

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"Communicate, negotiate, guide, teach and heal: These are the five axes of the Polycom video conference at the service of a university of excellence, ecologically responsible."

Patrick de Carne
SISI Technical Director, Paris-Descartes University