Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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11/3/13: into the 21st century with videoconferencing

The Aga Khan University is, of course, an international organization.  So I’ve met colleagues based in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Canada, United States, and I’m pretty sure this isn’t an exhaustive list.  This brings an extraordinary depth of experience and insights, making the University a truly exciting place to work.

One of the committees I sit on is the Board of Graduate Studies, which brings together colleagues in only (!) 4 cities: Karachi, London, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.  Previous meetings have been done through a voice Skype conference.  However, each of these centres has now invested in videoconferencing facilities, so the most recent meeting was conducted as a videoconference.

I went into the meeting expecting it to be much the same as Skype.  So I was very pleasantly surprised!  The hardware includes two large TV screens side by side.  The right hand side one was given over to a video feed of me – quite why, I’m not sure, I do have a pretty good idea what I look like.  Anyway, it reflects some of the TV I like – particularly ‘24’ – that I found myself thinking, “Golly, I’ve just become the President of Russia!  Now, was it North or South Dakota I was going to bomb today?”  The left hand side was split 4 ways for the 4 centres, resolution not perfect but good enough to recognize people and see them indicating that they wished to speak.  And I was able to show a PowerPoint as an alternative to my picture, which was doubtless a welcome change for the other participants.

I was responsible for proposing a major agenda item which took about ¾ hour.  As we went on to the next item, slumped back in my chair, took my glasses off, rubbed my face – and then realized that everybody could see me.  I considered showing a picture of a blank flip chart but managed to summon up the concentration for the rest of the meeting.  So, all in all, not as good as a full face-to-face meeting but, given the distances involved, a jolly good second best, considerably better than Skype.  Another step into the 21 century!
Just one more thing this week.  Students and a member of the administrative staff, Joyceline, have formed a Christian Fellowship which I’m proud to be associated with.  We had a meeting last week in a room being used by students for private study.  I indicated that a meeting was about to start, everybody very welcome to stay and, particularly addressing our Muslim colleagues, “If you stay for this meeting then I will come to a meeting of your choice, diary permitting.”  Which is to say, I’d love to attend an Islamic Fellowship meeting on this basis!  Alas, none of the students took me up on this, on this occasion anyway.  But, as they were filing out, Fatimah turned to me and said, “Please pray for us all.”  Fatimah, you made my day, encapsulating in that one request what the Aga Khan University is all about.  And, for the record, we did pray for all students – Christians, Muslims, those of other faiths, and those of none.

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