The University of Surrey's Department of Computing has gone back to school with the latest videoconferencing technology.

In partnership with Coombe Girls' and Boys' Schools in Kingston, the University has successfully tested open source videoconferencing technology in a project to address the problem of falling numbers of Computing graduates sponsored by the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Information and Computer Sciences (HEA-ICS).

The project is using videoconferencing technology generally referred to as an ‘Access Grid’ to connect the University with local schools and colleges. Access Grids have been widely used in universities for group-to-group research seminars and meetings often involving national and international participants. They are now being used to enable frequent interactions with multiple schools and colleges simultaneously and will eventually involve interactions with the IT industry, while reducing the need for travel to accomplish this.

Two Access Grid desktop-based systems have been developed and delivered to Coombe. Andrew Martin, information and communication technology coordinator at Coombe Girls' and Boys' Schools said: ”We are discussing interactive sessions, related to the curriculum, of database and web technologies – and we have recently made additional use of the systems to provide face-to-face support between the two sites that we manage."

Head of Computing at Surrey, Professor Steve Schneider, considers that "by demonstrating the challenges, excitement and substantial rewards of careers in the computing profession via effective engagement with schools and colleges, increased uptake of the subject could be encouraged longer term."

Technology provision has been the responsibility of Gary Dear, computer support manager. He said: “The biggest challenge to date has been getting the video and audio traffic through firewalls. We have demonstrated that the technology works well locally, for schools and colleges, and all the way to China, for our link-up with Dongbei University of Finance and Economics."

Interactions involving other subjects at the University are currently under discussion. Dr Lee Gillam, project lead and member of the University department's Outreach team said: “Our successful interactions with Coombe demonstrate substantial potential and we are already building on this with further trials at Esher College and Farnham Heath End School.”