AZ SciTech Festival bridges communities with massive teleconference

Written by Jeremy Babendure, Executive Director Arizona SciTech Festival
As the AZ SciTech Festival hosts its first telecommuting event, I’ve been reflecting on the preparation that led us to this place. What started as a small idea has quickly morphed into a unique tele-press conference event, created through our statewide partnerships.
This year’s press event is made possible by the Arizona Telemedicine Program which is the same technology used to connect healthcare providers and patients to communities across the state. The exciting part is that the Festival will be able to connect with people from all corners of Arizona, including areas that do not benefit from modern communication capabilities.
Attendees will not only be able to attend at one of 10 regional locations, but also join a livestream. At-home attendees will have the ability to watch an online stream and interact through Twitter using #azscitech. The accessibility of the event, achieved through technology, speaks volumes to where science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in Arizona is headed.
This wouldn’t be possible without a team of three specialists from Arizona Telemedicine Program who teamed up with representatives at the ten regional sites (Avondale, Buckeye, Clarkdale, Chandler, Globe, Mesa, Phoenix, Safford, Scottsdale, Tempe and Tucson) to test the videoconferencing technology. This wasn’t an easy task as it took two weeks to troubleshoot technical hitches that arose with firewall restrictions and audio/video capabilities at the various sites. This project also came with a lot of bandwidth required to pull off something this huge, and participating sites had to upgrade and alter their technology to meet minimum requirements. Without their efforts, our community reach would have been limited.
As a result, a total of 20 speakers from 15 communities located at 10 sites will be connected presenting a unified front for the importance of science, technology and innovation in Arizona’s innovation life cycle.
We definitely have our IT team ready as thirty minutes prior to the event, all sites called in to test their connections, an important part of Telemedicine’s best practice protocol. In addition, our team of engineers will monitor the connections. When a site drops off, the engineers will know before it is recognized at the site and will be able to provide real-time support to reconnect hubs with the host.
Not all of Arizona’s communities are created equal and it is important to us that we bridge this technological gap. Through this technology, disparities in connectivity have been revealed as some communities lacked the capability to connect-pointing to the areas that truly need the support of state legislatures.
Partners from cities across the state have shown Arizona’s unique ability to work toward common goals. Simply putting on the teleconference is a collaboration that will not only serve the needs of the Festival, but the needs of the state, as well. I, and my team, recognize the efforts of the Arizona Telemedicine Program, the 10 regional sites, 20 speakers and hundreds of supporters who embraced using a technology platform this season.
Beyond this event, our hope is to help build further awareness of the possibilities of video conferencing and inspire our many collaborators to develop their own events utilizing this powerful technology. It is a great medium for the collaboration of ideas, training, education, clinical use an more. The exposure of an event like this can also help these local communities realize that they can have productive interaction without leaving their offices.
AZ Tech Beat is a proud media partner of AZ SciTech Festival