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'Help in High Definition'
Telepresence connects students 1,530 miles away.
Pegasus Magazine, University of Central Florida, Fall 2013
(The following story, which was originally published in the Fall 2013 edition of the University of Central Florida's Pegasus Magazine, has been reprinted with the permission of the University of Central Florida.)
In Mankato, Minn., the winters are unusually harsh. To help keep her students from having to traverse treacherous roads, Diane Coursol of Minnesota State University, Mankato, stays connected via TelePresence high-definition videoconferencing technology.
“I have some students who commute from Fargo, N.D., which is a seven-hour drive,” says Coursol, a professor in the university’s Counseling and Student Personnel Department.
She describes TelePresence as watching the very best high-definition television. “Some of my students say, ‘I’ll have to wear makeup because every blotch is going to show.’ ”
In March 2013, Coursol visited UCF’s Community Counseling and Research Center and proposed a partnership between UCF and MSU to use this tool to train counselor education graduate students. As early as next spring, she hopes that students at UCF and Minnesota State Mankato will begin practicing their counseling techniques with each other (as part of UCF’s Techniques of Counseling course and Minnesota State Mankato’s Counseling Procedures and Skills II course) before they begin counseling real clients.
Originally from Florida, Coursol has worked with UCF Professor Edward “Mike” Robinson through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. “I’ve had a long-term connection with Mike,” she says. “When I thought of universities that I would want to partner with, I thought of Mike and knew of the quality of UCF.”
She began working with TelePresence about three years ago when Minnesota State Mankato introduced the technology as a way to enhance distance education between its main campus and its satellite campus in Edina, Minn., more than 70 miles away.
She believes that UCF and Minnesota State Mankato students will benefit by using the system to practice their skills with unfamiliar students and gain exposure to different regional and cultural issues. Speaking about the relationship between the two programs, Coursol says, “What I think we are bringing in is a broader exposure to diversity for all of our students.”
Minnesota State Mankato’s TelePresence system utilizes a large monitor with a built-in HD camera; each unit costs close to $9,000. The technology helps students identify nonverbal cues more clearly than traditional Web-based videoconferencing technology. It also features a recording setting that allows users to replay both sides of conversations side by side for analysis, allowing counseling students to review their techniques and their partners’ responses.
Though Coursol’s experience with the technology is relatively recent, she has been studying distance counseling and supervision since the late 1990s, having examined both the counselor and client sides of the online counseling process.
“I think [counseling’s] future is online,” she says. “Those digital natives are seeking counseling services, and currently, our field hasn’t prepared counselors on how to break through the digital barrier to meet those needs.”
However, she adds, “I don’t think you can ever take away the human element.” Instead, Coursol envisions counselors using a hybrid model where initial meetings are face to face, followed by periodic online appointments using videoconferencing technologies.
“I have lofty ideas about putting these systems in YMCAs and local community centers, so that people can access therapeutic services regardless of where they live,” she says. “Here, when people can’t travel due to snow and ice, TelePresence could allow them to see a counselor and get the services that they need.”