Lync provides new chat options
By James Peng, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 10, 2012
As part of the College’s email migration to Microsoft Outlook, Computing Services has introduced a new application called Lync, which allows Dartmouth students and faculty to instant message, voice chat and video conference, according to Director of Academic and Campus Technology Services William Garrity.
Lync, which came with the new email client package, integrates the Dartmouth Name Directory into an application that functions like Skype, Garrity said.
“It looks a lot like the video desktop chat applications that you’re used to,” he said. “You can think of it as a chat, desktop sharing and video messenger system that’s oriented around the Dartmouth community,”
The service has been available for all email accounts that have transitioned to the new Microsoft Outlook client, but Computing Services delayed advertising the service until June 26, when an email introducing Lync was sent to campus.
“We wanted to make sure the support staff and the IT group were ready to support its use because it was a brand new tool,” BlitzMail transition project manager Susan Zaslaw said.
Lync was initially only supported on the Windows operating system, and the Computing Services staff decided to wait until the Macintosh client, released a few months ago, was available before they started to promote the service, Garrity said.
The application, which is aimed for both casual and classroom-related communication, includes features such as desktop sharing — in which you can share a real-time view of your computer desktop with others — and an online meeting and scheduling tool.
“We envision that people will use it as a ‘study buddy’ kind of service,” Garrity said. “People can chat back and forth when they might be working on an assignment.”
Zaslaw said that the service helps integrate people who are not in the same physical location, but the quality of the communication varies if users try more complicated tasks.
“People are most comfortable using Lync for instant messaging and voice chat,” she said. “If you are trying to connect a number of people into a video session and one of the members has a poor internet connection, they’re not going to have a good experience.” Most students will use the service primarily for one-on-one communication because of its ease and convenience, according to Zaslaw.
“As you try to do more complicated things, it’s not as easy to use,” Zaslaw said. “People are less willing to try those types of conversations because they’re high risk for not working as well as they wanted.”
Biology professor Lee Witters said he used Lync to hold study sessions in his endocrinology course this spring. While he presented diagrams using the desktop sharing tool and typed comments in the instant messenger chat box, students participating would have the opportunity to type responses and ask questions.
“It was one way of extending office hours and by doing it on Sunday night, it was convenient for a lot of people,” he said.
Witters said, however, that there was often a delay “between what was typed and the replies you would get back,” which was detrimental to its efficiency. Witters also said that the program sometimes crashed and only worked if participants were connected to the Dartmouth Secure network.
“I think it would be a wonderful tool if we can work out the kinks in the system, but if I had to do exactly what we did in the spring, I wouldn’t do it again,” he said.
Lync’s audio component, now available in the client package, was inaccessible to students during Witters’ course.
“With audio, it would have been a stunning addition to our ability to reach out to students,” he said.
Most students said they had not heard about the application but think it could be useful in communicating with other students and professors.
“If a lot of people know about it and a professor put it on the syllabus, it could be useful for video conferencing if students can’t show up to office hours,” Shari Liu ’14 said.
Others said, however, that Lync only replicates the services offered by other platforms like Skype and Facebook.
“It’s not useful because we have faster ways to communicate with each other already,” Aiyanna Gutema ’14 said.
The release and promotion of the Lync application is one of the final changes to the new email client, Zaslaw said. The email and calendar service migrations will be completed by the end of August, and the previous Blitz server will be decommissioned in October, according to Zaslaw.