Unbelievably, I’ve been thinking about how we could get videoconferencing into every classroom. We’re still in the days of trying to get it into every school in our county (about 3/4 there). But in my districts where every school has it, now they want it in every classroom.
Why VC in Every Classroom?
First, here are the catalysts from the last few weeks that have set my brain spinning:
- One of our local superintendents wanted to know if it was possible to buy cheaper cameras and have videoconferencing in all the classrooms, preferably connected to the projectors installed with the Promethean boards in all the classrooms. It’s not easily done nor seems to make sense cabling-wise with the current options out there.
- I know of at least two of my local districts who are setting up “model classrooms,” and are including videoconferencing as part of the technologies featured.
- My teachers are starting to say they want it in their classroom. Not just a mobile cart rolled into the classroom, but they want it there all the time. Here’s a sample comment from the current session of my online class, Planning Interactive Curriculum Connections. Of course this description assumes the need for fiber so any teacher could VC any time they want as well.
My hopes and ideas for using videoconferencing is to enhance my curriculum. I would love to have the equipment in my classroom, so I don’t have to mess with scheduling and compromising with others in my building. Since our students are growing up in a global community I would like for them to see more of the rest of the world and meet people from other cultures.
- At the USDLA Conference last week, I heard several K12 educators describe dreams for VC: many more content providers (about 250-300 ish now if you count the local ones not ready to offer content nationally), and VC in every school.
- I downloaded the latest version of XMeeting on my Mac and got up & running in two minutes with no NAT messiness due to a new cool little thing called a stun server. I’ll write more about that later.
Is It Possible to Have VC in Every Classroom?
I believe that VC cannot become mainstream until the cost is below $1000, even below $700 or $800. A school needs to be able to buy VC equipment without a grant. I don’t know very many places that have acquired their equipment without grant funding, and big grant funding at that. They should be able to get it with the district tech budget, or with little local grants like the MACUL grant (up to $2000 per grant).
A Paradigm Shift is Required
I also think that VC cannot become mainstream in schools until the vendors are selling it not just for teaching or for meetings or for traditional uses of VC. Schools need to see the value of curriculum videoconferencing – experts, authors, content providers, collaborations, projects, backyard content, the whole works! We need great VC experiences published in the popular edtech magazines. Schools need to know they can do a ton of videoconferences for minimal cost – i.e. lots of free ones in addition to the paid quality content from our favorite providers.
A Dream Curriculum Videoconferencing VC Kit
I’m hearing the term “VC kit” from my friends in Wales, England, and Scotland more often these days. I really like it. I think we need a “kit,” not a box that has to be rack mounted in a specially designed cart. If I were an engineer, here’s how I’d try to design it.
- Runs on the computer already in the classroom (a high end one of course). Can be Mac or PC. Could it be built on XMeeting for the Mac? That would solve the Mac challenge easily.
- Has classroom quality audio. I prefer the Polycom mic, not just because Polycom funds many of my ideas, but because it is so well suited to placement anywhere in the classroom: desk, stool, floor, chair, etc. We need something that is just above desktop videoconferencing. We need the echo cancellation for the classroom audio.
- Can show slides etc. from the computer it’s installed on. Curriculum videoconferencing is primarily receiving content, but also collaborations and projects. Students need to be able to present clues and information about their town, among other things. This would eliminate the need for any inputs, hooking up VCR, document camera, etc. etc. Presentations could be shared from the computer. Also, preferably, not just H.239! Yikes, that’s driving me crazy. Hopefully the engineers could think of a way to make that work no matter what you connected to on the other end.
- A simple camera with presets. A camera a little higher end than a webcam. We need presets for ASK programs, for collaborations, for presentations in projects. But not so high end that the cost is too much.
- Hooks up to the projector already in the classroom. A kit that integrated well with the major interactive boards would be awesome. Certainly there must a way to do this. I think installing with the computer that’s hooked up to the board seems best to me.
- Can do Skype and iChat too. Ok, now I’m really dreaming. But think about it. We really need a way to do VC – either Skype or iChat with our international buddies, or H.323 with content providers, colleagues, universities, other H323 sites etc. If it could work with Skype, why not iChat? If it was basically just a camera and a great mic with software for H.323, couldn’t the camera and mic be used for those too? Why not?! Since I’m dreaming! Schools need an all-in-one solution for all the curriculum videoconferencing opportunities out there.
- EASY firewall solutions. I am so intrigued by the stun server that comes with XMeeting. Couldn’t it be this easy to make H323 work on school network? It has to be if we’re going to increase the use of curriculum videoconferencing.
What do YOU think? Is it a worthy goal? Do we need it? How would you design a less than $1000 unit for all classrooms? Please comment.