Conflicting Thoughts About Desktop VC in the Classroom

I have to say that I’m still conflicted about this desktop VC thing – trying to get desktop videoconferencing to work on an interactive whiteboard installation.

HD Large Monitor
After the installation of the LifeSize cart last week, I keep thinking about the quality of HD videoconferencing on a 40-50 inch monitor. It looks so good! It caused such a stir of excitement among teachers and students! The quality is just great!

VS. Teachers Using VC on their Own
But then there’s the fact that Skype use in schools is growing fast. I can’t ignore that! Just last week I heard from a local teacher planning to connect to a niece in China via Skype – to share with her classroom.

I hear how easy it is for teachers to use Skype on their own. For example, this comment from the Read Around the Planet evaluation:

At the elementary level (where I work) skype is SO much easier to use than Polycom. The quality is not as good, but teachers can do it on their own. With Polycom we have to bring equipment and set it up. It involves IP addresses and other things that most teachers do not understand.

vs. Teachers Still Needing Help with Desktop VC

Yet, the teacher wanting to connect to China needed assistance with getting Skype to use the right camera. In addition, there are all the wire problems with length of the USB cable, the placement of the camera and microphone for ideal classroom use. All these things complicate the connection. Compare the comment above to this one (also from the RAP evaluation data:

I love my Polycom and am so glad that our principal approved buying one of our own so we didn’t have to share with a regional group. I am so proud that any technical difficulties have been primarily on the other end and our equipment has proven to be steady and reliable.


YET, what makes me keep coming back to it is my schools don’t have any money for carts! Cart installation of VC still tends to be grant driven. There must be a way to help new interested users in videoconferencing get started. Desktop VC is a way to get access when you can’t afford the full $5000-$9000 cart! It’s a great way to get started with videoconferencing and still be able to connect to all the content providers and other schools with H323 videoconferencing systems (desktop or room).

What do you think? Am I crazy to keep thinking about this?

0 replies on “Conflicting Thoughts About Desktop VC in the Classroom”

  1. Janine, I definitely don’t think you are crazy to keep thinking about it! I struggle with this issue even in professional development. Administrators bring in speakers to present on skype and using a webcam just doesn’t do a training justice. More and more I get requests for skype videoconferences and I am glad to get people hooked into videoconferencing, but I struggle with the fact that a room system can do so much more. Your topic is certainly relevant to me. I look forward to the discussion.

    • Thanks for the comment, Donna!! I sure appreciate the VC community that lets me “think out loud” and gives great feedback and contributes to the learning! Thanks for sharing about your situation too! It’s a continuum and we want to move people up the continuum if we can! 🙂

  2. I think it is important for the video conference community to think about this because we have the expertise in the full range of video conferencing technologies. If Skype is all you have ever used, that is all you know. I was amazed when I began learning about H.323 six years ago about all the fantastic programs and adventures that were available to our students.

    In Kelsey’s elementary school, they did not put IWBs in all classrooms, rather, each one has a 50+ inch LCD. They are all hooked into some type of video distribution system so that they can push a movie to all classrooms at one time. Teachers can also show their computer or DVD player on them. They are mounted in various ways depending on the teacher preference. At first, I though “Ooh, that would be awesome to video conference on one of those. LifeSize Passport”. But then, because some are mounted literally flush with the CEILING, that would not work because the students have to look up. Even if this class used Skype and the camera were at eye level, for the students to see their partner class, they would have to look up and it would appear they were watching planes fly overhead. 🙂

    Now, that is a long way of saying that, we, as the video conference community, need to share best practice and teach others the continuum of equipment and possibilities for using this amazing technology. We have so much expertise and can teach others who are new how to select and implement the equipment effectively.

    One thing that seems to make sense to me is let every teacher who wants to use Skype, use it. But also, teach them about what is available with H.323. I think an endpoint per building would be sufficient for connecting with content providers and other student-generated content that takes advantage of the advanced capabilities of the H.323 systems. The technologies can complement each other. An informal chat=Skype. A workshop presentation=H.323 with content sharing and better quality audio/video.

    Keep on thinking out loud.

  3. Great discussion. As a AV Integrator, I want to sell solutions that can be used vs expensive hardware that is going to collect dust because it doesn’t fit the need of the end user (or it’s not user friendly).

    I’m in the middle of RUS Grant season, so I’m trying to use what equipment is available to to make systems that work.

    I’ve been working on trade offs between cost and performance. The desktop equipment has great price/performance, but only works well on the desk top- to use it in a classroom situation forces a compromise and a frustration.

    You can’t beat the price of Skype. It’s an excellent one on one (person) or one to two (people) solution.

    Carts can run some big bucks. Spectrum carts are at the high end, but they are tough enough to last past your retirement date. AVTEQ is another great solution. They make getting the hardware from room to room easy- big rollers, some extra storage space etc.

    Using the desktop VC with a whiteboard is another challenge. You really need to have a codec that supplies the computer input to make it work. Using it as a teaching tool, you can benefit from a Sympodium style solution vs the front projecting whiteboard- it lends itself to lecture style teaching.

    It goes without saying that without a teaching plan and a vision, no amount of hardware can get the point across to students, which is the point after all.

    Cost is always an issue. There a more tools to help now than ever- there’s always a way if you need something, but not through the traditional methods.

    • A need I have is a way to make the eqipment portable. Often a district has one camera and it needs to go between schools. A cart doesn’t work because you can’t fit it in the car, but some sort of carrying case would be excellent. Especially with the HD units – they aren’t really designed to be portable.

      • Have they tried carrying it around in a box? I took a Polycom HDX to a conference – and from the main big box it came in, I got it down to just the box for the codec itself, and another box for the camera. I tucked the cables and remote to those two boxes. And then just used that to carry it around.

        We also had, 3 years ago, several portable Polycom VSX 7000s that we put in Pelican Cases. They are really cool – come full of foam and you can punch out the foam to make it how you want it to be.

        Those are the two choices I would recommend….

  4. Janine, this is precisely why I created my custom solution and I was envisioning classes making full use of VC. Imagine a solution where all the teacher had to do was connect to a website and hit broadcast. If they wanted to share powerpoint slides then it was a simple upload period. But how could I put it in in a single product that could be used anywhere and without hardware limits. Without OS limits. It’ll work on a mac and pc and who knows what ever comes out in the future. If you have the time and interested, i’d like you to try what I’ve created and give me your thoughts!


    Edward Melville

  5. I’d suggest starting teachers on Skype (free), then perhaps incorporating a plugin such as VuRoom (15-day free trial, $10/month). Districts are really struggling financially right now and expecting them to purchase a VC cart is perhaps asking too much. Start small and see if the teachers will really use the technology. Provide training and tech support. Too often, I see schools that buy VC carts but don’t also provide any training and/or tech support and then schools wonder why the purchases remain un/underused. Start with a demonstrated/felt need on the part of one or more teachers instead of just buying carts and then expecting teachers to use. Talk about an example of the “cart before the horse, er, teacher.”

    • I appreciate this advice, John. However, in our case, most of our schools and teachers are aware of what they can do with it and how to use it in the curriculum. It’s a matter of how we can get more access…

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