VC in Every Classroom Part 2 – Exhibits at NECC

One of my goals at NECC has been to continue exploring my latest dream to get VC in every classroom in a couple of my districts who want it on their interactive whiteboards. You can read about my initial thoughts from April here.

I started by spending almost an hour chatting with a couple of folks at the Promethean booth. So far (I think), all my districts that have interactive boards in all the classrooms are using Promethean. It seemed to be the place to start. Luckily, the first guy I talked to knew what H.323 videoconferencing was and understood content providers, projects, etc. Yeah!

  • Mounting the Camera: After he realized I wasn’t talking about mounting a full codec on top of the board, we really got talking. He thought of a place where a high end Logitech camera could be mounted on the new arm for the short throw projectors.
  • Installing the desktop VC software: We both agreed it would be easy to install the Polycom PVX on the computer hooked up to the Promethean.
  • Audio: The really interesting discussion was the audio. Promethean has this new mic that can hang around the teacher’s neck – and other audio tools that are built into the Promethean (can’t find it on their website yet; it’s really new). It seems those audio tools could be used to bring audio from the classroom into the PC into the PVX software and out via H.323.

This was a great conversation and I know it will continue. They also suggested poking around the Promethean Planet site to see if any other Promethean users are working on this. I plan to soon.

The next challenge I knew we had to think about is the networking. If we can do the H323 software, camera and audio for under $500, there may be a little extra $$ to solve the networking issues. Obviously we can’t NAT a PVX computer that is used all day in the classroom for other uses as well. It needs to be inside the firewall and secure. So, how do we solve the security issue and have all those units online and connect to each other and outside the network? I talked to the sales engineers at the Polycom booth. It seems the solution is the V2IU firewall traversal unit. The units could dial out and then use our bridge for when others need to dial to them. In one of my district, they have say around 100 ish classrooms. My understanding from our discussion is that we could get the lowest end V2IU for 3M outgoing bandwidth – that’s how it’s sold. $2200 ish list price. The 3M would get us about 9ish 384K calls at the same time, which seems plenty so far.

I also asked the sales engineer about the audio. I’d really like to have Polycom room quality audio hooked up to the PVX if possible. I wonder if this SoundStation plus Computer Calling Kit would work. Need to try it out.

Next I thought I’d see what Tandberg thought about the idea. The sales engineer that I talked to thought that the Movi solution would be best, which requires a server and a VPN connection between the endpoint and the server. It’s actually using SIP, so you’d need a box to convert SIP to H323 to connect to content providers and other schools for collaborative projects etc like we’re used to. He couldn’t get me a range of costs as Movi doesn’t have a set cost – you have to call and get a quote.

This made me realize that the networking is really the big issue. Interestingly, the sales engineer I talked to at Tandberg thought that SIP was starting to take over the H323 market share. That scared me; but I guess change is the only constant when you’re in technology. I don’t see it coming to education any time soon, but have you noticed how your newer codecs have stuff about SIP in the settings?

Open Source
I’ve been wondering too if this would work with opensource – like XMeeting or Ekiga. It’s true I’ve had varied experience with these, but it’s a place to start. I have been able to get both to connect to my Tandberg bridge. I asked Polycom if the V2IU would support whatever H323 device was behind it and the answer was yes. Tandberg sales engineer didn’t think using open source was a good idea. So it’s something to experiment with and see if it would work or not.

Next Steps
The Promethean guy I talked to was really excited about the possibilities and seemed really interested in making it happen. I think it’s likely we’ll try out a couple pilot classrooms next year and get the teachers to play with it to see how it goes and what issues we run into. I have two teachers in two of our middle schools who did a 6 week collaborative project with each other last year. Both will have Promethean boards in their classrooms, so I think we can try out some of these configurations and have them connect to each other and content providers next year and see how it works.

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