Tag Archives: H323

Experimenting with Desktop VC

Last Wednesday afternoon, just before the early close for Thanksgiving, I VCed with Craig in Alaska, and Janet & Rachel in New Zealand to experiment with desktop VC.

Rachel beat me to it, with a great write up of our little experiment. I totally agree with her, that the big issue is accessibility with VC. How can we make this accessible to more students & classes?! Take a moment to read Rachel’s review!

Still Thinking about VC in the Classroom, Skype etc.

The saga/conversation/thinking continues…..

Mirial: Desktop H323 VC from Italy

This morning I downloaded Mirial, a 30 day trial version, (recommended on a comment yesterday) and got excited about the possibilities of getting VC in our “21st century classrooms” around the county. We have several teachers with “tricked out classrooms” who also love VC but want it in their classroom. I haven’t tested too much yet, but so far:

  • The download and install was easy.
  • I didn’t have to make any network or firewall changes and it worked. But I can only dial out (so far).
  • It’s 165 euros which seems to be about $250 US. Now how to buy it?
  • It registered to my GK, and can do H.239.
  • It connected fine to my Polycom endpoints and my Tandberg bridge.
  • It doesn’t work with a firewire camcorder on the Mac yet (bummer).

I’m seriously thinking of getting a classroom to try this out for a year….

Teacher: H323 is better than Skype

Then this afternoon, in a collaborations workshop for Tech Camp, I had a teacher who has Skype and has connected to Mexico. But she says “this is way better” pointing to our VSX7000 set up. She doesn’t have access in her building, but plans to bus the kids here to participate in VCs!!!

So there’s another perspective to compare to yesterday’s.

Bottom line as a VC coordinator for my schools, I need to be able to have a variety of solutions to meet their needs!

Future of VC in Schools

Today I’m pulling another comment out to make it a full post. This one is by Craig Mollerstuen from GCI, Alaska. Craig has been involved in VC for as long as I can remember, champions educational use in Alaska, and has served the NECC sessions with VC support for several years. He commented on my question, “what do you see as the future of VC in schools?” Here’s the full comment:

There are lots of different ways to look at this, from community, technology, equipment, pedagogy and other perspectives.

1) Community: Individuals vs. Groups

Skype isn’t optimized for groups where H.323 systems have been. One can connect a good camera (firewire camcorder) and echo canceling speaker/microphones (Phoenix Duet, etc.). But that have very low usability compared to an integrated appliance with high quality, pan/tilt/zoom cameras and good quality microphones with echo canceling built in.  Group ease of use goes to the incumbents.

Individual ease of use goes to Skype (and other desktop solutions.) This is because of the H.323 protocol. It is easy to make a high quality H.323 application (for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.) but the protocol sucks. It dies across firewalls.

Individuals are also looking for low bandwidth and high quality solutions as they are often “on the move.” Such solutions typically use adaptive encoding which H.323 doesn’t (easily) support.

For groups we accept high bandwidth requirements because we want significantly higher resolution (larger rooms) and we can typically afford to put more bandwidth into a limited number of fixed locations.

2) Protocols – Standard vs. Proprietary

In general, schools would do well to use VC equipment that supports open standards. Standards eventually lead to wider adoption, greater choice and lower cost. However it takes FOREVER for standards to develop and often we can’t (or don’t want to) wait.

Because of it’s reliance on proprietary protocols, there has been many fewer devices that support Skype. And it is hard to find a Skype MCU.

3) Point-to-point vs. Multi-point

We need to be able to do both point-to-point and multi-site conferences. Solutions that are only point-to-point don’t provide sufficient flexibility for education.

Multi-point conferencing needs to be easy to use. Today’s audio conferencing is a good model, dial a number, enter a code and you’re in the conference.

4) Pedagogy – Video conferencing vs. Web conferencing.

This isn’t really pedagogy, but I’m using the term to describe the gulf between “on-line” conferencing and “video” conferencing today.  We need video conferencing to support some of the really great tools that are available in “on-line”/web conferencing environments (chat, polls, forums, breakout rooms, etc.)

And “on-line” environments need to support better and higher quality audio and video, more video and audio streams and group environments.

So… What is the future of live Conferencing in education?

Long term, I can foresee technology that supports the gamut of teachers and teaching styles, learners and learning styles and content types.

Eventually we will have a conferencing protocol that will replace H.323, SIP, Skype and the rest. It will support multiple audio, text, video and content streams from each endpoint.

We’ll see conference servers that support the new protocol (and that can transcode the old protocols) and support a variety of endpoints (analog, wireless, audio, digital, video, room, desktop, appliance, etc.)

Care will have been given to the user interface, ease of use and to pedagogy. We’ll be able to have multiple PTZ cameras in the classroom, audio mics for teachers and students, content from multiple sources (computers, lab equipment, off-net, etc.) so that we don’t have to limit what we are sharing from the “classroom”.  (Develop an open API so that people can develop content widgets.)

Responsible learners will be given the flexibility to choose the streams that they want to view and hear. Learners who need more direction can be given fewer choices and more structure.

And we’ll get all this in a low cost, easy to use, high bandwidth environment with good professional development.

In the near term, we need:

  1. open standards and protocols
  2. conferencing that adapts to low and high bandwidth environments
  3. transport that traverses the net as easily as HTTP
  4. professional quality equipment for content providers, appliances for theatres, classrooms and desktops and software that runs on our computers (fixed and mobile) as endpoints.
  5. We need academics to study and solve the technology problems
  6. We need practitioners to study and solve the practice problems
  7. We need industry to build high quality and low cost solutions

Products like Elluminate, Mirial and Vidyo are good “next steps”. There is still lots and lots of room for improvement and advancement.

Cheers, -Craig-

A Little VC Technical Knowledge

After the discussions that arose from my posts last week about mentoring, I thought it might be helpful to share some of the ways that I work with the tech coordinators in our districts.

A Little History
First, a little history. I’m at heart and by training a teacher, and the technology scared me at first. When we started with VC in 1999, my supervisor did all the technical stuff. I didn’t want to touch it. But over time I learned more about it, and sometimes say that I’ve learned more about networks than I ever wanted to know! Experience was my teacher. So I encourage you to try to learn what you can about how VC works on your network!

Background Knowledge

Word Wall from Jazz Workshop
Word Wall in the Jazz Workshop

I really started to learn more when we made the switch to IP videoconferencing in 2005. An early workshop that I attended in 2006 was “Understanding and Troubleshooting Videoconferencing Networks.” I thought for sure I wouldn’t get anything out of it and that it would be over my head. But surprisingly, I’d experienced enough situations in our IP calls that I learned something and actually understood it! Some basic concepts (written in my lay language!) include:

  • IP numbers that start with 10. are internal addresses and people outside can’t call them.
  • Most videoconferences are at 384K. Compare that to the amount of available bandwidth on a typical day to know if you’ll be able to sustain a “good enough” videoconference.
  • Packets are little pieces of info sent over the network. In email the packets eventually get there, get together, and give you an email. But in VC, if the packets don’t show up in time, they get thrown away. Hence, packet loss. Usually 2% packet loss or higher becomes intolerable.
  • A NAT is network address translation, and both the codec/endpoint and the firewall/router need matching settings for NAT to work. This is because the endpoint/codec needs that info to set up the packets properly.
  • An IP videoconference call is set up on port 1720. After that the two codecs negotiate which ports to use for the audio and video streaming. This is what’s going on when it rings & rings.
  • If you’re using a gatekeeper, ports 1718 and 1719 are used to find and register with the gatekeeper. More on ports here.
  • Two great resources to learn more about H323 and your network are: H323 and Firewalls from MOREnet in MO; and UKERNA/Janet Security Guide for H323 from the UK.

Working with District Tech Coordinators

  • It’s important that they understand the impact of VC on their network. See the notes above. Even if you don’t understand how it all works, it helps to know a bit of “techie language”, enough to explain what VC does. I’ve found VTC Talk a useful site to learn to talk to the technicians. It’s desirable to be able to point them  in the right direction of what to do to make it work, and where to find answers.
  • It’s also important that those of us in VC realize that network technicians have legitimate concerns about the health of their network. Listen. Realize also that they are busy and usually overworked. Hear their side. Send them to third party resources (such as those above) to explain the issues in their language.
  • We try to do summer installations and upgrades if at all possible. During the school year, there are so many problems to fix, it’s hard to find time to learn new things or change network policies to make VC work. It can take 3-6 months to get VC working on your network during the school year. Better to do it in the summer.
  • Know your audience. Some tech coordinators in our districts came from the education side, and others came from business/technology. Some of them are interested and want to know a lot about how to use VC in the curriculum. Others know that the teachers want and use it, and all they want to know is what needs to be done on the network. Tailor your message accordingly!

Your Turn
What do you think? Do you use any of these strategies? Do you have any other tips? Please comment!