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.
Great post Janine. I completely agree with your points regarding what it would take to make videoconferencing a ubiquitous classroom technology. Two points I’d like to make in response:
1) You’re dead-on about the stun server. Cathy King, Coordinator for the Alberta VC Regional Leads Network, is in Nicaragua right now leading the VC for Hope event (http://www.vcrln.ca/joomla/, http://vcofhope.wikispaces.com/) raising money and awareness to build a school for children. Yesterday afternoon she was testing the VC connection (thanks to Polycom for lending her the portable VC unit) and ran into all kinds of network issues. She was able to connect with X Meeting (through wireless no less) and they worked together with our VC tech guru “Terry D” to work through these issues. In the end, people just want what works, and works easily.
2) I’ll add to the prerequisite list – teachers who place a high priority on student collaboration, research-based learning practices, and the use of any technology to achieve these goals. A teacher viewing learning possibilities through the proper lenses will find a way to make VC happen, and those who don’t will not use the technology to its potential anyways.
And you’re right – the person who allows all our real-time video/audio technologies (H.323, SIP, iChat) play nicely together will be my hero!
Janine– Your “dream” aligns with my often repeated statement that videoconferencing will become mainstream when the user does not have to travel more than six feet to use it. I learned this lesson years ago when computers were first entering the classroom (think late 70’s / early 80’s). Back then I frequented the only “education” conferences, which were really conferences for the business sector. In one session the presenter talked about computers in the workplace. He said (in effect), “If you want your people to use computers, then they must be placed close enough to the work areas so that the user doesn’t have to walk to use them.” So when I went back to the school, my plans changed from putting computers in labs to computers in the classrooms. Yep. It worked. Videoconferencing MUST get to that same “within reach” scenario. Bandwidth is crucial. Low cost and simple to use bridging must be available. Human interaction is an essential construct of learning and videoconferencing is an incredible tool for human interaction beyond the traditional boundaries and geographies of learning. We MUST press for ubiquitous and far spread deployment to realize its full potential, I agree.
How about VC over cellphone? Some phones can already do webcam work but just like a software package (ex. PVX) is needed to help computer webcams connect for VC, how about a software package for a cell phone. Many countries around the world already have cell phone infrastructure, but what would it take to help webcams talk to cell phones? VC for everyone!
I think that getting some kind of video conferencing into classrooms are a great idea ! This allows for better interact between students and teacher and maybe even students of different classes if you don’t have a huge space that accommodates them.
Although PC cameras are still not as good as dedicated video conferencing systems, they have improved by a huge leap throughout the years.
Though you might want to invest on a better mic, because if the sound transmission is no good, the transmission will be very squeaking and blur sounding and that is a sure turn off for people in my experience.
One thing that you left out here is the need for network infrastructure and network links that support interactive video.
While many schools have the LAN, WAN, and/or Internet networks in place to support interactive video conferencing, many do not. Not all networks that support streaming video will support interactive video. (Streaming video can handle network inconsistencies because it uses buffering. Interactive video cannot buffer in the same way.)
IVC/VTC in every classroom is going to need equipment, professional development, content AND a robust network.
Until the funding agencies responsible for community infrastructure, realize the urgency of providing sufficient bandwidth to the most rural and remote areas, (at least in Canada) and then does something about it. .Video conferencing along with other high bandwidth applications in schools will remain to be seen as a solution only for urban centers.
Oh my gosh, my skin is tingling. This vision is EXACTLY what we do today. Our service empowers every good computer (MAC or PC) to run high quality video conferencing. The only hardware you need to purchase is a USB echo cancelling speakerphone (that connects to the existing in room sound system) and a webcam. The speakerphones are $150 list and the good webcams are $100 list. Every teacher could have their own virtual meeting room and the school district shares a pool of video conference ports that every teacher has access to. Now each teacher can create a video conference whenever he or she wants. Now if this took off, yes, school districts would have to look at bandwidth capacity.
The kit you refer to would simply be the webcam and USB echo canceling speakerphone along with simple instructions on how to use the system and application ideas.
Any content on any pc in the call is available to be shared as is any web page on the internet.
We run on the PC/MAC so of course Skype and iChat can be used but our service somewhat obsoletes them. All the teacher needs to do is send a link to anyone. No need to be a member or in a directory like Skype or iChat.
I think the only thing not available yet on your wish list is a slightly higher end cameras than webcams. My guess/hope is that as USB 3.0 comes out new products will arrive in the market from companies like Logitech. A camera that is somewhat a hybrid between a webcam and a camcorder.
I would even be willing to create a consortium of sorts where school districts share a virtual pool of ports.
Scott – the reason to keep the choice of using Skype and iChat are the schools that are using those tools that a teacher may want to connect to. Ideally a teacher could use whichever tool was needed – h323, Skype, or iChat. There’s a big community of content and collaboration in all three areas….