"Videoconferencing is Old Technology"

At our state ed tech conference last week (MACUL), someone said to me, “videoconferencing is old technology.”

Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion! What do YOU think? Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Videoconferencing is old like computers are old. The technology has been around a long time; but it keeps growing and getting better. Does that make it old?

Next, let’s think about what makes it old? and what makes it new? What do you think?

What Makes VC “Old”?

  • Old equipment. If your equipment is 10 years old, it might seem old. However, our 22 Polycom Viewstations from 1999 are still running strong (except for a couple that randomly turn off now and then!). But, just because your equipment is old doesn’t mean the technology itself is old. If you have an old computer, what do you do? Buy a new one! So there you go!
  • Old uses of the equipment: shared classes. Teaching classes over videoconferencing is over 20 years old. Does that mean we should quit? In some areas, especially rural areas; it continues to be a viable strong application of the technology. Upgrading to HD quality end-to-end vastly improves the quality of the picture and improves the shared classes. VC classes may seem old compared to online, web-based classes; however, a recent study suggests that a mixture of face to face and online is more effective than either alone (Zhao, Y., J. Lei, B. Yan, C. Lai, and H. S. Tan. 2005. What makes the difference? A practical analysis of research on the effectiveness of distance education. Teachers College Record 107 (8):183684.). Some courses, like languages, really need the real time interaction to be effective.
  • Old uses of the equipment: broadcast only. Sometimes VC is used like a satellite broadcast, which also feels “old”. Videoconferencing is designed for interactivity and face to face conversation. Connecting hundreds of sites to “view only” seems “old”; only because it would be much more efficient and user friendly to share that content via a webinar or webcast instead. I like how many of Michigan’s statewide broadcasts are recorded on MIstreamnet.com; where educators can watch essential state content at their leisure at their own computer.
  • Big equipment. If the equipment is big and complicated, it can seem old. I think of fancy $100,000 room installations from by-gone days. Smaller, simpler, more accessible is the name of the game. Videoconferencing technology just keeps getting smaller and smaller. Have you seen, for example, the LifeSize Passport? I haven’t seen one in person, but hope to soon!

What Makes VC “New”?

  • HD. For one, the move to High Definition videoconferencing is pretty cool. For that matter, so is telepresence, even though I don’t see us ever using that in K12 education. It’s still cool to know about. Certainly not OLD!
  • Desktop VC in all its forms is bringing videoconferencing to the massses: Skype, Polycom CMA, Tandberg MOVI, LifeSize Desktop, DimDim, TokBox, etc. etc. etc. etc. Read more about my recent learning here. There is definitely a two fold push in videoconferencing – down to the deskop; and up to high definition. These are definitely new and exciting trends!
  • New Uses of VC: Collaborations. The third wave of videoconferencing [PDF] in education is rapidly expanding, and if you think VC is “old”; you’re probably missing out on this latest application! The third wave is the classroom-to-classroom, student-to-student collaborative project based use of videoconferencing. The increase in participation in Read Around the Planet is evidence of this; the jump in CAPspace users from 2800 to 6000 in the past 12 months is another evidence. Even as funds dwindle in my area; our use of videoconferencing in the curriculum stays strong: authors, content providers, and collaborations remain the staple of our VC program.

What else would you add? What did I forget? What do YOU think? Is videoconferencing “old technology?” How would YOU respond? Please comment!

0 replies on “"Videoconferencing is Old Technology"”

  1. I agree that “Videoconferencing is Old Technology” and I think that is a good thing. Old technology in this case equates to tested, reliable and dependable.

    I also think that “Videoconferencing is New Collaborations and New Content.” How exciting that the tool is moving away from the technology and into curriculum and the classroom.

    How much fun is it to watch students get engaged by reading to others across the country and around the world? Who isn’t thrilled to be able to bring authors and scientists directly into the classroom?

    It’s great that an “old” technology is bringing fresh connections and enthusiasm to the classroom.


  2. The “old” technology debuted in 1964 at the World’s Fair. Here is a history of videoconferencing from its origins to the present http://www.nefsis.com/Best-Video-Conferencing-Software/video-conferencing-history.html

    Compare that to computers http://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/?category=cmptr

    Maybe some of the perception has to do with it evolving in the age of the Internet and everyone sees the growing pains. Janine, you are correct that many of the original uses have not evolved in the last 10 years while the Internet has exploded and we now have so many different tools that are evolving rapidly.


  3. “New” is often best described as “New to the person making the comment”. “Old” is what they have been successfully using at the office for 25 years. “New” is their children’s home use of a sub $100 web cam to Skype with their friends. It is all a matter of perspective. Unfortunately I have watched Skype migrate into the boardroom because it was easier to schedule than the more expensive SD or HD video conference systems that we own. The fact that the $100 web cam on their laptop does not scale up to a large board room or classroom very well is lost on the users because they were not looking at the picture arriving at the remote site. Let’s not even get into the audio problems of a laptop based system in a large venue. Fortunately, for the last 7 years I have had the option of offering either web conferencing, audio or video conferencing as well as parallel use of all of the above. WebEx works very well alongside the HD video conference system. The trick is to get people to ask for technical help before the people at the far site start complaining.

    • @conferencetech I love the quote “The trick is to get people to ask for technical help before the people at the far site start complaining.”

      Those of us that work mainly in visual communications sometimes take for granted the troubleshooting and adjusting that we naturally do.


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