Video conferencing (VC) is not just a communications tool. It has the potential to do so much more. When it's done well it can facilitate some incredible learning experiences for young people. Whether it be a leading environmentalist reporting from the Australian outback, an industry expert speaking from a FTSE100 company boardroom, or a violinist playing at the New York School of Music, high-quality VC technology can bring these experiences live and direct to any classroom in the world.
But what makes the difference? What makes for a successful learning experience using VC technology?
1. High-quality and reliable
For any effective VC experience, high-quality and reliable hardware is absolutely critical. Why? Because when you've 30 students in front of you, eager to meet a scientist speaking from the National Space Centre, you don't want audio or video to let you down! You need a HD quality camera, microphone and codec that processes the connection and is reliable every time you use it.
2. Meets international industry standards
All VC hardware systems need to talk to one another. Proprietary systems, such as Skype, Adobe Connect and Google Hangout don't do this. As a result, these products are not true VC tools for the classroom. They are best used for 1-2-1 communication over short-periods only. And most importantly, they do not meet the H.323 video conferencing standard.
3. Secure and safe connection
E-safety in the classroom is paramount and there are potential dangers in using prioprietry webcam VC systems. In contrast, using the right hardware gives you peace of mind that the connection you are using is safe, reliable and secure. It uses direct secure IP, E164 or SIP connections. In the UK there is the JISC (VScene) booking service, which allow schools to connect to content providers and to each other using their VC hardware systems.
4. Interoperable and multi-functional
VC technology should give teachers total control and flexibility. This includes the ability to bring multiple sites into the conference call and an easy record function. It means being able to control the far end camera, zooming and panning across the classroom, as well as share videos, presentations and other content during the lesson.
5. Affordable for all
Using high-quality VC hardware gives teachers a huge advantage over proprietorial systems currently available on the market. And it is affordable too. For as little as £2,000 schools can have technology that can be used to enrich every subject in the curriculum. Students are able to learn anything, from anywhere, from anyone!
Using VCfL systems, schools in the London Borough of Redbridge have been taking advantage of high-quality VC technology since 2012. VCfL's hardware systems are also supporting primary schools in Uruguay, where 1,500 students receive English lessons every week, live and direct from teachers based in East London. And from next year VCfGL will be running a similar project in Brazil.