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General Chat Thread, Video conferencing, is this still worth it? in General; Is buying a video conferencing set up worth it these days? We are looking to purchase a kit and I ...
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    ChrisH's Avatar
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    Video conferencing, is this still worth it?

    Is buying a video conferencing set up worth it these days? We are looking to purchase a kit and I am wondering if an alternative like a decent camera and Skype is worth it these days. I know for certain services like museums etc you need VC and I am going to determine exactly what it is going to be used for but it is just nagging in the back of my mind about this technology going the way of the Dodo.
    What are peoples opinions on this?

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    open meetings ?

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    Don't most RBCs / LAs provide a video conferencing service that works with a browser and webcam these days? Ours does.

    I'd check with your LA/RBC, test it out and see if you still need to buy anything.

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    36Degrees's Avatar
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    It all depends on what you intend to use it for and what it could be used for if it was in place. Our video conferencing setup was used as a Virtual teaching Observatory with the local Uni, have full class to class contact with other schools around the world, teaching of A-level Spanish for 2 pupils as well as a few meetings. At the moment I am still waiting to see what is happening with its replacement, a saga that has dragged on for over a year!

    There is a lot of potential with VC but also a lot of potential, as with other technologies in school, to be sold something too expensive, difficult to use, inappropriate to actual needs, etc.

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    Luckily at my old place we had a complete Polycom system from back in the mists of time.

    It still worked, we ran two VC sessions one with the National Archives (WWI tommy talking about the trenches) and another at the Met Office.

    We had a massive problem with the first one that it kept lagging out, almost constantly. A year later though and the LEA seemed to have sorted it out.

    Word of advice don't film it! The National Archives were... displeased.

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    we use a system from JVCS , ours is part of the Welsh Video Network and is supplied and supported by them, we have a static unit in a room and we can install software from them to create mini units as needed with a microphone and webcam, we use it to teach french and our kids get tought psychology through it, we have even had one from Cern about the Large Hadron Collider

    works very well for us, needs to be used more really though

    You can tell it to autorecord the Video Confenerce for you to download later, no video camera needed.

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    We have one that hasn't even been used ten times and only had one proper conference.

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    We have a camera which we used for a short while, as part of a 'remote teaching' programme that was set up between us and our local feeder schools.

    That was about 18 months ago, and it hasn't been used since, except to test it still worked.

    We bought cameras for ourselves, and 3 of our federation partners. This, plus 'Bridgit' cost us in excess of £15k.

    It simply isn't worth that IMO.

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    I would suggest starting with Skype, as the cost is very low. I've done a couple of conferences for our languages department which worked well. It did cut out at several points, but it did the job. Given that we were connected to a school in Burkina Faso, I thought the quality was really good. All you need is a cheap web cam and a microphone. You may even have these on an iMac or laptop already. We have an expensive VC unit, but that hasn't been used much, maybe 4/5 times since i've been here.

    Our kids seemed to really enjoy it, and I think they got some good experience of talking to native speakers of other languages. I think its a great way to engage the kids, provided you don't spend too much money on it. Its a break from the dull routine of school for staff as well as well as students.

    As with all new(ish) technology in schools someone needs to be proactive to get it used. The teachers need to know its available, and someone needs to make contact with other people to set up the conferences. Otherwise it is just going to sit there.

    Another issue with expensive VC systems is that schools in poorer areas can't afford the hardware of a dedicated system, so you may struggle to find partners to communicate with.

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    I remember years ago in Lancashire/CLEO we rolled out a very expensive conferenceing system utilising Polycom cameras, conferencing servers etc, and now, TBF, there is now not much point in these. We webcast the conf using a £50 Microsoft HD webcam and Adobes Connect system and got great results. It was quick and easy to setup and for schools (lot's of LEA's have Connect setups you can use) a very inexpensive way of doing things. As Connect also has a huge range of desktop sharing and chat features it's well worth looking at. If anyone wants any details on who to talk to at Adobe about this please feel free to PM me.
    Last edited by Dos_Box; 15th June 2011 at 11:19 PM.

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    Interesting, our LA has just spent not a small amount of £'s proving the latest Polycom HD VC Hardware to a number of schools with 6th Forms (us included!) its certainly very shiny kit and looks great, however I do rather think its very OTT and will be a big white elephant, we are already talking about we could use the large LCD Screen elsewhere and fit this kit to a smaller one to get better value from the tax payers money!

    The quality of the kit is great, that is not in question but making the students go to that specific room, setting it up / finding the remote, entering the IP address / phone number etc its all lots of work and tbh it will drop on us who are already very stretched

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    VC is great when its setup and works - one of my schools used the CLEO/JANET setup with polycom which gave good quality - getting a VC conf setup and working was like the original days of telephone calls to overseas - e.g ring operator, tell them who you want, do a test call on a Monday and pray all the wires get connected in the right places for the real call on Tuesday

    But at least you don't have to fight the CLEO firewall/poxy server.

    Using something like Adobe connect/Skype usually requires bypassing it but not too hard nowadays if prepared to stick a 3G dongle into a machine for the session

    Si

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    I did a big investigation into this last year for my company.

    It worked out (for a 'proper' system) around £10k per site setup, and then the data comms on top. VC is very latency sensitive, so even if you have lots of bandwidth, the latency may still make skype a better proposition.

    In the end the board went with Skype, and Webex if they need more functionality.

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    It's worth looking at the Polycom PVX software. It's only around £90 for a licence, so with a good webcam on a pc you can do most of what you can do with a £2k polycom VC unit.

    Steve

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