Spacer. Rebecca Peters instructs a class at the Eastview Middle School in White Plains, NY

Beyond The Classroom

N.Y. Middle-School Students Use Conferencing to Learn About the World Around Them

By Jody Howard-Kennedy
Teacher/Video Conferencing Coordinator, Eastview Middle School

Over the past three years, the video conferencing initiative at the Eastview Middle School in White Plains, New York, has caused tremendous excitement and change in our school district. Through the use of video conferencing, and other integrative technologies, teachers at Eastview have been able to plan and coordinate experiences for their students that not only fulfill the objectives of their curriculum, but also address the larger goals our school district has for its students, such as fostering and developing leadership skills, promoting the concept of global citizenship, and providing students with experiences that develop their emotional intelligence. The interactive, immediate qualities of this mode of communication appeals to a variety of learning styles and the developmental needs of adolescence, in particular, those of social interaction and self-expression. Student motivation, coupled with teacher enthusiasm and administrative support, have caused our video conferencing initiative to grow from having one school in our district equipped in 2001 to four schools at present. Eastview has also developed partnerships with 17 school districts in our surrounding communities and over 23 international partnerships. Our district recognizes and supports the endless possibilities and benefits that this technology can bring to our students and our community.

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The World is Our Resource

Video conferencing content providers such as museums, science and technology institutes and many other educational institutions can add value to lessons and enable teachers to give students the opportunity to interact with experts without leaving the classroom. A good program will offer curriculum-based content and include pre and post materials that supplement standard based units of learning. During a quality videoconference the teacher becomes a facilitator and the expert leads the session. Sessions should be highly interactive thereby engaging the student to become active participants in their own learning. This year our students at Eastview have experienced and interacted with experts from the Cabinet War Room in London, a diver from under the water in the Australian Barrier Reef and Health and Social Service officials in South Africa. Video conferencing gives the concept of primary resources a whole new 'face.' Promoting tolerance and global awareness, a strong emphasis on infusing global awareness and developing tolerance have also been our focus in using video conferencing as an educational tool. In the past two years we have developed a strong partnership with Global-Leap, a project supported by the British government's Department for Education and Skills (DFES). Global-leap.com is a site developed by teacher, Mike Griffith, and his wife, Rosie, who devote their work in helping other teachers make natural curricular connections with resources throughout the world.

Mike Griffith states, "Incorporating an awareness of global issues into the curriculum and developing innovative classroom resources and strategies encourage an understanding of world issues and interdependence. We hope to provide a framework from which our students can become active and effective world citizens. By making the curriculum more topical and global it becomes more relevant to the lives, experiences and interests of pupils, now and in the future. A global dimension can help to demystify the unfamiliar and to enrich the learning process in linguistic, subject specific and cross-curricular way."

The Youth Summits for Global Harmony project, founded by teachers from the St. Wilfrid's School in England and teachers from Eastview Middle School is a good example. During the 2003–2004 school year, 12 schools from 10 countries have participated in collaborative projects. The goal was to guide our students in pondering universal essential questions, questions that have guided our international work. This work encouraged students to participate in dialogues, debates, presentations and performances as schools from around the world shared their knowledge, experiences and ideas with each other. Students became their own experts and each other's audiences. Examples of these collaborative partnerships include foreign language exchanges with classrooms in Mexico, Costa Rica and Canada, cultural exchange presentations including dance performances with partner schools in New Zealand and Argentina, and dialogues about personal challenges, world perceptions and discrimination with students from Kosovo, Afghanistan and South Africa.

The sheer power of this kind of communication medium was demonstrated when our 8th grade health students, learning about HIV and preventative awareness, were able to interview HIV positive students in South Africa. Eastview students were able to hear first hand about the severity of this global issue as they put a face on this epidemic that before was simply a distant abstraction. Students were moved from apathy into empathy as they began to form an emotional connection to the people on the other side of the world.

So connected were these students that they took action and conducted a fundraiser for the Growing South Africa Foundation, a national non-profit, to sponsor a vegetable garden for a school in Johannesburg, South Africa. As educators these are the learning opportunities that we must strive to provide for our students. Careful planning and research, and by using this powerful technology, we are teaching the child as a whole.

Equipment

Based on our experience, there are several factors that are key when buying equipment for your school.

  • Select equipment you can grow into. There are two ways in which to make a video connection. IP, (Internet) and through ISDN (telephone lines). Buy equipment that is capable of doing both even though your network might not be ready yet or you don't have ISDN lines. Progress happens fast and you want to be ready.
  • Select your vendor carefully. When selecting a vendor it is imperative that you investigate their support and help desk services. Teachers will need support, lots of it. Our videoconferencing service provider, IVCi (http://www.ivci.com), has given us impeccable service, advice and on-demand support through their help desk which has been critical to our success. They are also very experienced in this field and share their knowledge readily. They offer two of the leading manufacturers of video conferencing units, TANDBERG and Polycom, and will help to supply an affordable unit based on your budgetary requirements.

From Desert to Living Room

New video conferencing center for troops, families now operational at Galva Armory

By DAVE CLARKE of the The Star Courier

Families of Galva National Guard members and their loved ones stationed in Iraq will now be able to see, hear and talk to each other live through a new video conferencing center that went on line Monday at the Galva Armory.

Believed to be one of the first such systems of its kind in the state, the center is the brainchild of the Galva Lions Club which raised $2,300 in donations to buy the equipment. Lions member John Goodale came up with the idea after setting up a video link on his home computer to chat with his daughter and grandchildren who live in Texas. Galva Lions member Frank Prosser, a National Guard recruiter, and others in the service club joined in the effort. More than $600 was donated toward the project by "Operation Carelift," a volunteer effort in Kewanee organized to send care packages to local troops in Iraq.

Final checks were made Monday by IDC manager Cheryl Carton and the stations are now operational in the armory's conference room equipped with monitors, web cams and printers.

In addition to video conferencing, families who do not have home computers can e-mail their sons, husbands or brothers, send photos and copy photos sent by the troops.

With Baghdad nine hours ahead of local time, access to the center at unusual hours was essential. It was announced Monday the center will be open 24 hours a day with the assistance of Battery F Rear Detachment Officer Staff Sgt. Martin Gibson who is stationed at the armory around the clock Monday through Friday and on regularly-scheduled drill weekends.

"The Army is really encouraging communication as a way to keep up morale," Goodale said.

Soldiers at Camp Victory North near the Baghdad Airport where the Galva unit is based have access to Internet cafes with video conferencing capabilities and are slowly getting Internet service to their rooms. Some members of the unit also took video conferencing gear with them when they deployed.

Video sessions will have to be arranged in advance via e-mail at a time convenient to the soldier. Those on both ends of the link will be able to see and hear each other in real time.

There is no charge for using the center.

The Lions Club hopes to turn operation of the stations over to the Family Readiness Group which includes members from Galva, Kewanee and Dixon, the three Guard units that comprise Battery F.

Now that the troops in Baghdad have access to the system, any business, industry, school or individual who has video conferencing available, is encouraged to make their equipment available, especially in communities outside of Galva.


Buyer Beware

Read This Before You Purchase a Video Conferencing System

Adding video communications to your organization should be a positive, exciting experience. We recommend a demonstration to see just how powerful video can be. Seeing really is believing. When you are ready to buy, the following tips will help you, along with guidance from your video reseller, to determine what you need.

Key Points to Consider

  • Ease-of-use and reliability
  • Number of people and room size
  • Number of sites involved in a meeting
  • Collaboration needs and data sharing
  • Security levels and confidentiality
  • Network requirements
  • Delivery and installation
  • Support, service and training
  • Software upgradeable
  • System management
  • Interoperability and telecommunication standards

Ease-of-use and reliability

The two most important features of a video system are ease-of-use and reliability. By trying to make a video call and using the remote control you can quickly get a feeling for which system you feel most comfortable using.

Being able to make a video call every time you want to and staying connected with people during a meeting is essential for good communications. If you have ever been cut off during a phone call, then you know how important it is. That's why top quality video systems have developed special features such as Downspeeding. If there are network difficulties, Downspeeding assists the videoconferencing system to correct the problem so that people can continue with their meeting uninterrupted.

Number of people and room size

The number of people that will normally be seated at the videoconferencing system at any given time and the size of the room determine, to a large extent, the requirements of the system (i.e. audio and video capabilities, monitor type and size, set-top or integrated stand and monitors):

Boardroom:

System Characteristics

  • design that fits into the high standards that are found in boardrooms.
  • a stylish stand for the monitors.
  • large monitors so that people seated at the back of the room can clearly see the images.
  • specialized speakers and microphones for voice and videoconferencing.
  • high resolution video and video formats such as iCIF which provide clear images even when there is a lot of movement in the room.
  • advanced functions that easily allow users to connect multiple sites in the meeting (e.g. people from three or four regional offices attend the same meeting).
  • ability to easily connect a PC to the system to show participants presentations, files and documents.

Large meeting rooms:

System Characteristics

  • quality and functionality is in focus.
  • requirements are similar to those found in a boardroom.

Medium-size meeting rooms:

System Characteristics

  • choose from set-top units which are placed on a standard TV or completely integrated systems where a stand, monitors and cables are included in the price.
  • the monitors are usually smaller than the large group systems.

Small meeting rooms and executive offices:

System Characteristics

  • system is small and compact so that it doesn't take valuable room or desk space.
  • one or two people can be seen clearly on the screen.
  • depending on design, the system may have flat screens or regular TV monitors.
  • usually placed on the desk-top but some systems may be hung on the wall.
  • audio quality is essential particularly when the videoconferencing system can replace the need for a telephone.
  • wireless connection to the LAN reduces the number of cables and makes it easy to move the system from room to room.
  • PC connection often desired.

Number of sites involved in a meeting

You can connect multiple sites in a meeting using the embedded multisite features or using external hardware. The advantage of embedded Multisite is that the video system has the functionality you need to connect multiple sites, without additional hardware or costs. Advantages of the external multipoint solutions are that you can connect more sites in the same meeting and control the conferences more efficiently.

Collaboration needs and data sharing

PowerPoint slides, drawings, pictures or other data files are often shown or shared with participants in the meeting. The way a PC is connected to the video system and how easy it is to connect the PC will vary depending on the manufacturer. Try connecting the PC to the system to see which one you like the best. Also check to see if there is any additional software that is required.

Security levels and confidentiality

Will sensitive information be discussed during video meetings? For example, will discussions involve business critical information or will strategic decisions be made? As with telephone, email or any communications tool, there is a danger that someone can listen to the call. Some video systems have embedded encryption that is automatically activated when you make a video call. This gives a high level of security and makes it difficult for someone to eavesdrop.

Network requirements

Video systems typically use ISDN network or IP. Some systems are more flexible, but allowing you to use ISDN and IP and allowing you to easily switch back and forth between networks. In general, the higher the bandwidth (measured in kbps) you have on a system, the higher the audio and video quality. The salesperson should help you to evaluate your network and bandwidth needs.

Delivery and installation

If you are purchasing several video systems that will be placed in multiple countries, it is important to have good local support. The local support will assist with such items as installation, training, diagnostics, software upgrades and service on hardware. Some vendors offer centralized purchasing and installation of the systems. This reduces the amount of work for the purchaser and ensures that the system will be delivered and installed properly at each site.

Support, services and training

Support and services include items such as warranty on products, replacement of parts, training and user support. Ideally, all locations with a video system will have a local point of contact if there is need for support.

Software upgradeable

Video systems have a long life, but as your needs change and the technology changes, you may want to install the latest software. Developers of video systems conduct ongoing research and development and release new products to customers. Like on a computer, the hardware will stay the same, but the software can be updated. A company that has a history of software releases and dedication to innovation can offer you a long-term solution that gives a high return on investment.

System management

It is useful to know how often the systems will be used, by whom and at what costs. This will allow you to promote the use of videoconferencing, allocate costs and support users. In some organizations one person or a team of people are responsible for managing multiple video systems and supporting users. They may like to have software installed on their PCs, so that they can control all the systems remotely, from one place. This is a very easy way to get live information about the systems that can be used to answer questions and give better user support.

Interoperability and telecommunication standards

In order to talk to each other, video systems need to share the same language. The common language is standards, which are set by the International Telecommunication Union. If systems have functions or features that are not standards-based, then those features may not work when the system is communicating with other systems.

For additional information regarding conferencing, or to speak to a representative, please contact IVCi at 800-224-7083, or click here to have an IVCi Representative contact you.

All trade names, trademarks, and/or service marks herein are owned by their respective holders.

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