Many Devices Can Now Access Cloud-based Interactive Videoconferencing (IVC)

by Janet Zanetis, CEO, CILC and ISTE board member

Finally. There is an easier (and cheaper) way for schools to connect using Interactive Videoconferencing (IVC)–students interacting with distant teachers, awesome places and other students. Yes, I know this has been going on for many years, but the cost per school has been about $15,000. This cost has been a deal breaker for many school districts. Recently, web-based, or cloud-based videoconferencing has become reliable, stable and much more cost efficient.

Ok, so now you're thinking, “But Skype is free!” That's true, but you get what you pay for, as the saying goes. You are already probably aware of the security issues with Skype, but consider the quality and stability of this application. Do you really want to trust Skype with a classroom full of excited kids and a scheduled Virtual Fieldtrip that your district paid $150 for? In my humble opinion, Skype is for low-risk video calls, like with your Mom. Did I mention that these new solutions allow you to connect with multiple sites and multiple devices including the big room-based videoconference systems? Also, they can record your session, and some have chat features.

Let me share with you what the big deal about IVC is. Students partaking in live Virtual Fieldtrips become highly engaged in the subject matter. I have watched students in Australia interact with students in Korea for cultural exchanges. I have seen the look on teachers' faces when they see IVC in action, that “Ah Hah” moment, when they understand that this tool can be used to teach any topic and any standard. If you're looking for that one technology that can hold the attention of students, this is it. And now it's available at a cost that all districts can manage. Often these cloud-based applications are set up as a “managed service” so you pay one low fee per month for the solution.

A number of cloud-based solutions can connect students with educators almost any place in the world. The wonders of the Great Barrier Reef or the Smithsonian can be experienced interactively and in real time. The companies that have been around the longest are Cisco and PolycomVidyo is another that has been doing IVC with schools for a while. Some of the newer companies of interest for educators include Blue Jeans Network, Zoom.us and Pexip.

Some of these companies offer free trials. They all work well using a regular laptop with a webcam connected to the internet. For a classroom setting, adding a USB speaker is a good idea. You should also hook the laptop up to a projector so everybody can see the “remote site” well. And, yes, you can bring out the iPad to connect. I recently used Zoom for an ISTE Board meeting. The ISTE leaders connected in from a variety of devices, laptops, smart phones and tablets. For folks to get into the video meeting, all they had to do was click on a link that I emailed them. It doesn't get much simpler. And that's what teachers like – simple!

Now that we have the technology figured out, you might need to know how to get started. Where do your teachers go to find these great Virtual Fieldtrips? Where do they find other teachers to connect with for a collaborative student project? And, where can you find “gurus” who can deliver a PD session for your teachers over IVC? The answer to these questions is also simple – The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC). A non-profit that has been going strong for the last 19 years, it is a clearinghouse for all things IVC in education. It offers free services to educators to help them find the perfect resources for their classroom. With more than 200 content providers, some in other countries, and thousands of programs, you can find interactive lessons for most anything through CILC.

See you in the cloud!

–Janet Zanetis

Bio: As an educator and university administrator, Jan Zanetis spent 20 years in K-12 and higher education. Jan's area of expertise is the application of video technologies in education. She has written extensively on this topic for education journals and has co-authored two books. In 2005, she moved into the corporate sector as an education specialist, first for TANDBERG and then Cisco Systems based in Australia. In August 2013, she began her current role as the Chief Executive Officer at CILC, a not for profit that serves educators, learners and content providers.

Jan is an active member of several professional organizations including the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA). She often presents at educational conferences, regionally, nationally and internationally. Jan recently joined the ISTE Board of Directors as a Member at Large, serving a three-year term. You can email her here.