Video-conferencing offers more opportunities than you may think. Many Museums and Businesses offer specially tailored Video-conferencing events ranging from an actor being a World War I actor talking about his experiences and taking questions from the class to ongoing mentoring from a business while a class completes a project!
Video-conferencing might seem like an intimidating technology, requiring expensive equipment and special technical expertise from teachers. In fact, a wide range of video-conferencing products is now available, ranging from low-cost webcams for personal use to sophisticated professional video-conferencing suites costing several thousand pounds.
At the most basic level, you can set up a simple two-way video-conferencing system using just two PCs equipped with webcams. A webcam – web camera – is a small video camera that can be connected to any computer equipped with a USB connection. In fact, some computers, such as Apple’s iMacs and MacBooks, have built-in webcams.
Most webcams include basic video-conferencing software that will allow you to create a simple two-way conference session. There are also several free programs, such as the popular MSN Messenger, that can be used for video-conferencing. Many pupils will already be familiar with this software, so very little training or technical knowledge is required.
This sort of set-up will be perfectly adequate for allowing individual pupils or teachers to talk to each other over the Internet, or for small groups of pupils who can gather around the computer in the classroom.
Additional features come with higher-quality equipment. Two useful options are the ability to set up a conferencing session between multiple users, or to transmit additional data, such as diagrams or presentations. The iChat software included with Apple computers is capable of creating a four-way video conference, which could be very useful for teacher meetings. If you don’t use Macs then you may need to invest in additional software, such as PVX from video-conferencing specialists, Polycom.
The PVX software costs £100 per copy, but it does allow you to display documents such as presentation slides in a separate window alongside the main video image. This could be useful in a classroom situation or for teacher meetings. The disadvantage of using this sort of software is that you’re still primarily limited to simple person-to-person communication. And, of course, as you try to include more people in the conferencing system you will need more PCs, more webcams and more copies of the conferencing software.
Where do I get the equipment?
You can get a cheaply from anywhere to get you going all you need is a webcam and a microphone. I recommend checking on www.pricerunner.co.uk
you can pick up a webcam for practically nothing.
Also if you really fancy doing a fully integrated web conference which will allow participants to show slides and a whole host of other things then take a look at http://www.webex.com/. With WebEx all the software is on the internet no downloading anything all you pay for is the call cost about 10 pence a minute.
I will post some case studies next week to give you some better ideas of how you could use video-conferencing in the classroom.