If there is one thing about technology that is indisputable it is how quickly it is advancing. So it was interesting to consider this when listening to a discussion on video conferencing technology in the monthly VLNC meeting yesterday. Someone in one of the clusters raised the issue of whether schools with old Polycom gear should invest in new gear or not. This is a question that CantaNet had been wrestling with for quite some time and our answer was to hold off if you could. This was because of the rapid development in desktop video conferencing which potentially allowed a far more flexible, ubiquitous approach and in the fast approaching reality of a fibre connection.
Now that virtually all our schools have made the move to the N4L and fast internet we have made the switch to that ubiquitous approach (I have come into hangout sessions through my smartphone for goodness sake). So in answer to that question now it is a resounding – absolutely not. Why spend thousands of dollars on equipment that may well be obsolete in the not too distant future? Why, when I can get a better experience for a fraction of the cost right now? Our schools already spend plenty to resource NetNZ and the programmes we run, why would we add to that cost when we don’t need to?
One point in argument for the Polycom was that it suits large numbers on one site. So you set up a room, with a TV, Polycom and desks and chairs for perhaps 8-10 students coming into a course from one site. First of all I would suggest breaking those numbers down into individual students entering a conference will be a far better experience for everyone. But 4-6 in a room might work sometimes so doesn’t that need a Polycom unit? Well, of course not.
To turn a desktop video conference experience through google hangouts into a more traditional video conference experience is very easy. First of all, there is the option of Chomebox for meetings which allows you to setup a TV with an HD camera, a mic and a chromebox setup to allow easy access to any hangout via a remote. It is idiot proof – students can walk into a room, pick up the remote and click on their hangout session and they are in – easy. This costs $1600.
Or just purchase a normal Chromebox for $300 sit it next to a TV, connect it to the internet, and TV, purchase a video conferencing mic, and an HD camera for a combined total of less than $1000 and you are good to go.
The quality of the call through fibre will be excellent (especially if cabled in with a dedicated connection).
I am not out to push a certain platform. We use Google Hangouts for video conferencing, but there are plenty of other desktop video conferencing platforms available. Anyone wanting to replicate what I am talking about above will find it fairly easy. For me the issue here is why spend thousands on something you don’t need?
And just as an additional point – forget the cost. When it comes to teaching and learning I much prefer a google hangout to traditional video conferencing. It feels more informal, friendly and personal (especially if the students come in individually), and has far greater functionality – a chat feature, clear desktop sharing, funny hats! etc.
Interested in any arguments others may want to propose…