There are numerous commercial videoconferencing-related products and services used widely by K12 school districts. These generally offer comprehensive and unique features, performance guarantees, user guides and the advantages of company technical support. "The proliferation of collaboration tools from videoconferencing to electronic presentations has dramatically extended the reach of teachers and administrators," says NCast's vice president Tom Mitchell. The following is a cross section of companies and examples.
AT&T is a provider of network, equipment and application services for K12 school districts. AT&T's scalable bandwidth solutions enable school districts to coverge voice, data and video applications onto a single network and within district budgetary constraints. AT&T also provides videoconferencing system support-including equipment procurement, design, implementation and maintenance for leading equipment providers such as VBrick, Tandberg and Polycom-and advises K12 districts in seeking complete solutions from network to applications. www.att.com/edu
Discovery Education offers free Webinars each month that cover topics such as how-to sessions and product demonstrations. The company also hosts an annual virtual conference to provide educators worldwide with free professional development either online or at regional events hosted by local Discovery Education Network Leadership Councils. Participants in the conferences attend seminars and share ideas about teaching digitally, using engaging technologies and digital storytelling techniques. www.discoveryeducation.com
Elluminate enables real-time, online collaboration focusing on content, and goes beyond video presentation. Designed for educators, Elluminate solutions deliver complete learning experiences that have increased student retention and work completion. Elluminate Live! features include VoIP, multi-user whiteboards, instant polling, and instructor tools that map to classroom activities and help all users participate fully, regardless of computer platform or connection speed. The company also offers a free, three-user Elluminate vRoom version of Elluminate Live! www.elluminate.com
NCast's Telepresenter M3 Series 2 captures, composes, records and streams all content from a single appliance. According to Tom Miller, "Telepresentation" is quite different from videoconferencing. In videoconferencing, the aim is to allow real-time interactions and multidirectional conversations among a relatively small set of participants, so video quality is not as important as latency on the network. Telepresentation, on the other hand, allows a presenter to communicate a richer message to a relatively large audience, so resolution and quality are more important.
Whereas a conversation between two individuals is probably better done with a Polycom or Tandberg system, presentations to numerous participants with materials that must be included in the media stream are better served through Telepresenting. In that regard, NCast can deliver slide transitions, animations and embedded videos inside PowerPoint slides as they were prepared, with all the art intact. www.ncast.com
New Dimension Media CCC! Video on Demand
Classroom LIVE videoconferencing is an exciting and innovative feature of the New Dimension Media's CCC! Video on Demand system. Classroom LIVE creates a virtual classroom featuring live video of the instructor's synchronized presentations, and ad hoc classroom resource materials that can keep teachers and homebound students connected. Classroom LIVE also provides at-home users the ability to "raise their hands" and participate in discussions and live Webcasts to keep current on classroom activities. Text-based discussions are generated for each event, and applications include distance learning and professional development, as well as interactive broadcasts such as sports events and board meetings. In addition to live Webcasting, CCC!'s pioneering technology offers the ability to conduct virtual classrooms and video on demand. www.cccvod.com
Polycom offers standards-based voice and visual communications solutions for classrooms and distance education and administrative applications, along with wireless voice options that allow administrators to stay in touch anywhere on campus. Polycom videoconferencing solutions extend learning beyond classroom walls, allowing students to take virtual field trips, learn from experts anywhere in the world, and attend virtual classes elsewhere. Polycom's integrated video content management solution allows educators to stream and record videoconferences, turning one-time events into repeatable, multimedia archives. Polycom also maintains a searchable database of more than 1,500 global content providers and a professional network of educators available for collaboration on videoconference projects. www.polycom.com/usa/en
PolyVision THUNDER Express
PolyVision, a Steelcase company, is a leader in visual communication products, and THUNDER is its premier real-time collaborationsolution. The product connects people and ideas globally by enabling individuals and teams to share data in any format and brainstorm together regardless of location or time zone. Options within the THUNDER family include THUNDER Pro and the newly launched THUNDER Express, which brings the same unique collaboration experience to small group environments using a lighter, customizable hardware solution for smaller spaces. By combining a PC with THUNDER Express software and one or more video displays, any meeting space, training room, or classroom can become a conference environment. www.polyvision.com
SAFARI Montage Live! is part of a new breed of interactive videoconferencing products that only require desktop digital camerasand microphones to deliver high quality videoconferences over the Internet or a private WAN. Advances in video compression technology have improved the display quality, using relatively little bandwidth, and SAFARI Montage Live! works with most high-end legacy conferencing cameras. The supplied interactive communication tools include text chat, polling, file sharing and screen sharing, and "URL push" makes the product ideal for distance education, staff development and professional presentations. "SAFARI Montage Live! removes the high levels of training and excessive costs required to deploy videoconferencing at a distance and at the same time provides simple, interactive functionality," says Stan Silverman,director of technology-based learning systems for the New York Institute of Technology. www.safarimontage.com
School districts choose Tandberg video communication solutions to help redefine distance learning. Tandberg makes teaching easier by providing tools for students to access classes they need interactively and generating enthusiasm in the classroom. Tandberg content servers increase the versatility of recorded high-definition video and multimedia presentations. Users can create, store, download and distribute video and multimedia presentations, providing viewers with the flexibility to access content at any time through multiple devices. Educators can easily transmit presentations to students in remote locations, distribute professional staff development courses, rebroadcast virtual field trips, and broadcast live events across the globe. www.tandberg.com
VBrick Systems is a leading provider of digital video distribution systems for K12 schools. VBrick enables schools to deliver high quality live and on-demand video over standard computer networks to classrooms and other district locations. Applications include event broadcasts, virtual fi eld trips, sports Webcasts, and classroom presentations. VBrick's EtherneTV eliminates the need for VCR and DVD players, which allows school districts to place all their video assets on video-on-demand servers. www.vbrick.com
Wimba Classroom allows teachers to combine interactive technologies such as discussion-center VoIP, follow-the-speaker video, application sharing, polling and whiteboards with traditional best practices of instruction. For educators, that brings alternative content into the classroom to enrich and enhance teaching, and students gain timely access to significant resources outside of classrooms. The company recently introduced Wimba Pronto, the only instant messenger service designed exclusively for education by educators. www.wimba.com
Ken Royal is products editor of District Administration and writer of the DA products blog, The Royal Treatment.