With VoIP Technology, Districts Make the Most of Their Phones
Most school districts convert to a Voice Over Internet Protocol system or VoIP-to save costs by routing calls through a data network rather than a phone company's network. But some districts that have already made the conversion don't plan to stop there. Instead, they are looking to add advanced functionalities to make communication even easier.
Wireless VoIP phones, videoconferencing and news feeds are some of the Internet telephony opportunities that districts are pursuing.
The Township High School District 214, which serves eight communities in northern Illinois, began using VoIP two years ago, says Keith Bockwoldt, director of technology systems and support.
The district installed phones in administrative offices, teacher workrooms, and about 25 percent of classrooms and is now looking to expand the system to include all classrooms.
Should the district decide to expand VoIP phones to all classrooms, it may consider allowing teachers to use the phones to record student attendance. Bockwoldt says such a system would be much simpler than the current method of entering attendance into a computer system using a PC.
News and Announcements
District 214 is looking into streaming Web-based news and weather over the computer screens on the VoIP phones. The department of technology systems already streams news over the phones, but the district may expand the capability to all VoIP phones in the future.
The district is also considering enhancing its public announcement system. Staff currently use the VoIP phones to broadcast messages over the school PA system. In the future, the district may upgrade the system to allow announcements to be broadcast over the phone speakers themselves, along with text messages on the screen.
The Monterey Peninsula School District (Calif.) plans to add videoconferencing capability to its VoIP system this fall to facilitate communication among teachers and administrators at different school sites, says Mary Phillips, director of technology.
Teachers and administrators will be able to participate in the videoconference through the phone's screen.
As part of a pilot program beginning in the fall at the district's high schools, the VoIP phones belonging to administrators and some teachers will be equipped with integrated cameras. The cameras will allow the teachers and administrators to participate in videoconferences from any classroom or office without having to move to a special videoconferencing room, Phillips says.
The Hatboro-Horsham School District, which serves the towns of Hatboro, Horsham and Ambler in southeast Pennsylvania, installed a VoIP system last December. The new system includes features such as voicemail, teleconferencing, four-digit dialing between buildings, and an emergency panic button so teachers can call the nurse's office and the main office directly.
"We wanted a phone system that was cost-effective and cost-efficient," says Assistant Superintendent Curtis Griffin.
The district may consider at the end of the 2008-2009 school year adding a new feature that would enable employees to receive voicemails over their e-mail accounts, he says.
Because Hatboro-Horsham's phone system "is digital and VoIP," Griffin notes, "it puts us in a position to leverage new technologies as they become available." -Kevin Butler