I asked the team at JANET if they would like to respond to Martin's query about videoconferencing.
Rob Symberlist has written the email below, which makes a number of interesting points. The main one for me, and this is a message I hear from those working in education, is of the motivational nature of taking part in a video conference.
I also enclose the verbatim emails of teachers involved in the National Videoconference we organised with London Grid for Learning for the commemoration of the Abolition earlier this year. The informal part was hearing Baroness Amos saying 'that was fantastic' before the microphone was cut off!!!
I am sure Rob and Tim Boundy would be happy to pick up on any questions you may have.
Senior Policy Advisor (Digital Futures)
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Victoria House, Southampton Row
London WC1B 4EA
From: Rob Symberlist [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: 30 November 2007 14:07
To: David Dawson
Cc: Tim Boundy
Subject: RE: Videoconferencing
In response to Martin Bazley's email to the GEM list concerning videoconferencing...
JANET(UK) operates and manages JANET, the UK's National Education and Research Network (www.ja.net), interconnecting all UK schools, colleges, universities, research institutions, and a modest but increasing number of national and regional museums. We have around 18 million users on our network: pupils, students, teaching and academic staff, research staff and finally the numerous support staff such as those in university library and information services and administrations. Furthermore, all local authorities are also interconnected to JANET.
One of our key services is a national videoconferencing service for the whole of the JANET community. Since March 2005, during the Videoconferencing Services Pilot for Schools, we have welcomed cultural sector institutions, museums, libraries, archives and galleries, both national and regional, to participate and register with the JANET Videoconferencing Service (JVCS).
This is removing a number of barriers for the delivery of educational content to schools via videoconferencing.
These barriers include:
the necessity to pre-test links with schools, which often take longer than the scheduled videoconferencing session;
the lack of technical advice and guidance on videoconferencing for the cultural sector;
the bridging between cultural sector institutions with ISDN lines and schools with IP (Broadband) connections;
the relatively poorer quality of Internet videoconferencing, as opposed to IP videoconferencing within the education network;
the perception that videoconferencing is too difficult and costly to implement;
the perception that videoconferencing is never as good as face to face encounters and therefore adds no value;
the lack of information about the trends in videoconferencing in schools;
8. the lack of a single free online place where the cultural sector can advertise sessions, and schools can find them;
9. the lack of good practice and case study material.
I'll address each of these issues to try to go someway towards convincing you that videoconferencing may be worth investing in (this is a long message, but please bear with me!):
The JVCS Management Centre conducts regular Quality Assurance Assessments. These test videoconferencing systems, the environment in which they are used and the network by which they are connected. As long as the quality of the connection from JVCS to, for example, a museum is satisfactory, and the connection from JVCS to a school is satisfactory, then that museum should have the confidence to videoconference via JVCS with that school, and other schools whose connections to JVCS have been satisfactorily tested. This removes the need for lengthy testing by the museum before the scheduled call.
During the QA Assessment the JVCS Operators also provide advice and guidance on improving the configuration of the videoconferencing system, environmental aspects such as lighting and noise reduction, and configuring the local network to optimise performance, quality and the videoconferencing experience. Further techical advice and guidance is available via our Video Technology Advisory Service. http://www.ja.net/services/video/index.html
JANET(UK) has deployed a number of high specification videoconferencing servers across the SuperJANET core of the JANET network to ensure resilience. These include gateways or "bridges" between the ISDN and IP (Broadband) networks. This enables any ISDN-connected site to talk to any IP-connected site, anywhere in the World via JVCS.
Before JVCS became available to the cultural sector, museums with an Internet connection would dial schools directly, but the quality was often poor and the experience sometimes of questionnable value. This was because an Internet connection is established via an unpredictable route of unknown quality. Now that most schools (99%) are connected via IP, the JANET side of the connection is predictable and generally of good quality. Of course the link from the museum must also be of a satisfactory quality to support videoconferencing and this is an area which still needs to be addressed. For instance, ADSL connections are not recommended as by nature they are asymmetric in bandwidth (videoconferencing needs the same bandwidth in both directions) and of unpredictable quality as the lines are shared by other users in the same proximity. In order to maintain quality, some regions, for instance London Grid for Learning, will not accept any incoming videoconferencing calls to schools unless they are via the JANET Videoconferencing Service. This also addresses some of the e-Safeguarding issues for school children.
It is perceived by some that videoconferencing is too difficult and costly to implement. Like any technical solution, there is a cost associated with the equipment and the connection, but the cost is coming down significantly. Webcam solutions, while not of the best quailty, can provide a first step towards one-to-one desktop videoconferencing for those that already have an IP connection. A better quality camera and the appropriate software can cost as little as £500 combined. Basic "set-top" videoconferencing systems for teaching groups start at around £1000 and optimum quality systems are from around £3000. Technical advice and guidance is available from VTAS (as explained in point 2 above). The RBCs (Regional Broadband Consortia) can be especially helpful when it comes to cultural sector institutions wanting to deliver education to schools via videoconferencing. For example, see CLEO's site at: http://www.cleo.net.uk/index.php?category_id=60. JANET(UK)'s Schools Content Coordinator, Tim Boundy (previously of the National Space Centre, Leicester), visits cultural sector institutions to understand their needs with respect to connectivity and videoconferencing with schools, and can advise them on the appropriate way forward. Many IP-based videoconferencing solutions are now more intuitive to use and, when combined with the convenience of the JVCS Management Centre dialling all of the conference venues, the technology becomes less obtrusive and you can focus on the delivery of education. There is likely to be the need for someone technical to address the local network configuration to enable videoconferencing, but advice and guidance is available. Museums and other cultural institutions that get their JANET connectivity via a university or college (JANET Sponsored Connections) should be able to benefit from the expertise at the sponsoring academic institution.
One of the most quoted criticisms of videoconferencing is that it isn't as good as a face to face encounter. This is of course, generally, true and it needs to be used appropriately. However, there are situations where videoconferencing provides distinct benefits. Schools (teachers) are less inclined to organise long-distance trips for their pupils, for a number of reasons we won't go into here. Videoconferencing can help them expose their pupils to the vast wealth of cultural, historical and scientific material that museums and others can make available. Some museum education officers are now delivering videoconferencing sessions to schools before the museum opens to the public, thus virtually extending their effective public opening hours. Some museums have reported that the delivery of videoconferencing sessions by costumed actors actually increases the suspension of disbelief by children as compared with face to face encounters - the "character" appears to be more "in context" on screen that in the flesh. There are some very successful examples of this approach: the amazing First World War soldier at the National Archives; the lovely lady in the Second World War air raid shelter at The Beacon in Whitehaven; the excellent charcters at the Wordsworth Trust; the flight directors delivering the e-Missions from the National Space Centre. Such sessions genuinely add value, and many schools would not be able to experience this without videoconferencing. Finally, as I understand it, the number of people reached by videoconferencing now counts towards the funding of cultural institutions in the same way as other outreach activities alongside direct visits.
With respect to statistics, in July 2007, Becta published statistics based on a survey <https://staffmail.ja.net/exchange/R.Symberlist/Drafts/RE:%20Videoconferencing-2.EML/1_text.htm#_ftn1> of 234 Primary and 258 Secondary schools in England. This survey identified that 12% of Primary schools and 43% of Secondary schools have videoconferencing equipment. The number of schools in England registered with the JANET Videoconferencing Service is now over 2,400. While this might not seem like many, it is 66% of the 3,612 schools that were calculated as having videoconferencing equipment in July. The number of schools videoconferences is growing year on year. The most recently published figures (to be updated later next week) are available at: http://www.ja.net/communities/schools/videoconferencing/statistics.html . To give you some idea of current usage, there have been over 1200 schools videoconferences via JVCS this month (November 2007).
Museums have asked us for an online place where they can freely advertise their videoconferencing sessions. Teachers also need to be able to find out what educational content is available from museums. In response to this we recently launched a pilot service, JANET Collaborate, at the National Maritime Museum. It is a prototype, for discussion and to enable us to understand the requirements better, so that we can deliver a full production service that meets the needs of the communities involved. It is linked to the JANET Videoconferencing Booking Service, so that you can set up videoconferences with schools. You can login to JANET Collaborate now and try it out, at: http://www.janetcollaborate.ac.uk/ . It is a free service. Tim Boundy is the JANET Collaborate Project Manager and he would appreciate your feedback.
As for examples of good practice, there are examples on the web sites of the RBCs. However, it might be best if your colleagues on the GEM email list, that are already delivering educational content to schools via JVCS, provide the evidence. I'm sure that they would be happy to articulate their successes and recommend suitable courses of action. Associated with the piloting of JANET Collaborate, Tim Boundy will be building a series of case studies, including the videoconferencing delivery of educational content to schools by museums.
 <https://staffmail.ja.net/exchange/R.Symberlist/Drafts/RE:%20Videoconferencing-2.EML/1_text.htm#_ftnref1> Becta Harnessing Technology schools survey, July 2007
We have been working very closely with the MLA to encourage cultural sector institutions to consider videoconferencing as a viable delivery mechanism for education. Earlier this year the MLA made some funding availabe to museums to help them setup videoconferencing and start delivering sessions to schools via JVCS. Tim Boundy has been working closely with these institutions and they are now coming online. We have also collaborated in an MLA/TDA joint event in London, raising the awareness of videoconferencing with schools, and are planning future events.
We have a JISC email list for everyone involved in the delivery of education to schools via videoconferencing. [log in to unmask] If you are interested in joining this list, please let us know. This list supports the Schools Videoconferencing User Group, that meets (face to face!) a couple of times a year.
We should be pleased to hear from any institution that is considering videoconferencing as a delivery mechanism, with a view to discussing educational possibilities, connectivity or other relevant technical issues.
Dr Robert Symberlist
UK Schools Strategy Group Manager
Lumen House, Library Avenue,
Harwell Science and Innovation Campus,
Didcot, Oxon OX11 0SG
Direct: 01792 295619
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